Sunday, October 9, 2016

2nd Debate Thoughts


The major takeaway of the 2nd debate was Trump's vastly improved performance. As a Trump supporter since around March, I've watched a fair number of his speeches (mostly sans telepromtper) and some of his other public speaking, and cringed through most of the first debate. But this was as good as I've seen him, I'd say. Very on point, surprisingly articulate, a fair amount of facts and policy; frankly it was far better than I expected it to be. (I'll be honest I didn't even want to watch it).

Certainly not perfect, but for most of the debate he more than held is own against Clinton, an extremely competent adversary. And it times he really dominated and outshined. This is the Trump we'd expect; the confident alpha male. He was hit pretty hard early and repeatedly on the leaked private lewd conversation. He handled it well, minus an awkward attempt to make it about ISIS. I think people could see what he was trying to say. That in a world where ISIS is having mass beheadings on the beach, the adversaries of America are likely amused that we're quibbling over a potential leader's dirty words. But, he didn't deliver well. Fortunately for him, the moderator's were really wanting to bash him for it, and brought it up again. He handled it better the second time. They inadvertently did him a favor (as they've been doing for months). 

I have a theory as to the difference of his demeanor between the two debates: he was using beta blockers to control anxiety. I have used them myself for public speaking and performances and can speak well to their effects. In the first debate Trump was flustered (of course he was debating two people), he was red in the face, and he just couldn't compose his statements well. It was painful to watch in a sort of subconscious way: it just raised my blood pressure. In this debate he was not only surprisingly restrained (for him) but really had his thoughts in order a lot, whereas he normally drifts around. I think he used beta blockers and that's why we saw him in command of his thoughts. It would also explain why he seemed to lose composure towards the end. (I turned it off after 1 hour 15 minutes). Either the stress of the event started to catch up with him, or the drug was losing efficacy. Now I don't view him using such drugs negatively. I am certain that Hillary is heavily medicated, with a drug schedule expertly timed to put her in the best shape for performance. (I also believe that is why she falls off the radar before debates: to go on a drug holiday to increase their efficacy when needed.) It was clear at the DNC that her husband Bill was heavily medicated. He was alert for his own speech, but couldn't even stay awake for hers!

Trump missed on a couple things. He was about to nail her on Russia, then went on a tangent about his own taxes. He missed dropping the hammer on her, and then brought up his own controversy! Very bad, this is when he went from really owning the debate to kind of struggling. He also missed a golden opportunity when asked by an audience member how he would serve all Americans as president. He should have talked about his business in New York, with a very diverse crowd of seemingly happy employees. He really could have painted a feel-good all-American story. Instead he went negative on Clinton. He went negative on her far too much. He should really focus on working to calm undecided voters nerves about him. Clinton followed up with an uplifting answer. He should take a cue. But, he's not an experienced debater. He clearly got some good advice from the people around him, and did a good job delivering those improvements. Hopefully he can bring a positive message to the third debate.

Oh, and one more thing. If you read my vice presidential debate analysis (not on this blog, it was on facebook), I posted I had serious reservations to Pence's stance on Syria. I said this was a far different version to what I had heard from Trump, and it sounded a lot like Clinton's policy on Syria. The moderators asked Trump about this discrepancy, which I thought was a fantastic question. And Trump, without hesitation, said he disagreed with Pence. That is some fantastic leadership, I felt reassured on the issue, and I bet it will be the most underrated response of the evening.

She didn't have the same advantage as she did in the first debate. Something was fishy with the first debate. But here she clearly showed unease at answering the second question. (In the first question both candidate basically answered with prepared monologues.) But it seemed right off the bat she didn't have the same advantage.

Hillary is good at what she does. She's still sharp, and she's smart. As much as her health has been a concern, and is still a valid concern, she really puts that to rest when she's on point for the debates. She fumbled a lot, many times more than Trump, and there was a very awkward moment when she tried to defer her question to Trump. And as always, she lied, or resorted to old tropes. For example, calling Trump a bad man for attacking the Khan guy who lost his son, etc. But that event has been entirely discredited for anyone paying attention. Not only does Khan personally make money off Muslim immigration, he was paid some $600,000 to give that speech by the DNC, where he savagely insulted Trump throughout. Trump was defending himself, yet Hillary keeps bring it up like mean Trump is attacking a sweet little immigrant just trying to get some American dream for himself. It's bullshit, and there were number of similar attacks from her. 

She also somewhat annoyingly said Trump never apologizes for anything, in response to his comment in which he apologized for his lewd comments! This is the kind of verbal switchbacking that Trump catches so much hell for. Well, she did it right there on the debate stage. You'd think someone as sharp as her would be more careful about those things.

UPDATE: I almost forgot. When pressed on email leaks that showed she talked about keeping a private and public stance on certain matters, she tried to invoke Abraham Lincoln. That's right, she lies because of Honest Abe. Incredible guile there.

The moderation was okay at best. They did ask some tough questions to both candidates. But both Anderson Cooper and the female commentator (I lost her name, I've never heard of her before) seemed to want to engage in some gotcha journalism. They really wanted to drill him on the lewd comments, which he mostly navigated out of. But where they really failed was when she was trying to beat him up on a specific question about humanitarian relief to Aleppo (practically the same question that I called out for being bad in my vice presidential debate analysis). When Trump answered the question on more general lines about Syria (a reasonable navigation, and one he handled with an unexpected level of insight) she because almost desperate to shoehorn him into the trap she was setting. These question have no place in presidential debates. Hard questions are good, gotcha questions are not.

The theme of this election has been the media's lack of impartiality. Often they manage to get their way: they make Trump look bad (or worse than he otherwise would, I should say), but lose credibility. But when they become desperate but fail to pin him down, they lose credibility for nothing, and he gets a double victory. To their credit, at least, they did ask some genuinely difficult questions to Hillary, some of which did make her look bad. So I wouldn't call it completely impartial.

I would tend to think Trump won the thing. He really missed a chance to go positive. He has a big chance to improve. Hillary is sort of the static candidate. If Trump shows the same amount of improvement in the next debate, he'll knock if out of the park. He is the dynamic candidate in this election.

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