Presidential Debate Exposed Differences in Substance, Style

One of the most significant responses to the first presidential debate of September 26 was that the left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore said that Trump had won.

Moore has been warning about Trump for several months now and his concern is real. Trump has been surging for weeks and his popularity seems to be snowballing.

A second significant factor was that neither candidate made a big mistake.

The presidential debate really exposed two distinct styles. Hillary Clinton appeared alert and she smiled a lot. Her persona was intended to win voters with nice-ness. She was obviously coached this way, including referring to Trump as “Donald” and offering plenty of pre-planned zingers.

Trump, on the other hand, was aggressive. He glowered. He constantly interrupted Clinton. He used his usual broken syntax but he made points that certainly moved a lot of people. He talked directly about how government policies of the last 30 years have driven business away. This certainly reverberated with millions of viewers.

Inside the political elite Clinton would be seen as the winner. But out in the real world Trump won easily. Because we are talking about two different worlds. Michael Moore was reflecting the world that he grew up in in working-class Flint, Michigan.

Roles were reversed in the debate. Republicans usually play the sappy nice guy and the Democrat is the aggressor.

But while Clinton smiled, she was not nice in the way that Mitt Romney always was. She relentlessly attacked Trump in the most mean-spirited ways. At the same time Trump took the opposite tack – in the most brazen terms, he called out Clinton’s record and proposed clear ideas for revitalizing the economy and explained how America has been taken advantage of.

For casual viewers who do not follow politics closely Trump’s bravado and aggressive style may have been off-putting to some, but to undecided voters out in the hinterlands Trump certainly made a big impression. One story in called How Trump Won over a Bar of Undecideds and Democrats in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania reported:

Reed, 35, is a registered Democrat and small businessman. “By the end of the debate, Clinton never said a thing to persuade me that she had anything to offer me or my family or my community,” he said, sitting at the same bar that has boasted local icons as regulars, such as the late Fred Rogers, and (the late) Arnold Palmer, who had his own stash of PM Whiskey hidden behind newer bottles of whiskey for his regular visits.

“Have to say Trump had the edge this evening, he came out swinging but also talked about specifics on jobs and the economy,” Reed said.

Reed said Clinton came across as either smug or as though she was reading her résumé, adding there was nothing on her résumé that touched on his life. “I am a small businessman, a farmer, come from a long line of farmers and coal miners. The policies she talked about tonight ultimately either hurt me or ignore me,” he said.
This is what real people saw. In fact Trump explained precisely what has happened to the economy in ways that many Americans have not heard before.

Clinton simply scored points by showing up and not having a coughing fit. But her attacks on Trump are not going to to win her votes or take votes from Trump. She fell back into generalities, which she always does in her speeches (“I will create high-paying jobs” or “the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes”, etc.). She also fell back into unsubstantiated claims that Trump does not pay his workers, while ignoring the fact that Trump has employed tens of thousands of people in his real estate empire.

Meanwhile NBC Nightly News host and debate moderator Lester Holt did what his NBC bosses told him to do – he acted as Clinton’s ally. Reported

Holt interrupted Trump a record 41 times, either to “fact-check” the Republican nominee, or to ask a follow-up question. Clinton was only interrupted seven times during the course of the 90-minute debate. Holt interrupted Trump the most during a particularly heated exchange about Trump’s stance on the Iraq war. Both candidates attempted to dodge their former stances. Holt challenged Trump in particular, cutting him off several times to assert the business mogul did indeed support the war in Iraq when it was popular. Holt interrupted Trump 10 times during the exchange, and demanded at least five times why Trump thought that he had better judgement than Clinton.

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton relentless media attacks on Trump have failed over the last year. Trump has been ruthlessly maligned since he entered the presidential race in Summer 2015 yet he has risen steadily in the polls to where he now appears poised to win the White House, which was considered an impossibility just two months ago. He is Teflon Trump. The media attacks are not sticking. suggested that Trump should soften his tone during the debate, but Trump was having none of it. Trump was being Trump. This certainly put him in good stead with the people who matter most – independent voters who are alarmed about the direction of our nation and who are looking for strong leadership.

It is Obama who gave rise to Trump. These voters are tired of Obama’s measured tones and his failed policies. They want action. In Trump they saw their anger reflected. They saw a very aggressive candidate asking very pointed question, for instance asking Clinton:

“I will tell you this, we have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs. And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand. Because they’re not doing it, and all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they’re gone. And Hillary, I’ll just ask you this, you’ve been doing this for 30 years: Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now?”

This was a telling moment in the debate. Because it finally set rational people to wondering: Why is she proposing all of these big ideas now? She has been in the public eye for decades. What is different about her now? Why hasn’t she addressed these problems before?

And this one question from Trump certainly resonated among millions of voters.

It is important to remember that Trump is appealing to hard-working undecided voters out in Middle America, not the Washington elite or East Coast snobs. And his strong performance really made people think that Trump means business. The elites do not relate to this in any way.

This is the opposite of what we have seen with meek Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney. A clear majority of Americans are now angry and very much alarmed about what is going on. They did not want to hear Hillary Clinton talk about equal pay for women. They wanted to hear some tough talk, and Trump gave it to them in spades.

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