Let me be clear:
I’m a Democrat — a left-wing, liberal hippie Democrat. An ex-Bernie Sanders supporter.
During my brief time in Congress, I worked for Tom Daschle (then the Senate Majority Leader) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (still there – he represents a good portion of Portland, Oregon.).
So, as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, it pains me to write the following:
Donald Trump won the debate.
He smoked Hillary Clinton.
The reasons for this are frustrating, but they are also real.
One of the most frustrating things about this election cycle has been the perpetuation of a false equivalency.
As soon as one levels a complaint against Donald Trump (6 corporate bankruptcies, defrauded students of Trump University, changed his position on abortion 3 times in 10 hours, etc.), the other side responds with attacks on Hillary’s trustworthiness (Benghazi, 30,000 emails, etc.).
The fundamental problem with this is that these are not equivalent offenses.
But the media (and the narrative on social media) treats them equally:
Essentially, “Since they both lie, one should vote for whom you like best.”
So it becomes instead a question of optics and of legitimacy.
On those two points, Hillary lost the debate to Donald Trump Monday night.
Here are three reasons why:
Neither candidate is stupid.
And from an optics perspective, nothing was more telling than the respective candidates’ choice of clothing.
Hillary opted for a red pantsuit. Red – the power color.
Donald Trump, in contrast, sought to soften his image with a blue tie (traditionally, the color of choice for Democratic candidates).
This fits. Donald Trump, the hard-charging businessman, was aiming for a softer image, whereas Hillary Clinton sought to counter any inherent “women-are-the-weaker-sex” bias by wearing a high-powered red pantsuit.
At the end of the day, the sound-bites (and Hillary’s triumphant shimmy) don’t matter.
Any zingers Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton were able to land—which have already been dissected, trumpeted and cut into memes and GIFs by pundits and news media ad infinitum – are useless.
Trump won this debate from the jump – for the exact same reason I believe then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won her Vice Presidential Debate against then-Sen. Joe Biden back in 2008:
The false equivalency.
Trump gained legitimacy in the eyes of many undecided voters Monday night simply by appearing on the stage next to Hillary.
The split screen (employed by CNN, Fox and others) gave viewers 90 minutes to look at them as co-equal candidates, and equally valid choices.
It doesn’t matter that Hillary brings with her more than 30 years of public service, including two terms as a senator from New York and four years representing U.S. abroad as Secretary as State.
It doesn’t matter that Trump bragged about paying no taxes, or alienated millionaires by saying he’d repeal the carried interest provision.
On that podium, they were presented as equals.
Which brings us to:
3. The Double Standard
The general public expects Hillary to know how to debate.
She’s been doing it for years.
So Trump didn’t need to “win” the debate on Monday; he simply needed not to horrifically “lose” it.
See the distinction?
The same was true with the Sarah Palin – Joe Biden VP debate of 2008.
In my eyes, Sarah Palin smoked Biden because she proved that, even as a rookie, she could hold her own on stage against the seasoned lawyer, senator and debater.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, who is a rising figure in the Alt-Right conservative media movement, agrees that Trump accomplished what he needed to:
“Trump was defensive, and debated poorly at points, but he did not look crazy…Clinton won the debate last night. And while she was doing it, Trump won the election. He had one thing to accomplish – being less scary – and he did it.”
Trump won the debate just by showing up and not bombing.
For those of you who believe he did bomb — be careful. So did Obama in his first debate against Romney four years ago. If nothing else, this just lowers expectations even more for Trump’s next two debate performances.
In my eyes, Trump proved that he could hold his own on a stage against a far more experienced opponent.
And in so doing, he positioned himself as a far more legitimate contender for the presidency than he was just a few short days ago.