Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why Trump will lose debate #2

The second presidential debate is scheduled for Sunday October 9, 9:00-10:30 Eastern Time. It will be moderated by Martha Radditz (ABC) and Anderson Cooper (CNN). The format will be a town hall. The audience is a group of undecided voters selected by the Gallup organization. Half the questions will come from the audience; the rest will cover a broad range of topics.

Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line) predicts why those very facts combine to cause another loss for Trump: The first debate was a defeat for Trump. Here’s why the second could be an outright massacre.

If the first step to fixing your problem is acknowledging you have a problem, Donald Trump is in some serious trouble. We’re ten days from his second debate with Hillary Clinton, and while most voters and virtually every sane observer agree that Trump did poorly in the first debate, a spate of reporting suggests that his campaign, and especially Trump himself, are in a state of deep denial about what happened and what he needs to do in order to have a different outcome next time.

Here is some evidence of that.

CNN reports that the Trump campaign is ordering its surrogates to insist publicly that Trump won the first debate, even as the candidate himself seems to have no idea that anything is wrong ...

... When Trump was told Tuesday that he should do some things differently, he responded that his approach is what his base likes.

... While his plan forward is far from set, Trump is not planning to participate in any mock debates, although he is likely to incorporate what one person described as ‘tweaks’ to his strategy.

But that’s not all. Because of the format of the second debate, Trump stands to do even worse than he did in the first debate, and Clinton could do even better.

There are a few critical things to understand about this format, which has been used since 1992. ...

The first is that the questions asked by ordinary citizens are much less predictable than the questions asked by a single journalist moderator or a panel of journalists. While they’re almost always substantive, they often raise issues that haven’t been discussed much in the campaign, and can do so from unusual angles. That favors a candidate whose understanding of policy is not only deep but broad ...

Secondly, the setting of a town hall debate, with the candidates sitting and walking around amidst a group of voters, creates a different dynamic that Trump may not be attuned to. By many accounts, he’s itching to attack Clinton because her husband cheated on her, and he can’t stop himself from saying over and over that former Miss Universe Alicia Machado is contemptible because she gained weight. ... picture the cameras picking up the shocked and disgusted faces of women in the debate audience as he launches some of those insults.

Finally and most importantly, in a town hall debate we’re not only watching the candidates tell us what they think, we’re watching them interact with the people who ask the questions. The character of that interaction can be as important to our interpretation as the substance. ... What you may not realize is that while Hillary Clinton gets a lot of criticism for not being a natural performer and not being good at delivering a speech, this kind of exchange — between her and one voter, where she can make a connection with that person and relate their particular question to broader concerns — is something she’s really, really good at.

Could Donald Trump answer a question like that one [about balancing confidence and humility] without coming off as a complete jackass? Or answer a series of questions from individual citizens about things that matter deeply to them in a way that makes it appear that he genuinely cares about them? Can he stand up in front of one person, look them in the eye for longer than a few seconds, and communicate some measure of empathy?

Based on what we’ve seen from him so far, there’s little reason to think he can. That’s partly because it’s something Trump almost never does. Clinton does many campaign events in small groups, where she’ll meet with students or immigrants or business owners and have long conversations about what matters to them. Trump, on the other hand, seldom gets closer to voters than the distance between the first row and the podium at his rallies. But it’s more than lack of practice — it’s just not who he is. Whatever Trump’s talents, he’s not a people person. You don’t watch him talking to an ordinary Joe and say, “That guy really cares.”

Check out Waldman's article for video clips illustrating his points. He concludes:

All of that means that at the second debate Clinton will be right in her element, and Trump will be even farther out of his. Even if he works hard to prepare, it will be difficult for him to do much better than he did the first time around. From what we’re hearing, he could be headed for an outright debacle.

To this last point: you almost have to feel sorry for Trump's handlers. They are faced with the task of trying to change deep-rooted personality traits. Trump answers criticisms not with reflection but with evasion or aggression. His attacks are more personal than about policy. He is woefully uninformed about most, if not all, issues that will be faced by the next president; he will try to mask that lack of knowledge with smart-ass zingers. And wait for him to explain once again the nonsensical reasons for not releasing his tax returns. On this last matter here is what the New York Times discovered about Trump's taxes: Trump Tax Records Obtained by The Times Reveal He Could Have Avoided Paying Taxes for Nearly Two Decades.

Come next Sunday Trump will face not just one or two moderators - who frustratingly either cannot or will not pursue Trump's non-answers - but a whole roomful of concerned citizens, each itching to get substantive answers from the candidates. And each Q&A will be captured on camera for American to witness.

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