Horowitz: Clinton Wins Second Debate on Points

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

 

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With the overheated and always unrealistic talk of Donald Trump either somehow forcibly being removed from the ticket or withdrawing from the race of his own volition being given credence by the media in the run-up to Sunday night’s debate, the expectations for the Reality Star’s performance were even lower than usual.

Trump well-exceeded them, substantially, improving over his dismal performance in the first debate, despite a rocky and cringe-inducing first fifteen minutes or so.  He forcefully and effectively hit Clinton on some of her major vulnerabilities, including her use of a private email server, her status as a long-time career politician in a year where voters are seeking change, and perceptions that she is untrustworthy. 

But, at the same time, it is highly unlikely that Trump made any real progress Sunday night on convincing an electorate-- where most voters don’t believe he has the right temperament or qualifications to be President--that he is fit to sit in the Oval Office.  In fact, his half-hearted apology during the beginning of the debate for his bragging about what essentially was his unfettered ability to essentially sexually assault women because of his “Celebrity Status,”  recorded on a “hot mike’ more than 10 years ago and released by the Washington Post on Friday,  is more likely to give this highly damaging development more oxygen.

Further, Trump’s naked attempt to deflect from his behavior by holding a media conference before the debate with women who have accused President Clinton of sexual misdeeds, seating these women front and center at the debate and going after President Clinton for his misbehavior at the debate, came across as the cheap political stunt it was. If anything, it  made Trump’s problem with women voters even worse..  

While there may be some legitimacy to arguing that Hillary Clinton was part of an effort to discredit women who came forward alleging either consensual affairs or in a very few cases, sexual misconduct by her husband, it is a political stone cold loser.  People are naturally sympathetic to a spouse who has been cheated on, and past attempts to make the argument that Trump is making now have shown Hillary Clinton is no exception.  Additionally, Donald Trump, even before the release of this explosive videotape, is the worst possible messenger for this message.

Hillary Clinton acquitted herself well in the debate, actually engaging the undecided voters who served as questioners and providing substantive answers.   While more of this debate focused on areas where she has vulnerabilities than the previous debates, she made no major errors and maintained her composure throughout.

Hillary Clinton won the debate on points.  You don’t have to take my word for it. Likely voters in the two scientific polls public polls taken last night, CNN and  YouGov, both scored her the winner, although admittedly by smaller margins that in the first debate, but the winner nonetheless. .  Further,  as reported by Huffingon Post,  “a majority of debate-watchers polled by YouGov said that Clinton was better-prepared, more knowledgeable and more presidential, while Trump won top marks only for being more negative and for interrupting more often.”  

Through his credible debate performance, Donald Trump may have prevented even more of a flood of Republican elected officials from withdrawing their endorsements of him in the wake of the videotape. But he did nothing to erase the stain of the videotape, which has made what was already a steep uphill climb even harder.   That could have only been accomplished by a heartfelt apology, which to state the obvious is not Donald Trump’s strong suit.

So it was still Hillary Clinton’s night and in  a race where Donald Trump can only win, if he fundamentally changes its trajectory. With only one debate to go and major Republican elected officials abandoning him, Trump is starting to run out of time.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

 

Related Slideshow: Trump’s Performance at Pivotal Second Presidential Debate with Clinton

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Jennifer Duffy, Cook Report

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

Trump reassured the voters who were already supporting him.  He did nothing to help his position with women or undecided voters.

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

Trump barely had a path to 270 electoral votes before the live mic comments, so I wasn't going to take much to block that path

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

Not likely, but that was largely true before the live mic comments and this debate.

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Darrell West, Brookings

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

We did not see a contrite Donald Trump in this debate. He tripled down on many of his past statements. He claimed Bill Clinton is a rapist. He threatened to put Hillary Clinton in jail. This may help him with his base, but not with undecided voters. I don't think Trump helped himself expand his support.

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

Clinton condemned Trump's insults and presented a positive vision for the country. She criticized him for not paying federal income taxes and defended Obama's health care program.

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump?

