Why you should care
Because the election is in six weeks.
Let’s be honest: This debate was not as good as advertised. Primed for a cage match, we got a bit of a snooze. I am not saying that a presidential debate should be popcorn material, but given the hype, the Clinton-Trump showdown fell a little flat. The candidates ran on a good bit — and the moderator, Lester Holt (God bless him), just played a low-key matador, letting both candidates run on and run by him. Maybe that was all he could do. But absent dramatic policy or personal reveals, stunning mistakes (alas, Trump’s revisions and lies no longer count) and one-line smackdowns (“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”), the debate was not nearly as engrossing as some of the best GOP primary debates. In case you were not one of the 75 million people expected to tune in, here’s what you missed.
Each candidate had moments of strength: Hillary’s started when the race question opened the second segment, and she came across as poised and knowledgeable on everything from security to political “stamina.” Donald looked good early on, hammering Clinton for “30 years” of public service, and cleverly offering to release his taxes in exchange for Clinton releasing the 33,000 emails her lawyers deleted after deeming them not work-related while her private server was under investigation.
And yet, both nominees left low hanging fruit on the table. Why didn’t Trump go after Clinton’s conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation? Why did Clinton let an entire debate go by without pouncing on Trump for immigration? Look for both issues to find their moments in the coming debates.
Unexpected Response of the Night
Clinton likely turned some heads with her comment that all of us, and not just police officers, are guilty of implicit bias. Whether or not it will be a moment we point back to, her nuance separated her from Trump’s unruly, aggressive style.
And the Winner Is…
Probably it was a draw. In a politically divided country — just 4.2 percent of voters are undecided, according to Huffington Post’s polltracker — both Hillary and Donald fans will find just enough here to be pleased with their candidate’s performance. Hillary’s supporters will seize on Donald’s habits of interrupting and “Trumpsplaining,” while Donald’s supporters will complain about Hillary’s condescending smile. (Or “smirk,” depending on where you’re sitting.)
4 Things That Will Happen Next
1. Media Swings Back to Clinton. The Donald’s recent momentum may slow a bit. In particular, I expect the mainstream press will now follow The New York Times’ lead and lean in aggressively for Hillary, just as they have leaned in for Donald over the last month. Indeed, having gotten the “close race” that they wanted — before the debate, Hillary’s lead had narrowed to 2.1 percent — the media will now begin to dismantle Trump, whom many deem both unqualified and of low, racist character, as evidenced by a slew of recent Clinton endorsements.
2. Donald Brings Out the Nastygrams. Of course, it’s not over for Trump. Indeed, Donald telegraphed that a new phase is coming in the campaign as he fully empties the skeletons in Bill Clinton’s closet: “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, I can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.” But it’s not clear that turning on the aggro, as we saw in the Republican primaries, will work with undecideds or with wary Republicans — both of whom he desperately needs.
3. Clinton Continues to Attack Without Inspiring. By contrast, Clinton’s new ad, featuring a series of adolescent girls looking in the mirror while Donald’s voice makes objectifying remarks about women, is devastating. It puts into question the core of the man. Run enough, and reinforced by Donald’s own behavior, the ad could well disqualify him for many middle-of-the-road voters. Clinton’s husband quietly did something similar to Bob Dole back in the 1996 election, with early devastating ads that paired him with Newt Gingrich and cemented views on him before voting started.
And yet, Clinton still has not offered up a bold, signature policy cry to energize her base, independent voters or the Never Trump crowd and ensure a large turnout. Quick: Name three of Clinton’s major new policy ideas. Right, I thought so. But were you asked the same question about Trump, you might cite the temporary ban on Muslims, the wall, tax cuts and trade isolationism. Lacking a compelling policy offering won’t kill Hillary’s campaign — after all, Obama did not have a compelling one in 2012 and Bush 41 had little besides “no new taxes.” On the other hand, a lack of passion can lead your voters in swing states to either stay at home — or, just as deadly, give up on long lines and go home.
This will be a rough ad for Trump https://t.co/nIUy44Y5k1
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) September 27, 2016
4. A Wildcard Takes Us for One Last Turn. Again, Trump will not remain quiet. And there are so many more reveals, mistakes and new players to come. So let’s keep an eye out and see what happens. One last note: If I were pressed to guess today, after 90 minutes of less-than-thrilling point and counterpoint, the real change moment will not come at this or the other two debates. Rather, I expect a seminal speech by either President Obama, President Clinton or Ivanka Trump ultimately to play a starring role in helping the last undecideds figure out what to do.
What do you think will happen in the next debates — and in November? Let me know at email@example.com.