You Take The Low Road

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From top: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at last night’s US presidential Debate; Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at same; Derek Mooney

After last night’s debate, Donald Trump will likely have done enough to stop his Presidential bid from free falling but this campaign has yet to reach its nadir.

Derek Mooney writes:

My usual routine is sit down to write these ‘Mooney on Monday’ pieces around midday. I write for about 90 minutes. I take a 30-minute break, after which I return to review and edit what I have scribbled and send the resulting draft to my Broadsheet controller.

Today’s offering is different as I am writing it at 6am (ish) after watching the second Clinton/Trump debate. Is debate the right word… probably not. Maybe mudslinging fest is a better description.

As a debate it was awful. It was so awful that it moved the veteran CBS Washington Correspondent, Bob Schieffer, to complain bitterly that: “America can do better than what we have seen here tonight. This was just disgraceful”.

Schieffer’s observations were not limited to the 90 minutes of the Town Hall style debate but neither were they about both candidates.

There was one clear culprit. Less than two hours before the debate commenced, with many in his Republican Party (GOP) abandoning him, Donald Trump held a surprise press conference featuring four women, three of whom have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct.

It was the moment when the 2016 US Presidential Election campaign almost ended and the Trump reality show began. It was not even a veiled threat to Hillary Clinton, the implication was clear: you go after me on my comments about women and I talk about your husband’s infidelities… and worse.

It was a curtain raising stunt that set the tone low and presaged the tone dipping even lower as the evening continued.

For the most part that is what happened. Trump started out badly, particularly over the first thirty minutes when the debate centred on last Friday’s 2005 ‘Hot Mic’ recording of Trump talking in lewd terms about women.

He was at his blustering and petulant worst. He lashed out at everyone, including the moderators, claiming that “It’s three against one” as he accusing them of taking Mrs Clinton’s side. (Note: A post-debate CNN analysis found that the moderators had enforced equal time: Trump: 40m 10s, Clinton: 39m 5s.)

Unlike the first debate where Trump had a good first 20 minutes and then started to slump, Trump did it the other way around this time. He upped his game as the debate continued and managed to score points against Hillary, mainly via some good jokes and one liners rather than any substantive policy wins.

Conversely, (this is one of those post-coffee edits where I realise that I have focused just on Trump) Hillary Clinton seemed to have lost the edge and bite she sometimes showed in the first debate.

Perhaps as a response to his pre-debate baiting, she stuck with the Michelle Obama mantra: where they go low, we go high. She engaged directly with the questioners and spoke to them in contrast to Trump who did not even attempt to.

Hillary allowed Trump take a few free hits at her, perhaps concluding that the tape had done him sufficient damage or, more cunningly, that he was of more use to her limping through the final few weeks, than being defenestrated now.

Either way, the net effect is that Trump will likely have done enough to stop his campaign free falling any further. This was no small achievement.

Only a few hours earlier the gossip was the GOP leadership had concluded that his campaign was already dead in the water and was now set to shift money from promoting Trump to backing GOP House and Senate candidates in tight battles.

While he has stopped the slide accelerating, maybe even halted the decline for the moment, he has done nothing to reverse it. He did OK, but he still didn’t win the debate.

He did not try to convince swing/undecided voters that he has the temperament or judgement to be President. Indeed, as the next few days play it is likely that three things he said during the debate may, individually or collectively, come back to damage him further.

First, was his pledge to instruct the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute Clinton over the email server debacle, later saying “you’d be in jail” if he was president.

This is how depressingly low this campaign has sunk – one candidate threatening to imprison the other upon their election. The USA meets the Ukraine. Not to mention the fact that, post Nixon, no President actually has that power.

Second, Trump disavowed his running mate Mike Pence’s support for creating humanitarian safe zones, including a no-fly zones, for civilians in Syria, saying: He [Pence] and I haven’t spoken and I disagree. This sounded like policy making on the hoof from Trump, not to mention dumping on your own VP selection,

Third, Trump admitted he didn’t pay income taxes, responding: “Of course I do” when Anderson Cooper asked if he used an almost €1Bn loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes.

Add to this the swirl of rumours of other tapes and recordings ready to be produced where he says things as bad, or worse, than the Hot Mic tape and you see that his campaign – and this election – may not yet have hit its nadir.