I think Clinton did a better job than Trump in expanding her support. She was knowledgeable about policy issues and displayed a good temperament for being president. I don't see a path to victory for Trump given his lewd comments and failure to pay federal income taxes. The most shocking part of this debate was Trump's threat to put Clinton in prison over her emails. I can't remember any recent campaign where someone mad that threat. 

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Joseph Paolino, Former Mayor of Providence and Clinton Appointee (Ambassador to Malta)

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

I thought [Clinton] did a good job. I thought Trump seemed erratic -- he got involved in minutiae, like time management, in all that stuff which was a diversion. Granted, he needed a diversion. But CNN ultimately found Clinton talked more than him in total minutes.

I think disagreeing with his Vice President was a bit of a problem. Letting dictators run countries?  Again, I thought Clinton did really well. I'm trying to figure out what Trump was thinking bringing those women out -- was that part of the debate? No, but he tried to make it though. 

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

I think there's still going be fixation on the live mic [comments], but it will be the media to decide what that fixation is. 

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

She showed she's in control of the facts, the issues, that she's intelligent, that she's been helping children and families.  What he showed is he's an expert in avoiding taxes, and again, when he talks about others not paying [taxes] as well, he causes diversions -- I'm less concerned about the tax diversion more concerned that he lost nearly a billion dollars.

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John DePetro, WPRO Radio Host

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

Trump really helped himself tonight by living to fight another day. Trump used humor, did not interrupt as much, and remained poised after a brutal weekend of coverage on the tape. Hillary once again showed she is a skilled debater but seemed rattled at times tonight and he really had her on the ropes. 

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

The beginning of the debate was awkward, uncomfortable, and incredibly tense. After they dealt with the tape, Trump seemed to gain momentum tonight. Trump going after moderators plays to his core crowd of voters. 

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

Trump kept his path to victory open tonight. This debate really will help him get energy back and his supporters loved it. Tonight was a huge night for Trump supporters. 

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June Speakman, Roger Williams University Professor

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

Trump’s performance in this debate was better than in the first.  He was more focused and organized in his attacks on Clinton.  But he persisted with the interrupting behavior, and his physical presence on the stage—pacing and standing a bit too close to Clinton—did nothing to dispel the impression of, shall we say, ungentlemanly conduct towards women. His candidacy cannot be saved or lost by a single debate performance.  It is the accumulation of behaviors, comments and context that will determine his fate.
 
2. Were was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

Throughout this campaign, Mr. Trump has made comments that have offended women, Gold Star families, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, Americans with disabilities and more.  Any one of these episodes or comments would have sunk another candidate, yet Trump has weathered them all.  Those of us watching the campaign keep wondering if and when the fatal mistake will be made.  The live-mic comments may be that mistake because of their rawness and their undeniability.  The departure of so many Republicans from Trump’s camp is certainly a sign of the seriousness of this particular case.  Yet, in this wild, unpredictable year, who knows?

3. Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

At this point, it is difficult to see a path to victory, but as noted before, this campaign breaks the mold used by political scientist to analyze elections.  In the last month of most campaigns, the ground game become more important, as most voters have settled on their choice, and now need to be motivated to vote on Election Day.   Swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania have moved significantly towards Clinton.  That has everything to do with her advertising strategy and her ground game, and very little to do with debate performances.   Trump’s live-mic comments help solidify Clinton’s support and make her path to victory more secure.  And if, as many suspect, there are more revelations to come about Trump, the move in Clinton’s direction is even stronger.

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Val Endress, Rhode Island College Professor

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

What candidate Trump needed was a masterful, nuanced debate performance and also one that does a better job of contrition than he displayed on the televised response on Friday night. That did not happen. The essential components in a political apology include admitting the wrongful behavior and asking for forgiveness. A successful strategy can only involve blame shifting if another party shares responsibility for the incident. Turning the tables and discussing Bill Clinton's past in order to deflect the candidate's critics did very little to help Trump's cause, and likely failed to sway undecided voters. 

