The Second Debate: Trump Escapes High-Tech Execution

But Clinton’s trump-card (so to speak) in the overall election, illustrated by the exquisite timing of the embarrassing tape story, is the Clinton campaign’s ruthless ability to exploit opposition research to distract media attention for maximum effect in the proverbial “October Surprise.” In this instance, Trump fought back with an unprecedented pre-debate press conference featuring several of the Bill Clinton scandal-women of yesteryear, to at least show that two can play that game.

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By Gary Hoitsma | October 13, 2016

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The run-up to the second Trump-Clinton debate was overshadowed by the sensational Friday release of the hot-mic tape of Mr. Trump’s private banter 11-years ago that sent everyone atwitter in about 48 hours of pre-debate white-hot media glare. By the time the debate actually began at 9pm Sunday (ET), definitive verdicts about the impact of the tape on the campaign were being pronounced or implied with serious profundity: Trump was all but done, his campaign finished and on its way to the ash heap of history, his candidacy by late Sunday having been rebuked or abandoned by over 40 prominent Republican voices, elected members of Congress, Senators, Governors, others who were shocked (shocked!) by the vulgar words they had heard from the man who would be president, and now – because the this (this!) – wouldn’t.

For so many in the Republican establishment who never supported Trump, but started grudgingly coming around when it looked like he might actually have a chance to win, it all came as such a surprise – those horrible words objectifying women. Who would have thought that a man who was widely known to have once graced the cover of “Playboy” as interviewee, conducted numerous risqué on-air chats with shock-jock Howard Stern, and who had written in books about some of his more rascally private thoughts and adventures, who would have thought this guy was capable of saying what he said in private to entertainment TV personality Billy Bush, upstanding cousin of George W. Bush? Nobody but nobody would have ever thunk it, now would they?

This having set the stage, the debate began with breathless media expectations of a lengthy, slobbering, groveling apology from Mr. Trump that would have all but sealed his fate in the traditional way, only minus the “good wife” standing there shamed in the same TV frame. But instead, in a turn-around of no small proportion, Trump had managed after 90-minutes to have beaten back the high-tech executioners with a performance that was far from perfect, yet, way above expectations. So much so – not that his campaign would necessarily triumph in the end – but that at least that he would survive to fight another day, something that was not exactly certain at the outset. In that sense, it can be said that Trump won the debate, even though he probably consumed No. 7 or No. 8 of his nine political lives.

What came across in Trump’s debate performance was how inherently weak Clinton’s candidacy is when it comes to the more important issues that matter for the country: The economy, taxes, energy, Obamacare, foreign policy, vetting refugees, trade, illegal immigration, corruption and the email scandal, Syria, Russia, Benghazi, the Supreme Court … among others. On each of these, Trump’s more conservative positions, which he pressed effectively, are arguably much more in tune with the current mood of the country.

But Clinton’s trump-card (so to speak) in the overall election, illustrated by the exquisite timing of the embarrassing tape story, is the Clinton campaign’s ruthless ability to exploit opposition research to distract media attention for maximum effect in the proverbial “October Surprise.” In this instance, Trump fought back with an unprecedented pre-debate press conference featuring several of the Bill Clinton scandal-women of yesteryear, to at least show that two can play that game. Meanwhile, the early substantive WikiLeaks revelations, also dropped the eve of the debate and embarrassing to the Clinton campaign, were greatly overshadowed. But, as the immediate post-debate days went by, it became clear that the debate-centered skirmish-in-the-mud was only just the beginning.


Gary Hoitsma served as special assistant to Ray Barnhart during Barnhart’s tenure as Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, under President Ronald Reagan and is a former aide to U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Mr. Hoitsma is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.