The Third Debate – A Window on “Message Discipline”

First, Trump brought up the bombshell revelation – contained in a just-released undercover video – that Clinton-affiliated operatives actually paid and trained people (including homeless and mentally ill people) to attend the Trump rallies for the express purpose of provoking and inciting the very violence needed to create – out of whole cloth – the Clinton media-messaging narrative. Here was near-smoking-gun evidence that it happened, and that this dirty-trick tactic had been used to unfairly smear Trump and his supporters.

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By Gary Hoitsma | October 25, 2016

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In the third and final presidential debate, Trump had what was seen by many to be his best debate performance on the issues. At the same time, Clinton arguably had her best debate performance as well, not so much on the issues, but with regard to her effective debate tactics of jabbing, pivoting, pandering, filibustering and keeping the focus on her campaign’s very clear anti-Trump message. Trump then handed Clinton and the pro-Clinton media a hammer with which to pound him in the debate aftermath by not providing the politically correct-answer when asked if he would accept the outcome of the election. The net result was that the debate did more – in cold political terms – to reinforce Clinton’s message rather than Trump’s positions on the issues.

Campaigns often hinge on what is known in the trade as “message discipline” – the art of crafting one compelling and persuasive message and driving it home through enough repetition and examples that it becomes internalized in the body politic, nevermind whether or not it is true… or right… or even important in the larger scheme of things. Thus the big over-arching Clinton message this year – that Trump is somehow an unfit, unhinged, violence-prone, anti-American, anti-woman hate-monger – was contrived early on to gain political traction inside the knee-jerk left-leaning establishment-media and popular-culture echo-chamber. This message was designed in effect to become the fulcrum upon which team-Clinton wanted the election to be decided, to the virtual exclusion of all other domestic and foreign policy issues no matter how earth-shatteringly significant they might be for the future of the country.

One of the key pillars propping up this particular message was the notion that Trump had routinely incited and encouraged fisticuff violence against innocent peaceful first-amendment-loving protesters at his supposedly raucous rallies. It wasn’t ever true. But the Clinton messaging about it was so effective that it was provided almost comic validation in one particular exchange at the debate.

First Trump brought up the bombshell revelation – contained in a just-released undercover video – that Clinton-affiliated operatives actually paid and trained people (including homeless and mentally ill people) to attend the Trump rallies for the express purpose of provoking and inciting the very violence needed to create – out of whole cloth – the Clinton media-messaging narrative. Here was near-smoking-gun evidence that it happened, and that this dirty-trick tactic had been used to unfairly smear Trump and his supporters.

But then a few moments later in her debate response, Clinton was able to blithely ignore her supporters having been caught red-handed in overseeing this sleazy and corrupt campaign tactic, while deriding Trump for “a pattern of divisiveness . . . where he incites violence, where he applauds people who are pushing and pulling and punching at his rallies. That is not who America is,” she said.

And, virtually no one in the establishment media batted as much an eyelash. The anti-Trump message about him inciting violence against innocent peaceful protesters had so forcefully taken hold over time that its refutation by direct evidence was being treated largely as a non-story and a minor distraction. And, Clinton herself was probably considered to have effectively won points for actually “winning” this debate exchange…. and by extension for overseeing such a ruthlessly successful behind-the-scenes campaign tactic. It is a true window on the kind of manipulations that animate our current politics.

The further irony is that the same media types who can’t get excited about the Clintons’ proven exploitation of this – and possibly other – dark underbellies of the democratic process are just horrified to think that Trump was somehow undermining democracy itself by honestly refusing say he would automatically “accept” the “results” of the election. But what does this question even mean? Is he being asked to “accept” for example, the election-night pro-Clinton media “projections” – sight-unseen without all of the legitimate processes, including possible legal challenges, playing out? That is most likely how Trump quite reasonably could have interpreted the question.

Meanwhile, Clinton and the media seem to be interpreting his answer to mean that following election night or in a possible-but-unlikely Bush v. Gore scenario, Trump would somehow be leading an armed insurrection against the Supreme Court itself. Which is ludicrous on its face, Trump having already answered the same question from Lester Holt in the first debate – which the media, including debate moderator Chris Wallace conveniently refused to acknowledge – when Trump said quite clearly that “if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”

And the further-further irony is that Clinton saying that she would “support our democracy” and quietly accept the results of the election if Trump won is no doubt one of two things: Either not essentially different from Trump’s answer, or – knowing the Clintons – very close to being a transparent lie.


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.