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

The open-mic video was a watershed moment for the Trump campaign. While some GOP leaders have abandoned Trump, others have attempted to separate the incident from Trump's potential as a candidate. The problem with the latter strategy is that the behavior in question has to be viewed by voters as an aberration in order to be forgiven. Trump's open-mic conversation and the likelihood of more videos to come would seem to reinforce the belief that the candidate's attitude toward women runs deep and is a basic component of the his character. Dismissing his transgressions as merely "locker-room talk" did nothing tonight to improve the noted gender gap in his support. That's not good news for the candidate.

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

We never say never with a month to go in a campaign. Yet, if there is a path for victory for Donald Trump, it surely is a "long and winding road."  All that is required of Clinton is to stay steady. For Trump--amid unprecedented denouncements and defections from his own party--he faces the herculean task of somehow changing the conversation, something that he did not accomplish tonight with his debate performance.  How will we know that there is no longer a path to victory for Trump?  Look for GOP leaders to switch strategies and shift resources and talking points to the down-ballot races.  They will begin to argue the advantages of a divided government as the way in which the party can exert control over a Clinton presidency.  

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Brandon Bell, RI GOP Chair

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

Help. 

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

His 2005 live mic moment is inexcusable and it will never be acceptable to talk about women that way. I'm disgusted by it and I won't spin or deflect from his words.  I don't believe he physically abused women as I'm sure we'd know about that by now. 

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

As stated succinctly by our strategist, Hillary Clinton spent the night struggling to defend her failed record. Whether dodging why she deleted 33,000 emails from her secret server, invoking Abraham Lincoln to justify her own lies, or failing to explain her secret speeches to Wall Street, Hillary Clinton spent this debate running from the truth and proving she’s the poster child for a rigged system. The country is eager to break from a failed status quo that rewards D.C. insiders at the expense of ordinary Americans but that’s exactly what she is promising. Donald Trump rejected the politics of cronyism and made it clear he will bring strong leadership, prosperity and security to our country. 

He has a path to victory but that path includes a close to perfect 4 weeks for Mr. Trump.  She will continue to move her lips and lie but she still has an easier path because it is contingent on his actions or inactions. 

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Sam Bell, State Director, RI Progressive Democrats of America

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

No.

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

Trump had lost the election before this latest scandal.  The American people recognize that he is clearly unfit to serve as President.  The only question now is whether any conservatives will continue to stand by him.  It's time for Rhode Island's conservative politicians in both parties ("Democrat" Jimmy McLaughlin went to Trump's rally) to unite as one and denounce Trump.  

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

There isn't a path to electoral victory for Trump, but there is probably a path towards the only kind of victory that matters to him--money.  It probably is the case that this election has raised Trump's profile, and there may well be a way for him to cash in on his name.  And that may well be all he was trying to do in the first place.

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Lauren Niedel, RI Coordinator for Bernie Sanders

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

No - he was rambling again, and he could not stay on point and answer questions succinctly.  He combined different thoughts when asked a specific question.

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

The questions were awful and not getting to policies that people were actually interested in hearing.  I was particularly insulted by the so called energy question...not climate change!

The question was obviously written by the friends of Exxon Mobile

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

Trump is on a path to victory - attention for him and his businesses. That was probably the only thing he really wanted out of this.

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Pat Ford, RI Libertarian Party Chair

1.  Did Trump's performance in the debate serve to help his candidacy?

Clinton clearly had Trump hearing what could have been his own political China Syndrome. If he had a saving moment, it was his ability to finally crystallize what most Americans have been thinking. Despite these grand plans, why has Hillary left behind an unadulterated trail of failure and chaos?
It is only there, not his muddled vision of foreign affairs, nor his xenophobic immigration policy, lies any hope of growth beyond the red meat of his cult of personality.

2.  What was the role of the controversial live-mic comments?

The most startling revelation of the night came with Trump indicating he was going to employ the very same damage control technique that Bill Clinton pioneered - a classic apology, non-apology for his latest sexual peccadillo....followed by a launch headfirst into the preferred talking points

3.  Is there a path to victory for Trump? 

Path to victory? Probably not ... possibility of saving the GOP? Particularly after throwing his VP under the Middle East bus? Maybe.

 
 

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