Sssshhhhh... The Debate is Starting
Samantha Bee wasn't nice to Matt Lauer in her assessment of the pre-debate thing they had a week or so ago. That's cause he sucked. Lester Holt, we're assured, is supposed to be better. We'll see in a few minutes. Ever hear of Pollfish? They're a real-time mobile survey platform and they did a flash poll yesterday (400 Americans) showing that over 30% of Americans are opting to avoid the political drama to enjoy their watching their favorite TV shows or Monday night football. And although more than have the respondents said they thought Trump would be more likely to attack Hillary than Hillary would be to attack Trump, most respondents expect that issue-by-issue Hillary will win tonight.
This morning, writing for Trump's son-in-law's paper, the New York Observer Matt Mackowiak. laid out laid out how Trump can "win" tonight: "all Trump has to do is perform above basement-level expectations... In a change year," he wrote, "Trump is the change candidate. Clinton is a lot of things, but she is not a change agent after eight years of Obama.The question for voters, particularly swing voters in battleground states, is whether Trump offers too much change. They need to know if he is an unacceptable risk." More Samantha Bee, since she seems to be able to explain just why some voters--many?-- don't already know how unacceptable Trump is:
Mackowiak included a little conventional wisdom on Trumpist short-comings-- "Trump can win this debate by not losing it. This will require discipline, self-control, patience, and calm. These are not his natural strengths. Serious, thoughtful debate prep would have benefitted him, but he appears to have been wholly unwilling to commit to it. This may prove to be a politically fatal error." But he went to town on the media's sexist expectational set-up of Hillary:
Trump likes to call himself a counterpuncher. But not every jab needs to be countered. I expect Hillary to jab and uppercut constantly. Her team appears to believe the only way she can win the debate is by invalidating Trump as a legitimate choice.Nate Silver's operation wanted to remind everyone before the debate starts that "eight out of 10 times, the non-incumbent party’s candidate-- that’s Trump this year-- gained in the polls after the first debate. That includes each of the last five times. There are various theories to explain this. Some people think, for instance, incumbent presidents do poorly in first debates because they’ve had four years to grow unaccustomed to being challenged so directly, or that the challenger benefits simply by being on an equal playing field with the sitting president. Those theories don’t apply this year. That said, there are other reasons to think Trump has more to gain. He is currently winning a lower percentage of self-identified Republicans than Clinton is getting Democrats, so perhaps he has more lower-hanging fruit than Clinton: More Republican voters may come home after seeing both Clinton and Trump in action." And that, historically (pre-social media), "first debates haven’t moved the polls all that much."
This approach has risks: She may appear too negative, too harsh, too shrill or too unlikeable. Likability is a real factor in how viewers evaluate debates. Emotions, nonverbal communications, posture, and facial gestures all play a role in how a candidate is perceived in the television era.
...Hillary must finally address legitimate questions of honesty and ethics. Will she directly, clearly, and honestly answer questions about her private email server-- why it was created, what were the risks it posed to national security, and why she deleted 33,000 emails. Will she answer allegations about selling access and favors at the State Department to wealthy Clinton Foundation donors? Will she demonstrate, over 90 minutes with no commercials, that she has the strength and stamina to be president, and finally put health questions behind her?
These are the issues she needs to put behind her to pull away from Trump.
The Atlantic's brief interview with anthropologist Jane Goodall might be worth reading again before Trump and Hillary start duking it out. She watched his primary debates and told Fallows that "In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals." (Fallows suggests, "I’d start by thinking of him as a monkey with a machine gun.")
“In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”
In her book My Life With the Chimpanzees, Goodall told the story of “Mike,” a chimp who maintained his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he moved down a road, creating confusion and noise that made his rivals flee and cower. She told me she would be thinking of Mike as she watched the upcoming debates.
For his article, Fallows spoke with experts who had some debate advice for Hillary:
Stuart Stevens, who prepared Mitt Romney to dominate Barack Obama in their first 2012 debate, said that she should launch the direct attack that Trump’s primary opponents were too slow to use. “He is a ridiculous person who doesn’t know anything, which she can expose,” he told me. “She can say, ‘Mr. Trump says he supports the Bill of Rights-- by the way, how many are there? He represents the party of Lincoln. By the way, when did he serve?’ You have to go right in there and demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of everything he says.”
Samuel L. Popkin, a political scientist at UC San Diego who has been part of the debate-prep team for many Democratic politicians, recommended a version of what Chris Matthews did with his abortion questions. “She can ask him about his policy of renegotiating the national debt,” he told me. “Then she comes right back, boom, ‘If you say that as president, you’ve just caused a worldwide stock-market crash.’ She doesn’t want to bog down into details. But she can show the specific, crucial details that pull everything else down.”
Most people I spoke with recommended a picador-like mocking approach, designed not to confront Trump directly but to cumulatively provoke him into an outburst. About his physical endowments, he is not so much thin-skinned as skinless, as Marco Rubio demonstrated-- but no one I spoke with thought this a wise path for Clinton to follow. Instead she could mock him on his other point of greatest sensitivity: that he may be a fake billionaire and phony business success. From history’s perspective, the most damaging moment for Trump from the Democratic convention was when Khizr Khan spoke about the death of his son, Captain Humayun Khan. For Trump himself, I would imagine it was the moment when Michael Bloomberg, unquestionably richer than he is, said, “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.” When Comedy Central hosted a roast of Trump five years ago, he didn’t seem to object to jokes about his hair, about his weight, even about his lecherous remarks regarding his daughter Ivanka. The one subject he nixed, according to Aaron Lee, a writer for the roast, was “any joke that suggests Trump is not actually as wealthy as he claims to be.” So this is a scab Hillary Clinton should deftly pick.
watching for this tonight?
Donald Trump will almost certainly insult her directly, about her own crookedness and about the sins of her husband. This was the heart of his strategy during the primary debates-- “I call him ‘Little Marco’ ”; “More energy tonight. I like that” to Bush-- and is his instinct. She will answer those quickly and firmly-- “My husband and I have been through a lot, as the world well knows. But after 41 years, we are still together”-- and then move back to whatever policy point she wants to make. One way to describe this strategy is Martin O’Malley’s. “She has to be direct and tough right back to him, but then quickly pivot to what matters for the country,” he said. “It’s not enough just to disqualify this guy, since he’s survived remarks that in other times have been automatically disqualifying. She also needs to say what the election is about.”
Another way to describe this strategy is to use a phrase from Michelle Obama’s convention speech: When they go low, we go high.