On The Second Debate

Trump did better than expected in the second debate, better than the first debate, in my opinion. I’d probably call it a draw, in the sense that neither candidate wiped the floor with the other. Trump’s still struggling, but everyone expected (hoped, perhaps) he would implode–and he didn’t.

When I watch the debates, I’m purposefully trying to look past the surface stuff and see things that will get buried later. The media tends to focus on the more sensational things that happen, but I guess I’m more interested in the boring stuff.

For example, I noticed that Chelsea Clinton snuck into the friends box with Bill after the big introduction of the spouses. (She may have done this in the first debate too, but I didn’t notice.) The obvious conclusion is that she didn’t want to shake hands with the Trump crowd. I don’t remember anybody in the media mentioning that, but it might have something to do with this:

Later, we learned from a Washington Post article that Trump wanted to put those women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault into the Trump friends box, so that Bill Clinton would have to confront them on national television. A cunning plan, and the kind of power play you’d expect to see only on HBO’s House of Cards.

CNN’s post-debate coverage team lost their minds over Trump’s comments about appointing a special investigator to jail Clinton. I personally thought it was a laugh line (Trump is objectively better at comedy than Clinton), didn’t take it seriously, and I don’t believe he would or could follow through with it. The Clintons are a pretty big political force in this country and it seems like a bad business move to alienate them, regardless of party affiliation. On the other hand, if Trump doesn’t at least make a serious effort to follow through, his base could turn on him. (I’m pretty sure the left still hasn’t forgotten that Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay.)

Speaking of CNN and boring details, I was captivated by a guy in the background behind the analysts who kept walking around holding up a giant head of Wolf Blitzer on a stick. Every time the camera focused on a different analyst, the guy with the Wolf Blitzer head-on-a-stick walked into the background of the shot.

Back to the debate, Clinton did better at connecting with the audience questions, so maybe she won that handful of votes on the stage. The “town hall” format definitely favored her.

I thought most of the questions from the audience were shallow. Half of them amounted to, “Can’t you guys just be less terrible to watch?”

  • Do you think you’re being good role models?
  • What will you do to make Obamacare more affordable?
  • Can you be president to all Americans?
  • What would you look for in a Supreme Court Justice?
  • What’s your energy policy?
  • Can you name one positive thing about your opponent?

Of those, I only thought the Obamacare and energy policy questions were relevant. The Supreme Court question should have been blindingly obvious for anyone to answer: The Republican will nominate conservative justices, the Democrat will nominate liberal justices, and every case from now until the end of time will be a 5-4 decision with half the country hating the outcome.

I noticed that Clinton gave a weak answer to the WikiLeaks emails and then changed the subject to Russia.

Russia and our growing Cold War-style proxy war in Syria is my current concern du jour if you haven’t noticed from my previous posts. Clinton sent another pretty strong message opposing Russia propping up Assad and the Syrian government, while Trump suggested we should work with Russia to fight ISIS. That’s a pretty sharp contrast. (On that particular topic, I submit that Clinton might be farther right than Trump.) If you’re concerned about wars with foreign superpowers, it’s pretty clear that Clinton is more likely to lead us into a confrontation with Russia. (Or continue to lead us down that path, I should say.)

On the other hand, Trump is more likely to lead us into becoming a vassal of Russia. So pick your poison.

Then again, if you subscribe to the theory that if Trump is elected, Mike Pence will be running the country (which I kind of do), he’ll probably take an even more aggressive stance against Russia than Clinton. I believe he mentioned air strikes in the veep debate.

Trump’s answer on that last question about something they admired in their opponent sounded more sincere than Clinton’s.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what the white ribbon on Clinton’s lapel meant. Couldn’t figure it out.

I’ve always liked Martha Raddatz so for me she has the journalistic and war correspondent cred to pull off her editorial remarks regarding warning the enemy about upcoming attacks. I probably wouldn’t have bought it from Anderson Cooper though. Overall I thought the moderators were okay, but I do think they went a little easy on Clinton until Trump started complaining.

Where do they get these debate audiences? Can they stop letting noisy partisans into them? If the debates are supposed to be for the American people, put them in an empty auditorium. I expect Trump is going to try to pack in even more partisans for his side in the last one.

One thing I’ve been wondering the last couple of days in the wake of all the Bill-Clinton-did-this and Trump-said-that, and after what seemed to be a clear theme in the audience questions: Should it be important for the American president to be a good role model for the kids? Electing someone based solely on whether you’d let your kids hang out with them seems … I don’t know … naive maybe? I’m not sure it’s healthy for a democracy to try to view their president through that lens. (I realize I’m basically making Trump’s argument here, but I’ve said before that he often has valid points, even if the way he makes them is, um, let’s say off-putting.)

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