In my book, for what it’s worth, Clinton took the debate hands down, but that leads to the next question.
Does it matter?
The ‘undecided’ in this election are few and far between. As far as I can tell, American voters are either against Trump or against Clinton with very few actually for either of them. Most have apparently made their choice already and will be sticking with it, debate or no debate. The only question is which of the candidates can tactically muster the votes represented by the key states in the Electoral College.
Trump’s supporters will say that their man was on good form last night. Clinton’s will counter that she made all the telling points. Both views are pretty close to the truth.
The trouble with saying that Trump is on form is that it is a bit like praising Attila the Hun for making an effective speech. Trump, like Attila, excels at getting his message across forcefully, even if we know that the consequences may be as unpalatable as they are unpredictable. Clinton was the consummate professional, as she always is, but in the present mutinous political climate it is hard to defend policies that can’t be starkly distinguished from the status quo, or which appear to fall short of acknowledging that the nation’s troubles are every bit as deep and wounding as her opponent says they are.
Trump is unabashed about branding America a failed state, and does so with passion, even if the substance is missing. Actually, come to think of it, even the passion seems a little contrived. Trump’s odd hand gestures (watch for them next time out if you missed them in this debate; they resemble those of a man holding up a diamond for inspection) are those of calculation rather than passion. Clinton’s problem is that in trying to offer sensible, modulated solutions in a situation far too complex for her opponent to comprehend she can only come across as boring or smug. Last night, she was a bit of both.
Trump is good at identifying problems, but his solutions – in those few instances in which they exist other than in his head – are unfailingly shallow, often fatuous, and sometimes verge on dangerous. He himself may not be quite as stupid as his sound-bites might suggest, but in the brain-cell count he is more than a few short of an intellect – or as my late father would have said, a few apples short of an orchard.
Perhaps worse, he thinks that coming across as your ordinary ill-educated working Joe is in and of itself an intellectual virtue. And it must be said that in the present climate it is certainly a political virtue.
Ignorance may be bliss, and supposedly it is folly to be wise – but not in the prospective leader of the Free World.
Trump is no match for Clinton in any conventional political sense but his ego-driven buffoonery, the genuine inarticulacy with which his views are couched, the non sequiturs that erupt whenever he is caught napping, are all part of the artless charm that he has turned into an art form.
My favourite non sequitur of the evening was Trump proudly demonstrating his lack of racial prejudice with a story about a club he owns in Palm Beach, Florida, that lets in African Americans and ‘even’ Muslims. I wouldn’t venture to guess how many black faces or friends of Islam might be found in Palm Beach, let alone at Mr Trump’s palm-fringed and no doubt mega-expensive social club. Between a few and none would be my guess.
My second favourite was his depiction of the senior figures – I wouldn’t call them ‘leading lights’ – of the National Rifle Association as ‘lovely people’. And this, I should add, in the middle of a discussion about recent killing of young black men by police officers.
There is no doubt about it: Trump is a laughable chump, but still he staggers on, arrogantly, blindly and inarticulately, and many voters respond in kind. A few hilarious faux pas in the debates may not be enough to stop him.
For round two, Clinton can’t rely on Trump shooting himself in the foot because he’s wearing steel boots. She may need to fire the magic bullet herself.