Final Debate Takeaways Part II: Clinton's Ripostes
With many/most major media outlets and political pundits presently crediting Hillary Clinton with a victory in the final Presidential Debate, I’d be remiss to not weigh in as well. My Part I post on the final debate focused primarily on considering what Trump’s goals were as best we can assess them presently, but what of Clinton? True – she was given the chance to (yet again) articulate numerous positions and draw on the breadth of her experience. In that regard she did quite well and lived up to the high standard her time in politics demands audiences expect of her. However, she did manage to raise the stakes to a higher level by responding to Trump with precision targeted counterpoints as well – and that’s likely where her greatest success may be measured in this debate.
It feels necessary to start with what might be best described as Hillary deconstructing the last several decades of her and Trump’s relative experience. Hillary drawing comparisons between her efforts of public advocacy versus Trump’s efforts of personal betterment and wealth acquisition offer a fairly stark contrast no rational observer can ignore. Let’s break it down.
“Back in the 1970’s I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund and I was taking on discrimination against African American kids in schools. He was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980’s I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing fourteen million dollars from his father to start his businesses. In the 1990’s I went to Bejing and I said women’s rights are human rights. He insulted a former Ms. Universe (Alicia Machado) – called her an eating machine.” – Hillary Clinton1
Now – the reason this particular moment stands out to me is that it counters, directly and poignantly, what may be Donald Trump’s biggest selling point to his base. Trump sells himself as a political outsider with business acumen, and Hillary deconstructs that with expert ease in this quote. Clinton highlights how while she spent decades attempting to aid minorities and serve the greater good, Trump essentially did the opposite. While Hillary was advocating for African American children, Trump was being sued for discrimination in housing. When Hillary was advocating for women’s rights in China, Trump was mocking Ms. Universe for her weight. And, of course, while Hillary tried to better a faulty education system – Trump got his big start in business by getting money from his father. It’s worth noting that Hillary cited the wrong figure for the loan, but the overall point that Trump’s big break was essentially a check from his father still carries powerful weight.
Clinton went back on offense a couple other times as well, but perhaps the next most notable moment would be highlighting Trump’s history of calling any contest he doesn’t win a rigged game by rattling off examples left and right (Iowa’s caucuses, competition for an Emmy, the potential loss of his Presidential bid). It paints Trump as a petulant child – expecting a win to be handed to him and certain that if it is denied it will be due to foul play. Add to this Trump’s unwillingness to confirm he’ll recognize a Clinton victory if he loses the election and we see Hillary masterfully present Trump for all his flaws in a single debate session.
In essence, Clinton presents Trump for what he is: an opportunist that expects a win no matter what. However, what makes her performance so on point is that she focused the majority of her time on presenting her own policies and experiences. Drawing on Trump’s mistakes and failings was clearly something she went in ready to do, but it was never the overall focus of her debate prep work. Add to that that Clinton closed with a strong call for unity and support from all affiliations and it’s easy to see why Clinton is being favored as the clear winner. Of course, taking the last debate doesn’t equate to taking the White House, but…it is certainly a large step in that direction.
1 – C-SPAN’s coverage of the final debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANT_ZBhpvtw