Pundits are getting it wrong about last night’s debate – Clinton wasn’t on her heels for the first 20-30 minutes, she was making a pitch to Sanders supporters, progressives, her base, and her lukewarm supporters.
I’ve been reading lots of so-called pundits talking about how Trump did really well in the first 20-30 minutes of the debate last night, and then Clinton took control and never let go. OK, from some perspective I get that – Trump stuck to his message, and Clinton’s responses weren’t as good as they would get later in the evening. I looked at Trump’s performance early on as more ignoring the question and repeating your usual stump speech a la Rubio’s “one trick pony” flub rather than “sticking to the message,” but I’m most vehemently NOT a Trump supporter, so that may just be my personal biases clouding my judgement.
What I got out of the first 20-30 minutes of the debate was something quite different than what the pundits did. It was in that part of the debate when Clinton mentioned climate change and raising taxes on the wealthy. Instead of a Clinton thrown on the defensive and responding to attacks with dodges and weaves, I saw a Clinton who was doing exactly what she wanted to be doing – laying out the reasons why Sanders supporters, progressives, and even lukewarm supporters like me should back her.
From what I saw in those first 20-30 minutes, Clinton was as effective at debunking Trump as she wanted to be, focused instead on saying to her base “This is why you should vote for me. This is why I’m a Democrat and a liberal.” And then, with an assault on Trump for not releasing his taxes and for his NRA endorsement, she switched from “please vote for me” to “this guy is a clueless, dishonest racist who doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote,” and she never let go.
And while I can’t say if it worked for everyone, it sure as hell worked for me. I was a lukewarm supporter of Clinton going into last night’s debate, but I’m not lukewarm on her any more. I saw a woman last night who could switch from combative to sympathetic to wonkish and back again in the course of a couple of sentences, depending on the topic and Trump’s approach. I saw one of the best debate performances I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen many, to be fair), and from someone that is supposedly a terrible debater. I saw one future President on that stage, and it wasn’t the billionaire bully. So while I’m never going to be a strong Clinton supporter, I’m definitely not lukewarm anymore.
Trump, on the other hand, made himself look like an idiot. I mean really, body-shaming and stereotyping hackers who can probably crack the IRS and leak your taxes isn’t that bright. And even if you’re proud of not paying income tax, saying “it makes me smart” isn’t that, well, smart. Neither is reminding your supporters that you’re proud (“That’s called business”) of making money off the housing bubble that cost so many of them their homes and jobs.
I suspect that,over the next few days, polls will bear out that Clinton “won” the debate last night, and that she’ll get at least a momentary bump in state and national polls. Whether she’ll be able to maintain that or not may be dependent on how well she uses the ammo that Trump gave her last night.