This election has brought out intense passions. Most of us have decided who we’re voting for already. There’s little room for movement among those convinced the other side is evil, out to hurt women, flood our country with Muslims, and we’re not listening to each other. In this environment, what did Trump do that made him, in my opinion, more effective?
What Trump had to do, in my opinion, was convince people like myself that he’s not crazy, and that’s he’s focused enough for the job. Basically, does he have the personality to be President? He did this quite well, not only keeping up with Clinton, but by and large defining the terms and tone of the debate.
Right from the start Trump was aggressive and focused on Clinton’s documented shortcomings. His strategy was a smart one: keep the attacks coming while discussing his policy ideas with broad brush strokes. Trump took every question from Holt and turned it into the discussion HE wanted to have. Holt asked about the economy and how to make it better: Trump responded by talking about everything from trade policy to his own business success, while attacking Hillary’s record on NAFTA. His responses were so dense, so filled with asides and potential tangents, than Clinton couldn’t possibly respond to every assertion Trump was making. Instead, she had to lamely refer people to her own website for “fact checking.” Trump’s strategy here was brilliant: attack Clinton on specific issues, make her defend herself while presenting his own policies more broadly, and making it difficult for her to counter him on specifics. Clinton was on defense virtually the entire debate. By making his attacks early, Trump made it seem as though Clinton was merely responding, rather than coming up with unique attacks on her own, as she hit his tax and business records.
Trump used Holt’s rather hands-off moderating to his advantage. Holt wouldn’t press Trump to answer questions directly and with specifics, and Trump used this to answer in the way he wished. He used old sales tricks to let Holt keep him talking, such as responding to a question with a question. “You asked me a question, didn’t you Lester?” he said at one point as Holt tries to ask a follow-up. “Let me answer.” Reminded me of my cold-calling days.
Policy specifics mean almost nothing during a debate. Let me say that again, because it’s a big point: policy specifics mean almost nothing during a debate! Don’t believe me? Then tell me, without googling, five policy specifics from the Obama/Romney debates. Can’t? How about just one? Better question: If you can remember a few policy specifics, tell me how many were implemented, exactly as described during the debate, once the winner was on office. Can you think of any?
I’ve followed politics for decades, and for the life of me, I can’t think of a single specific policy recommendation from any debate I’ve ever watched. Not one. What do I remember? Obama talking about bayonets. Romney talking about binders full of women. I remember Tina Fey making fun of Palin, I remember GW Bush’s goofy smile. But nothing really specific. What will be remembered about the Trump debate? Not much, other than that he didn’t appear crazy, and Clinton didn’t get sick. Was Trump sexist? The women who thought so before the debate still do, and the ones that didn’t, still don’t. It’s a wash.
I’m voting for Trump because his vision and his judgement are what I want in a President. I’ve got some idea of his policies, but why do I need more specifics now? We all know that the specifics will change once the day to day reality of being president sinks in. I’d rather know that my president is tough, smart, and good on his feet. During the debate, Trump showed that he could walk into a hostile environment in front of a much more experienced opponent, and not only hold his own but make the space his. I want that quality in a president. The specifics will come later.