“Good moments can be more important than good arguments.” – Former Presidential Campaign Manager Karl Rove
“Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” – Former U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen to former Senator Dan Quayle
“There you go again.” – Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter
It was Reagan who walked over to shake Carter’s hand after their sole debate, not the other way around. Courtesy matters.
What will be THE moment that transforms Monday’s watershed presidential debate — maybe 100 million viewers — between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and business mogul Donald Trump?
What will be the indelible image (i.e., George H.W. Bush looking at his watch; Al Gore moving aggressively toward George W. Bush; aftershave dripping off the face of a haggard Richard Nixon; Mitt Romney’s ‘Big Bird’ remark), which will instantly go viral on literally millions of mobile devices and other second screens?
Remember when mom repeatedly and maddenly told you: “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”?
Temperament and persona matters in a presidential debate, not the ability to recite wonkish policy and stats.
The author of Almost DailyBrett was privileged to attend one debate, the second encounter between then Vice President George W. Bush and former Massachusetts Michael Dukakis. The debate will be forever remembered for Bernard Shaw’s (CNN) opening question to Dukakis and the governor’s response:
Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
It was not your command of criminal justice issues, governor … the question pertained to your wife being brutally raped and murdered. Shaw’s question was woefully unfair. Where was your revulsion? Didn’t you have any concern for the horrific image of Kitty being raped and murdered?
Instead, “I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent …” Were you a robot that night, governor? Where was the pathos?
The nationwide and swing-state polls are only snapshots in time at this particular moment. They will change after Monday.
Hillary has a lead in the horse race and most importantly in the Electoral College. The race is her’s to lose and she is doing her best to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
When it comes to boring wonkish detail (prose), no one can beat her. Monday’s debate is not a spelling bee. Will Hillary pile on Trump and his “basket of deplorables”? Will she offer more status quo or a vision of the future?
Conversely, which Donald Trump is going to show up? There are three debates, each lasting 90-minutes. Can Trump exhibit presidential discipline for four-and-one-half hours? Almost DailyBrett is taking the ‘under.’
The elite media of course will collectively declare a winner, most likely even as the debate is taking place, forcing one side to face the difficult chore of defending their champion in the post-debate Hofstra University spin room. Will the media winner/loser declaration drive follow-up polling, thus elevating the stature of the elites in communications? Bet on it.
But what if the event is judged as a tie? Doesn’t a tie go to the runner?
The 2016 election is a contest for an open-seat as Barack Obama is completing his second term. Who is the challenger (e.g., “the runner”)? One could argue that Trump holds that role, considering Hillary’s quarter-decade of more in politics (i.e., First Lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State).
Is a tie, a tie? No. It would be a win for Trump as the challenger always has the advantage.
Hillary will naturally swing for the fences, trying to expose The Donald’s lack of gravitas and more importantly trying to get under his legendary thin skin. Will The Donald take the bait? Your author is taking the “over.”
So … what are the best strategies for both candidates? Be offensive without being offensive. As Rove has suggested talk to moderator Lester Holt and therefore the nation, and not to be other candidate.
No one wants to watch a rerun of “Divorce Court.” And we don’t wonkish prose. What we need and what makes better theatre and “good moments” is passionate poetry, pointing to a brighter future or that Shining City on the Hill.
Will the debate degenerate into a bitter “he said, she said” series of exchanges? Quite possibly.
The goal is to win, but also to keep faith with mumsy’s “… It’s how you say it.”
Maybe the Donald should remember he invited the Clintons to his third wedding in 2005, and Hillary should reflect she was sitting in the first row. There may be more poetry in being the first to walk over to shake the other candidate’s hand.
Maybe a single act of kindness will be is remembered from Monday’s debate?
Don’t count on it.