The Next President: Debate One Afterthoughts

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton won the debate last night at Hofstra University in New York, but Clinton gave the better performance. Donald Trump played to his base. He seems incapable of appealing to voters who do not already support him. The same might be said of Hillary Clinton, although she was able, if only once or twice, to make a broader appeal to the middle class. She did not reveal anything new, anything that we did not already know about her. She did not follow the advice freely offered by the next chapter yesterday to “show voters the person she is.”

Surprisingly, the “basket of deplorables” question did not come up, and Hillary Clinton did not find the opportunity to acknowledge the error of those remarks and to reach out to those voters whom she had earlier characterized as irredeemable basket cases. TNC believes that she could make an effort before Election Day to reach out to those voters as well as to other voters who found her “basket of deplorables” to be troubling.

There is a lesson about leadership here that is being missed. The best presidents see a whole nation. The best leaders have a vision of the nation that is broader than ideological divisions. Barack Obama embraced this vision in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston:

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump did not help himself. His support is pretty well baked in by now—at something slightly less than the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. If he manages to gain a winning margin it will not be due to his appeal but rather to his status as not-Hillary. Anyone who was still expecting to see a new Donald Trump in the debates must finally realize that Donald Trump will always be as he has always appeared to be: petulant and puerile, pompous and pugnacious.

Hillary Clinton delivered the better debate performance. She was able to maintain her steadiness and good humor. She held her own against a domineering and thoroughly unpleasant male without appearing weak, strident or condescending. She maintained her composure in spite of Donald Trump’s frequent interruptions, insinuations, insults and attempts to intimidate. While Donald Trump frequently evaded and changed the subject, Hillary Clinton kept on track and answered the questions that were asked by the moderator, Lester Holt (who, by the way, did an excellent job). I would like to see her give shorter—more memorable—answers. It is counterproductive to disgorge the details of six policy proposals when the flavor of one would satisfy. I know she knows policies, positions and issues; I want to know her personality, her passions and her humanity.

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