Earlier this year Trump looked set to position himself as the “outsider” coming in to challenge the political establishment and the political elite in both the Republican and the Democratic parties.

As I set out here in early June, there was a sizeable section of the American public, people who believe their country is on the wrong path, ready to ignore Trump’s inflated rhetoric and his crass behaviour because they saw him as a political battering ram they could use to smash an establishment and system which they see as out of touch with their concerns and needs.

They factored in his weaknesses and foibles, hence why his excesses were not really hurting him significantly in the polls. But that was when he was talking about their concerns and their issues.

That has not been his tack of late. Now Trump spends most of his time talking about Trump, partly in response to the Clinton campaign – but either way the voters who once saw him as their flawed champion now increasingly see him as too damaged and too flawed to batter anything.

This election is hers for the winning in a way it wasn’t only a few weeks ago.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday mid-afternoon. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pics: AP, Getty

 

55 thoughts on “You Take The Low Road

  1. Joe cool

    One liners. Cheap barbs nothing else. I don’t know what you were watching. I was watching someone who tried turning everything into a personal attack like a 15 yr old child

    1. Starina

      he’s a tantrum-throwing child, Clinton is right to calmly engage with the moderators than to get drawn into Trump’s lunacy.
      i’m apoplectic that he dragged out the women that Bill Clinton allegedly assaulted because Trump doesn’t give two sh1ts about them – he’s a misogynist terror himself and is using abused women as a human shield. tacky. he’ll drop those women like hot potatoes when he’s done with them.
      it all makes me want to reread Transmetropolitan. again.

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        He’s a rapist. Trump raped his ex wife and a 13 year old girl, maybe Hillary should hold a press conference with them. Or could you imagine the uproar if she rounded up any man Melania Trump was ever involved with?

      2. Dόn Pídgéόní

        You could see how pissed he was by the pacing and the facial expressions. I want him to stay so he is beaten by a woman because he will not be able to handle it.

  2. fluffybiscuits

    Ex FF praises Trump. FF represent that niche that Trump appeals to – conservative religious voters.Nothing Trump has done has contained anything substantive. Most of the attacks have focused on her personal life rather than her policies.

      1. fluffybiscuits

        “He upped his game as the debate continued and managed to score points against Hillary, mainly via some good jokes and one liners rather than any substantive policy wins.

        Conversely, (this is one of those post-coffee edits where I realise that I have focused just on Trump) Hillary Clinton seemed to have lost the edge and bite she sometimes showed in the first debate.”

        1. ivan

          I dunno. I read it as praising his performance inasmuch as it wasn’t the omnishambles it could/should have been, but the writer (to these eyes) didn’t appear to be any sort of cheerleader for him

          “He was at his blustering and petulant worst. He lashed out at everyone, including the moderators, claiming that “It’s three against one” as he accusing them of taking Mrs Clinton’s side. (Note: A post-debate CNN analysis found that the moderators had enforced equal time: Trump: 40m 10s, Clinton: 39m 5s.)”

          “Indeed, as the next few days play it is likely that three things he said during the debate may, individually or collectively, come back to damage him further.”

          “While he has stopped the slide accelerating, maybe even halted the decline for the moment, he has done nothing to reverse it. He did OK, but he still didn’t win the debate.”

          In other words, just saying ‘Hilary wasn’t great’ isn’t the same as saying ‘Trump was utterly utterly utterly brilliant..

          1. bisted

            …must be like the good ‘ol days for Derek…down and dirty with a couple of gutter-snipe politicians…he can’t take a side because he can’t send an invoice…

    1. rotide

      Fluffy, you really need to work on reading the article through before unleashing the outrage, there is no way this is supportive of trump.

  3. Cot

    Remember when one of Bertie’s ministers called Turkish people ‘kebabs’? And FF did NOTHING to get rid of the minister.

  4. Murtles

    Regardless of the two party system in the States which ultimately comes down to two candidates, I’m amazed it’s come down to these two. It’s like George and George Jr being Presidents. Now we have the wife of an ex-president trying to be president. There’s over 314 million people living in the US, any chance ye might pick two that don’t have previous ties to money/power/sloth dna.

    1. DMG

      She’s qualified in her own right (even if she is just another wheel in a crappy system), you can address her by her merits rather than attribute back to her husband, ffs.

      1. ahjayzis

        You can question the incestuousness of the upper echelons of power in the US though, don’t bat it away like that.

