Thoughts on The First Debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated each other for the first time on Monday night. Here are my thoughts after a couple days:

I watched the debate through the lens of the political pundit, and from that vantage point, Clinton beat Trump slightly. She was more coherent, and thus made more sense. The problem was that there was very little in the way of substance. It was all political inanities, and thus they didn’t hold any weight. The memorable lines she had were mostly zingers, which made for good TV, but didn’t really do much to attract a new audience, in my opinion.

Trump was rather disappointing from that political pundit lens. He rambled, and was repetitive at times which made him a bit incoherent. He interrupted Clinton and the moderator, Lester Holt quite a bit which made him seem combative. In his defense, both candidates forced Trump on the defensive by picking at some of his known personal flaws. Trump, to his credit, wanted to give his side of the story on every single point, but in doing so, he took up too much time and thus spent too little time attacking Clinton’s major flaws.

Having said that, Trump was at his best in the beginning of the debate, and got in the best exchange of the night when he put Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire over her and Bill Clinton’s support of NAFTA and TPP:

He was also very strong when he reminded the country that Hillary Clinton has been in politics for decades, and none of the problems the country has can be fixed:

Thus, despite a less than ideal performance stylistically, Trump still ended up getting a defined message across, a message which is obviously in opposition to Clintion’s message, or lack thereof. This was one of the most important things, in my view. He established himself to new viewers as the change candidate, explicitly noting that Clinton’s experience was plentiful, but ‘bad’ experience, and thus useless.

As I said before, I thought Trump lost through the lens of the political pundit, but from the lens of the undecided voter, or individual who was seeing Trump for the first time, Trump probably made a decent impression. This is because those voters walked in expecting him to be a complete buffoon who thinks Africa is a country.

As mentioned earlier, Trump was able to put forward a clear message as opposed to tired political inanities. His specific references to the decimation of states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan when talking about trade is far more effective than Clinton’s bland talk about an economy ‘working for all.’ In other words, Trump spoke to individuals, Clinton to a generic voting bloc.

According to Scott Adams, Trump had a successful debate because he showed the country that he wasn’t an absolute madman, as portrayed by the mainstream media. :

But the most interesting question has to do with what problem both of them were trying to solve with the debate. Clinton tried to look healthy, and as I mentioned, I don’t think she completely succeeded. But Trump needed to solve exactly one problem: Look less scary. Trump needed to counter Clinton’s successful branding of him as having a bad temperament to the point of being dangerous to the country. Trump accomplished exactly that…by…losing the debate.

 

Trump was defensive, and debated poorly at points, but he did not look crazy. And pundits noticed that he intentionally avoided using his strongest attacks regarding Bill Clinton’s scandals. In other words, he showed control. He stayed in the presidential zone under pressure. And in so doing, he solved for his only remaining problem. He looked safer.

 

By tomorrow, no one will remember what either of them said during the debate. But we will remember how they made us feel.

On that last point, Adams is absolutely correct. I’ll go one step further, and say that by the second half of the debate, most people were tuning out and thus couldn’t tell you what was said even 20 seconds later. I know I was zoning out, mostly messing about on Twitter while listening in the background.

As far is Trump seeming less scary, Adams is right. While Trump was combative, as I stated, he was mostly on the defensive. But more importantly, there was no ‘Little Marco’ or ‘tough guy Jeb’ moment. He didn’t go nuclear on Clinton although he could have when she left the door wide open for him to do so. On top of this, the fact that he was able to go toe to toe with Clinton without any major flubs, missteps, not knowing basic facts, etc, was a win for him, given the expectations that he would be exposed in this setting against Clinton.

All in all, he did well for his first one on one debate on that elevated of a stage.

That hasn’t stopped the media from trying to invent a scandal where there was none. Enter Alicia Machado, the Venezuelan Miss Universe winner from 1996. Hillary Clinton brought her up at the end of the debate out of nowhere to highlight how poorly Trump treats women. Clinton said that he called her ‘Miss Piggy’ and ‘Miss Housewife,’ berating her because she had gained weight after the pageant. Recall that Trump had owned the Miss Universe pageant at the time.

Clinton’s aim of course, was to use Machado to highlight how poorly Trump treats women, thus painting him as a sexist. On its face, it is a tired, old political smear tactic. As I’ve mentioned in before, this appeal to an identity group (in this case women), is slowly falling on deaf ears. Yet, politicians and professional victims are resorting to these tactics more than ever.

But even beyond this, the claim is ridiculous. For a start, Machado, having won the Miss Universe crown, took on added contractual obligations as a result. Her gaining 50 pounds was not a good look. That’s just a fact. If you win a prize because of your beauty and physical attractiveness, there is nothing wrong with being asked to maintain that form for future endorsements, which were based solely on that physical form.

She didn’t do it, and thus was about to be dropped from her endorsements and obligations. It was Trump who didn’t want to let her go, and thus gave her the option to get in shape. This video from CNN explains the whole story.

In true Trump style, he made a public event over Miss Universe working out to get back into shape. As you can see in the video, everyone there is making light of the situation. Maybe things were different off camera. But you can’t fake the warm interaction between Trump and Machado captured here. Honestly, if you an find evidence of Trump’s extreme misogyny here, you must truly be a miserable person.

And this is all before going into Machado’s rather colorful past.

Yet the media, almost across the board, went in on this story in the 48 hours after the debate. Machado did the rounds, appearing on Good Morning America, CNN, Megyn Kelly, and others. The print media salivated, and the political pundits wailed about Trump the way the usually have.

This episode highlights why the mainstream media is sliding further and further into irrelevancy. It’s like they don’t understand that we, as the public, have access to the internet, an can dig all the way down the source material, thereby highlighting lies, obfuscations and narratives driven by out of context remarks, and so forth. Yet the media keeps on keeping on. They truly know nothing else.