On Sept. 26, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton squared off in the highly anticipated first presidential debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Most voters are solidly in one camp or the other, but about 20 percent of the electorate remains undecided or open to change. They are the voters who will determine the outcome of this election. The big question for them was which candidate would appear to be more presidential.
Both candidates have historically high negative ratings: Clinton is widely perceived as untruthful and the epitome of an establishment politician, while many consider Trump egotistical, temperamental, ill-informed and unpredictable.
Following the debate, Trump was quick to proclaim that he had crushed Clinton, citing the results of Internet polls. But these polls are notoriously unscientific, and biased by the heavy presence of Trump supporters on social media.
When the scientific polls began coming out days later, they told a dramatically different story. This came as no surprise to most of those who watched the debate. Clinton didn’t win on her policy positions, which went largely unchallenged by the ill-prepared Trump. She won by baiting Trump into making snarky comments and wasting valuable debate time defending his image and reputation.
Six weeks ago, Trump’s poll numbers were plunging and he was trailing badly in the electoral vote count. I wrote in my Aug. 18 Lagniappe column that Trump would have to close a nearly 10 percentage point gap in the swing states to have a chance of winning the presidency; but to do that, he would have to stop the Tweets and outlandish claims that his base loves; become more presidential; stay on script; and attack Hillary Clinton on policy issues.
This observation was shared by many, and a few days later, Trump shook up his campaign staff. He brought in Kellyanne Conway as his campaign manager, and a new, more sensitive and scripted, Donald Trump began to emerge. The strategy was working: over the next six weeks, he managed to shift 64 electoral votes from the Clinton column into the toss-up column.
Over the coming days, additional scientific poll results for the national election will come out; and a week or so after that, reliable state polls will start to be released. But right now it appears the gap between Clinton and Trump is widening and soon those swing states will start moving back into Clinton’s column.
So the question is: Did Trump manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by his lack of preparation for the first debate and his ensuing Twitter rants about an over-weight beauty queen he knew 20 years ago whom nobody except Trump cares about?
We should be talking about the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria due to the Obama administration’s lack of a coherent policy that has even John Kerry complaining; the emergence of a Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance in the Middle East; government deception over Benghazi; the Iranian deal; payments for hostages; cyber security; race relations and continuing riots in our inner-cities; government corruption and cover-ups; the out-of-control and unaccountable federal bureaucracy; the implications of more liberal judges being appointed to the Supreme Court; our ever-expanding $20 trillion foreign debt. But we are not.
Can Trump turn things around in the second debate? That depends on the lessons he learned from his first debate.
He says he’s going to “take the gloves off” and go after Hillary for her actions towards the “other women” in Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades 20 years ago. The 20 percent who think Trump crushed Clinton in the first debate will love having “the old Donald” on the debate stage. But I doubt it will convince the 20 percent of voters who are undecided that he has the temperament to be president.
There is much more at stake in this election than Donald Trump’s ego and firing up his already fired-up base. It is time we started talking about the real issues facing our nation.