        In supposedly the world’s greatest democracy, with term limits and two parties the presidential roster since 1988 is as follows; Bush; Clinton; Clinton; Bush; Bush; Obama; Obama: Clinton.

        That’s odd to say the least.

      1. ahjayzis

        There’s two and then two chancers.

        How about your party elect a few congressmen, senators, governors, mayors before auditioning for commander in chief?

        It’s a publicity gimmick and a means to get public funding.

          1. ahjayzis

            I’d label him Trump’s running mate, in that event.

            They don’t do run-off elections a la France, Sanders running along with Hillary would hand it to Trump.

  5. some old queen

    It is pretty certain there is more dirt to come and to ensure another Republican candidate does not emerge, timing is everything. He is a loose cannon who spend years in front of cameras, it is definitely there.

    The most interesting thing is the long term damage he is doing to the Republican Party. Even the few evangelists left supporting him are holding their noses. God knows what they think of clowns like Milo Yiannopoulos. This could actually be the death of the two party system in the US.

    1. Bob

      Isn’t it too late for another candidate to emerge? Their names are on the ballots, so I don’t think that they can legally be changed. That’s why most Republicans have just abandoned the election and are focusing on the senate.

      1. some old queen

        Apparently not. They can still switch candidates in the same way as if he took seriously ill. Unprecedented but possible.

    2. Starina

      yep i think that’s why they’re dripping out the leaks – keep a replacement republican from coming in and winning just because voters are relieved to be rid of the evil pumpkin.

    3. human

      Wow its almost as if that word salad makes it appear you understand anything about American politics….

  6. rotide

    Watching the debate last night I was genuinely astonished that these were the best two candidates that the ‘greatest democracy in the world’ had to offer. Trump is obviously an absolute crapshow of a politician but with all her genuine qualifications, Clinton is also a pretty terrible candidate. Against a mentally stable and competant Republican, Hillary would be dead in the water. As it is, you could run an Otter against The Donald and win.

    Having said that, Trump hit a new low with his language re: bill and his performance last night.

    American politics is an actual laughing stock now.

    1. Dόn Pídgéόní

      It’s a tricky position for her – dumb down to his level, she loses her support, ignore his lies and people believe them.

    2. Nigel

      I’ve seen it suggested that, since debates don’t necessarily sway undecided but do shore up core support, she’s allowing him space to say the stuff he says and then going on to use his words in ads against him to great effect while doing enough to hold her own. Apparently that’s what they did with the Pence/Kaine debate.

    3. The Real Jane

      Yes, I think she has little option, really. Trump doesn’t seem to follow the dumbed down train of thought, he just doesn’t have the understanding of how little he knows of well, anything, really. So he blusters, shouts, interrupts and goes off on wild tangents. There’s just no way for Clinton to engage usefully with him and he’s unable to let her speak for more than five seconds uninterrupted.

  7. curmudegon

    Contrary to everything you may have read there are in fact FOUR currently running 2016 US presidential candidates. Not many news sources (including Broadsheet) even acknowledge their existence and if you have to depend on these staged s-hit show “debates” to make your mind up on how to cast your vote, you’re already a lost cause.

    1. rotide

      The reason the Greens and the Libretarians get no coverage at all is that they have no chance of winning due to having a tiny budget in comparison with the other two. Plenty of news sources inform about the other two candidates but every year, nobody wastes time talking about them because no one actually votes for them.

      The years Ross Perot ran being the notable exception.

      1. curmudegon

        That’s a fine excuse for the media shills, the same ones that said Sanders was unelectable even when he was filling stadia. It is no excuse for any media outfit thousands of miles away to not to mention or even know of them, and it is disgraceful not to call the debates what they are – privately funded events that are in no way “official”.

        1. rotide

          The media shills who said Sanders would not be elected the Democratic nominee and were proven correct you mean?

          1. curmudegon

            Election fraud, voter disenfranchisement and sabotage orchestrated by the (now ex) head of Democratic National Committee and ordered by HRClinton is the reason Sanders campaign failed. Now address my main point.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            In fairness, she got something like 3 million more votes that Sanders did in the primaries. Although the race would already be over if he got the nomination.

    2. LW

      This is a piece on the debate last night, which only featured the democrat and republican nominees. And I really doubt anyone who can vote in the US election is relying solely on an Irish website for how to cast their vote

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