Final Debate Takeaways Part I: Trump's Positioning
The final Presidential Debate has closed out and the majority of analysis I’ve seen so far is favoring Hillary Clinton as a clear winner. While this seems to be the common wisdom, I’m of the mindset that Hillary did what was best befitting her campaign. By this I mean that she was ready with measured, precise counters for several of Trump’s go-to talking points, she outlined policy positions and plans moving forward, she referenced and drew upon her years of experience, and she closed with a strong appeal to voters of all affiliations. By most intelligent analysis this would be a clear path towards victory in a debate. However, the question remains if Trump’s goal was to win the debate or win the Presidency. I’d argue that his goal was to simply hold his own and fight for the greater prize: the White House.
Allow me to elaborate. While Trump did present his own views, positions, and arguments – his greater cause seemed to be continuing a narrative as opposed to winning a debate. Given the race he is running (one of drawing on a set base of support coupled with independents seeking an outsider candidate) this line of thought carries with it potentially grand returns. This, I would wager, is exactly what Trump and the campaign strategists working for him are betting on. Whether this is a winning bet remains to be seen, but contrary to some analysis I’m hearing I don’t think Trump’s efforts were without a grand vision in this regard.
Consider the moments where Trump felt most on point and best received if you want to weigh and measure this line of thinking. Trump talks up, repeatedly, issues like economic stagnation with limited growth and manufacturing work heading abroad. This is a concern touched on by many politicians, but when addressed by a political outsider with a wealth of experience in business and finance it carries unique appeal. Granted, Clinton may have managed to undercut this message at a few different points during the debate (highlighting Trump’s family loan to start his business and his use of Chinese steel when building come readily to mind), but Trump’s message will still land well with many supporters and some independents.
What may be most unique in Trump’s presentation of views, though, would be his views about foreign policy and military interventions. While Trump speaks charismatically about the need to rebuild and re-strengthen our military he also stresses views that are surprisingly well-received: questioning the wisdom of American interventions and defensive presences worldwide. Trump has confirmed that he now views our entering Iraq as a mistake, and has questioned the wisdom of acting in the defense of so many allies with so little in return (South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, etc.). The logic essentially amounts to recognizing the relative wealth and power of these nations and questioning why our protection is merited without a return on investment, and it’s a question that merits asking. Trump recognizes the need to support and protect our allies, but questions why we would act in the interests of our allies at great cost to our own forces and budget. For many that see national spending as growing increasingly out of control – this strikes a clear chord, and with good reason.
I’ve credited my leanings to be favoring of Clinton, and will admit that my feeling is that she did carry the night and the debate. That said – Trump has planted his feet firmly in the ground. He’s established a foundation of support and is working to grow & expand it, and while polling numbers aren’t favoring him presently his appeal hasn’t entirely wavered. The night may have been Hillary’s, but the Presidency remains either candidate’s to win.