There has been an avalanche of commentary on the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reflecting a range of differing views. Hence, there seems to be little need for extensive analysis here, but we cannot resist making a few observations. In general, we agree with the media consensus: that Clinton outpointed Trump, in substance and demeanor, but failed to land any “knockout” punches. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what it would take, given the peculiar support Trump enjoys, to constitute a knockout.
We wondered if Al Gore was watching the debate and, if so, what he made of it. Gore, many will remember, was sharply criticized for sighing during a 2000 debate with George Bush and, given the closeness of that race, it is not impossible to think that those sighs might have cost him the election. Gore’s sighs, however, pale in comparison with Trumps assorted glowers, grimaces and sniffs. We also marvel at Trump’s capacity to produce a seemingly endless stream of misstatements sufficient to keep fact-checkers working overtime. Again, casting an eye to history, we recall the serious damage suffered by Gerald Ford from his unfortunate denial that the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe. If that misstep was not fatal to his campaign, it was a significant factor in his loss to Jimmy Carter. In Trump’s case, however, such a gaffe would hardly be noticed.
After the debate, Trump complained that his microphone had been defective, a complaint that inspired an amusing riff from Frank Bruni in Wednesday’s New York Times:
Go ahead and laugh at Donald Trump’s claims that he was foiled by a finicky microphone on Monday night, but I can relate. When I write a bad column, it’s all my keyboard’s fault.
The other columnists have reliable keyboards. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but they do. Reach your own conclusions. When one of them taps out a beautiful sentence, a beautiful sentence appears on the computer screen, just the way it’s supposed to.
When I try to tap out an even more beautiful sentence — and my sentences are amazing sentences; you can’t believe these sentences — I have to press and bang and hunch closer to the desk and bang even harder and still you never know.
The sentence winds up mangled. It lacks a verb. Or it sprouts an adverb (“bigly,” anyone?) that sounds ridiculous, though I’m not. Readers experience a rant where, really, there was eloquent reflection — or would have been, if not for my keyboard.
The Trump campaign also complained that the moderator, Lester Holt, had been unfair in asking more follow up questions of Trump than Clinton. Without debating that point, we note that there were not only follow-up questions but initial questions that we wished had been asked.
Aleppo and Afghanistan.
We pointed out in Blog No.110 that two missing words from the Trump and Clinton campaigns were Aleppo and Afghanistan and they remained missing in Monday’s debate. Afghanistan continues to be our forgotten war, and the way forward in in Iraq and Syria is hardly clearer. Clinton taxed Trump for not having a plan to defeat ISIS (or only an undisclosed “secret” plan) but her own “plan” appears to consist largely of what Obama is already doing. The Kerry negotiations seeking a ceasefire in Syria achieved momentary success, but quickly came to a predictable end, while the situation in Aleppo, ignored by the candidates, grows more dire each day. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was left speechless by the question “What would you do about Aleppo?” and we would like to see if Clinton and Trump can do any better.
Clinton correctly quoted Trump as having said that global warming was a Chinese hoax. Trump denied it, but the record is clear. In any event, he could have been asked what his position is now. Clinton has supported vigorous actions to respond to climate change, but has not been pressed as to the costs and economic trade-offs of her proposals.
Trump’s tax returns.
Trump deflected a question about his tax returns with his usual excuse that they are under audit. He did indicate, in response to a comment by Clinton, that he had been “smart” not to pay any income tax in certain prior years. We waited in vain for a series of follow-up questions such as, for example:
Please explain exactly why you or your lawyers think the fact that your returns are being audited prevents or excuses you from releasing them? What is your or their reasoning?
Without disclosing your actual returns, are you willing to issue a statement, certified by an accountant, showing for the last five years, a) your total reported income, b) your adjusted gross income, c) the total charitable deductions claimed, d) the total tax paid?
Race and criminal justice.
Both candidates spoke largely in generalities about race and policing. In our last blog, No. 114, we discussed the issue, including the 2015 Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. We would be interested to know if the candidates are familiar with that report and the extent to which they agree or disagree with its recommendations. (The most specific comment that Trump made on policing was a defense of “stop and frisk” in which he gave exaggerated credit to that practice in reducing crime in New York City and underestimated its abuse.)
Both candidates made negative comments about free trade agreements and the TPP in particular. Trump correctly pointed out that Clinton had once referred to TPP as the “gold standard” of trade agreements and she disingenuously demurred, claiming that she had only “hoped” that the agreement would be a good one. The candidates are entitled to take whatever position they wish, but at this point we would have liked to have a third candidate on the platform giving TPP the defense we think it deserves.
We found it remarkable that Trump’s signature issue, building a wall and deporting millions (just how many millions is unclear at this point) did not come up. We regard both proposals as fundamentally misguided and they could be the basis for any number of questions. At the same time, Clinton could be pressed as to what she would do, and how much she would spend, to make the southern border more secure and to pursue individuals who overstay their visas.
As we expected, Trump raised the issue of Clinton’s emails while serving as Secretary of State and the immunity agreements given to several of her associates. We think that was fair game and that, in fact, Trump could have made more of it by focusing on Clinton’s close adviser Cheryl Mills who attempted to fill the dual role of a witness and an attorney for Clinton. The grants of immunity were the subject of a hearing before the House Government Oversight Committee on Wednesday with heated questioning of FBI Director Comey. Clinton will have to be prepared for a further exploration of the issue at the next debate.
Finally, we will repeat a point that we may have made before. We think it would be far more instructive to have a true debate that followed the classic formula: a single proposition to be proposed and opposed with affirmative and negative presentations, opportunities for the speakers to cross-examine each other and rebuttals. Such a format would allow the candidates to explore an issue in depth–as we hope our presidents will.There are several issues (e.g., immigration, climate change) that would readily lend themselves to that treatment, but we do not expect to see it in this election campaign or in our lifetime.