27 September 2016

Did Hillary Clinton win last night's debate?

If we were able to conjure up a completely objective standard by which to judge last night's debate, I don't think any reasonable person would conclude otherwise. But as I have said elsewhere, politics is about perception. Politics is not really about facts--it never really has been. The media, and the Clinton campaign, are obsessed with fact-checking. My timeline is filled with "gotcha" fact-checking of both candidates' statements.

Regardless, the obsessive fact-checking reflects a media that is (in my opinion), actually trying to be objective (even if they're failing at that, too). Nonetheless, it also shows that the media is also woefully out-of-touch with a significant portion of the electorate. The people telling you Hillary decisively won the debate are the same people who told you Trump was consistently losing the Republican debates. The people telling you Hillary decisively won the debate are the same people who told you Trump could never win the nomination. Politics is, in fact, highly subjective in a way that the media can probably never capture. What a Hillary supporter sees as her careful dismantling of Trump's previous statements comes off to a Trump supporter as a rehearsed talking point delivered with a fake, cringe-worthy smile. In some cases, what the candidates say matters less than how they say it. This is particularly true with Trump.

What this ultimately means is that the candidates have to be judged through a different lens. The standard by which each candidate needed to meet was and is different. Trump didn't need to "win" this debate. He is not a typical candidate (in this very not-typical 2016) and really, only needed to clear a series of relatively low hurdles: Don't make a major gaffe; don't say something patently offensive. No doubt, there are some among you who will argue that he couldn't even do this. Nonetheless, you're looking through the wrong glasses. If nothing Trump has done within the last year derailed his candidacy, surely nothing he did last night will do that, either. Anything he said or did last night was minor. Hillary Clinton is judged against the usual presidential debate standards, and in that regard, she too did nothing which would signal a significant change in the race. You may think that I'm setting the bar too low for Trump. I don't think I'm setting the bar at all, I'm just telling you where I think it is.

As someone who will not vote for either of these two candidates, but acknowledging that I'm not exactly unbiased (as none of us are), I thought Trump did as well as he could have expected for about the first 30 minutes. He came across as forceful and no-nonsense, and had Hillary on her heels. She was defensive, rehearsed, and wooden. During the second half, Hillary was much stronger, and Trump (quite ironically), lost his debate stamina and lost any focus he had. The blows he tried to land missed widely.

In the end, listening to the talking heads was hilarious. They've been wrong every time for the last year and they expect us to listen to their analysis now. Quite frankly, nothing last night will change the current state of the race. No amount of fact checking matters at this point. We're stuck in a very close race where Hillary likely has a small lead. To be continued...
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