I watched the third and most boring presidential debate last night. Here are my thoughts.
Clinton’s goal was to stay vertical for ninety minutes and sound more well-informed than Trump while framing him as an unstable monster. She accomplished all of that and won the debate, in my opinion.
But it wasn’t a big win.
Trump only needed to act semi-presidential, and he did. We don’t expect him to have the same mastery of the facts. The bar is lower for the outsider. He needed a knockout punch but there was none.
Persuasion-wise, the most emotionally powerful moments involved Clinton describing Trump as a sexist/racist monster who can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. “Scary” was the only message she needed to drive home, and she did.
Ask Clinton voters why they prefer her over Trump and few people will mention the economy or any specific policies. Almost everyone will mention Trump’s “temperament” or alleged racism/sexism. Those were the only variables that mattered. Clinton reinforced those messages and Trump did little or nothing to counter them. The rest of the debate and all of the policy questions were largely irrelevant to persuasion.
Trump mentioned Clinton’s various scandals involving email, Wikileaks, and pay-for-play. But the public assumes all career politicians trade favors and say things in private that they wouldn’t say in public. The public also expects some dirty tricks out of campaigns. The Wikileaks attacks are toothless so far. So toothless that Clinton’s “Russia did it” defense is good enough (for a debate) even though it is ridiculous.
The biggest buzz from the debate seems to be Trump’s refusal to say in advance that he would accept the election results if they went against him. The pro-Clinton pundits are framing that as another example of Trump’s terribleness. But of course it is nothing but Trump keeping all of his options open as he does in every other situation when he can. He wants to maintain the right to complain later if the result looks rigged to him. That seems reasonable to me, and no real danger to the Republic. But the Clinton-friendly parts of the media will make it a thing this week.
If you want a reason to be worried, ask yourself why the mainstream media is so keen on framing the election as “not rigged.” The message I’m getting from them, collectively, is that they think it will be. (Because it will be.) We just don’t know how much the rigging will matter.
Why do I say it will be rigged?
Because whenever humans have motive, opportunity, a high upside gain, and low odds of detection, shenanigans happen 100% of the time. Our vote-counting systems have plenty of weak spots. Rigging (to some degree) is a near guarantee.
And keep in mind that Team Clinton has framed Trump as the next Hitler. That gives every citizen moral cover to do outrageous things to stop him. The stakes are sky-high. In this environment, it would truly be a miracle to have an unrigged election. But again, we don’t know how much rigging there will be. It might not be enough to matter.
There will almost certainly be election rigging for the same reason there has been debate rigging. If you don’t believe me about debate rigging, ask a woman [Donna Brazile] who did some of that debate rigging herself. Allegedly. Unless it was Russia’s fault.