Presidential Debate Postmortem


When I was young, I used to watch Ranger games with my dad, and every time the Blueshirts were scored on, I’d convince myself that there was some kind of penalty or infraction to explain why the goal should be wiped off the board.  I refused to accept that the Rangers could actually give up a goal, or could actually lose any of their 82 games.

But I was seven.

Donald Trump’s contention that he will “wait and see” whether he will accept the result of the November 8th election will take each and every headline this week – as it should, given the unprecedented nature of it – but as we look back on not just this most recent debate, but each of the three presidential debates, there’s another answer that perfectly explains the Republican nominee and his campaign.

This was Donald Trump’s first answer of the night, meant to be focused on the future of the Supreme Court.  He answered for 13 seconds before bringing up the time he was personally slighted by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and how she was forced to apologize.

The anecdote had nothing to do with the question, or really the rest of his answer, but it was shoehorned in for reasons only clear to him – except, perhaps, because he just couldn’t help himself.

Which is the larger story of the 2016 debate season.

In the third debate, Donald Trump performed as he did in the first, and as that Supreme Court answer did, provided a perfect summation of his campaign.  He was composed and largely reasoned in the first 30 minutes, but he quickly lost that composure, and overshadowed any important, would-be successful messages with Trumpisms, interruptions, insults, and/or wild attacks.

In the first 30 minutes Wednesday night – when Trump was at his best – he allowed a good answer on abortion to be blotted out by the line “rip the baby out.”  Minutes later, a solid answer on immigration was destroyed when he punctuated it by describing certain illegal immigrants as “bad hombres”.  Later in the debate, when things were unravelling, he allowed Clinton to pivot off a pointed question about open borders and onto WikiLeaks, and handed her the exchange when he dug in his heels in support of Russia of all places – questioning American intelligence and rejecting evidence that Russia, and by extension, Putin, was behind the hack of Clinton’s campaign.  And lastly, in the midst of campaign crisis over his appeal to women voters, Trump ended the debate interrupting Clinton, calling her a “nasty woman.”

Taken as isolated incidents, none of these mistakes are all that remarkable, but taken as a whole, they paint the picture of a candidate who either doesn’t possess a fundamental understanding of the political process, can’t be bothered to prepare, or lacks the self control to make either of the first two matter.

Or perhaps all three.

Say what you want about the media and any bias you believe in, a candidate ready for the stage they were on would know that “bad hombres” would be the headline leading any article on immigration, and any points won before those two words would be erased by them.

And any candidate who understood where they were and what they were doing would know that anything short of an emphatic, unequivocal assertion that they would accept the results of the election would shout out everything else said that night.

Any serious candidate would know that by leaving any wiggle room at all, they were opening the door to days harsh criticism from not just the media, but from members of their own party, and would be pushing any other issue off the table in the last 20 days of the election – days in which great gains are badly needed.

Donald Trump entered each debate needing to show that he had the ability, knowledge, and temperament to be president. He needed to prove that he was skilled enough to navigate the unique challenges of the oval office.

He proved on Wednesday night, as he has throughout the campaign season, that he wasn’t skilled enough to navigate the debate stage.

And that’s why he’ll lose on November 8th.  And refusing to accept that isn’t going to change it, it’s just going to make it worse – otherwise, I’d like the Yankees to refuse to accept the result of the 2004 ALCS.

Author: Mitch Cumstein

Just trying to do some night putting.