Putting political opinions out there is a dumb idea. That said, I sometimes feel the need to write on the subject. So let's make a deal ... you choose to read this or not. If you do choose to read it, you agree to read all of it and not just see that I say the words "Trump" or "Clinton" and that gives you a free pass to jump to the comment section to write your hot takes. Let's be civil.
I have been dealing with a sickening feeling for months now. That feeling is that no matter what the polls said after the convention bumps or what they say today, Donald Trump will win the Presidency in a few weeks. I will continue to believe this to be the case until proven otherwise.
There are a lot of reasons I feel this way - enthusiasm gap, lowest common denominator, the appeal of an authoritarian figure to overstep an ineffectual legislative branch - but really it comes down to one thing: Trump is a top notch con man.
I wouldn't call (or care about) him a con man in his business dealings, though the case certainly could be made on that front. I do call him a political con man. And he is a great one. Maybe the best I've ever seen. And that brings us to tonight's debate.
I was listening to a local radio guy on my drive to the office this morning. He said what I had been thinking in clearer terms. Basically, all Trump has to do is look Presidential, all Hillary has to do is get everything right. If Trump can manage 90 minutes of semi-respectable debate, he wins. He cannot win the war of ideas against Clinton. This isn't a Republican or Democrat comment; it's a comment on experience and knowledge of issues between these two people. Trump can, however, win over a large section of undecided people with promises of being able to get things done without respect for our system of checks and balances.
Oh, Clinton will make grand promises too. But they will be filled with phrases like "working together with Congress" and "uniting the parties to create a better America." Trump will have none of that. Whether or not he will be able to get things like The Wall done without a massive Congressional fight isn't clear. He believes he can though, and that certainty will play well on television. Too well.
Whatever happens in the 90 minutes of tonight's debate one thing is clear: all that will be discussed, written about and opined on tomorrow will come down to two or three 5-second clips. That is the sad state of our media consumption habits. And that too plays well for Trump. Due to what I see as a complete lack of knowledge on just about any subject that doesn't directly benefit him and his family, Trump has mastered the 5-second nonresponse. Clinton who, lover her or hate her, is clearly a very smart individual, she is not the master of the sound byte.
So let's break down why I think that tonight's debate will be the turning point in the election and why I think it will not go well for Mrs. Clinton. These are her options as I see them.
- Clinton goes aggressive
- Clinton takes the high road
- Clinton goes for policy wins
- Clinton for emotional wins
Numbers 2 and 3 play to her strengths and 1 and 4 attack Trump's strengths. But, in dealing with a person as Teflon as Donald Trump, what is the best strategy?
If Clinton goes aggressive and Donald doesn't, he looks presidential - which I believe matters a lot to undecided voters.
If Clinton goes aggressive and Donald does too, he will take the air out of the room and the reporting that follows eliminating her massive lead on issues of policy.
If Clinton takes the high road and attempts to turn it into a legitimate debate, she normalizes Trump, and he looks Presidential.
Policy and emotional wins both can play to her advantage, but she must not make a single mistake. This includes: Yelling once, laughing at an inappropriate time or coughing. It isn't fair, but the number of mistakes Clinton can make that will dominate the news in the following 48 hours are plentiful. The number of mistakes Trump can make that will actually impact his support? Practically zero.
It is my belief that Clinton can win the debate tonight, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that she will sway people who as of September 26th, 2016 remain undecided. The cards are stacked against her. She will need to be perfect to sway voters, gain enthusiasm among centrists and get momentum to carry her these last few weeks. If she is not perfect, I am afraid it could be the beginning of what will end up with a portrait of President Trump in the White House.