Trump showed yet again that he cannot focus on a policy issue for more than 30 seconds. He senses defeat and plans on continuing to be a nuisance to America and the world.
It is not clear if the US presidential debates play a decisive role when it comes to persuading voters since American democracy is so polarised. Independent voters will have, in any case, made up their minds about Donald Trump by now, particularly after accusations of his treatment of women that have emerged in recent days. Analysts like NBC’s Chuck Todd have, nonetheless, maintained that the third debate on October 19 between Hillary Clinton and Trump was still important because the Republican Party needed the latter to do well in view of the 34 Senate and the 435 House of Representatives seats that are up for grabs along with the Presidency.
From that vantage, Clinton did the Democrats a huge favour by putting up her best in Wednesday’s debate and easily trouncing Trump.
The following factors worked in her favour:
First, Fox News’ Chris Wallace was an exceptionally good anchor who set the tone for the debate. He picked sound policy-oriented topics, asked strong follow-up questions to challenge the position of candidates; he kept a firm lid on audience reactions to prevent TV viewers from being swayed as they would by canned laughter in sitcoms, and Wallace made sure candidates did not interrupt each other (much).
This tight control worked well for Clinton; Trump could not strut around the stage, mock and point fingers at Clinton and generally draw attention to himself as he did in the second debate. This format allowed Clinton to hold forth on policy matters, her area of strength. Of course, she went into the debate with the confidence of being ahead in the polls and did most things right: She was more emphatic about her claims, she stood by Barack Obama’s record and did not shy away from sharp retorts.
She articulated her positions clearly; she would pick a Supreme Court nominee who would protect women’s rights, she stoutly defended the Roe v Wade decision on abortion, pledged to increase minimum wage, tax the rich, create 10 million jobs and said Trump’s trickle-down economics don’t work.
As said, she landed more telling blows than Donald did through the debate. When Trump challenged her about her 30 year record in public life and called it “bad experience”, she drew a striking contrast with the challenger. She said when she was working with the Children’s Defense Fund, so that African-American kids would not face discrimination in schools, Trump was being sued by the justice department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s while she was working to reform schools in Arkansas, Trump was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his business. In the 1990s, while Clinton went to Beijing (for the UN’s Fourth World Congress on Women in 1995) to say women’s rights were human rights, Trump was insulting former Miss Universe Alicia Machado calling her an “eating machine”. And on the day when she was in the situation room monitoring the raid on Osama bin Laden, he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice.
Likewise, she said Trump’s immigration policy would subject every undocumented person to deportation and that would entail a massive law enforcement presence that involved moving people out in trains and buses – a plan that would rip America apart. When her Wikileaked correspondence was brought up, she said 17 US intelligence agencies agreed that the hacking was done at the behest of those at the top in the Kremlin and said Putin has a clear favourite in the US presidential race and that Trump was willing to spout the Russian president’s line. Trump had, she claimed, built his hotels on Chinese steel and given jobs to Chinese steel workers, not Americans. Donald also whined a lot; he has, at various points, suggested that many American institutions were rigged, including the FBI, Republican primaries, the courts and even the Emmys. When Trump called the Clinton Foundation a criminal enterprise, she contrasted the latter’s work in health and education with the Trump Foundation which bought a six-foot portrait of the tycoon with the money. When Trump mentioned that Bernie Sanders had questioned Clinton’s judgment in the past, the latter pointed out that Sanders endorsed her as a candidate and had, in fact, called Trump the “most dangerous candidate to run for president in the modern history of this country”.
Trump showed yet again that he cannot focus his mind on a policy issue for more than 30 seconds; he generally veers off in a random direction or boils a complex topic to a single point or sound byte or simply pronounces that the opponent’s policy is a disaster. A question about the principle when picking a Supreme Court nominee produced a formulaic answer on the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms. A question on the need for a grand bargain between tax increases and cuts in spending to manage an impending crisis in social security led to a rant on Obama care. All that Trump seemed capable of doing on every issue was to simply remember his position without being able to think aloud, reflect on an issue and offer detail on his policy.
Trump also repeated a lot of lines he has used during the campaign and in previous debates. Iran got $150 billion from a flawed deal (not true), Clinton backed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (true), “nobody has greater respect for women than me” (!!), “her friends” Warren Buffet and George Soros took bigger tax deductions than him (false), and that George Patton and Douglas MacArthur would be spinning in their graves about US policy in the Middle East.
Trump is clearly out of his depth on policy issues and his smug bravado did not get him very far in the debate. He senses defeat but wants an extension of airtime which is why he was non-committal about accepting the outcome of the election, saying “he will look at it at the time”.
Trump is, unfortunately, planning to be a nuisance to America and the world long after November 8.
The views expressed are personal.