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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – First 2016 Presidential Debate Edition

At The Daily Beast Democratic speechwriters/strategists Kenneth Baer and Jeffrey Nussbaum have a suggestion for the Democratic nominee in their post, “Here’s Hillary’s Debate Knockout Punch—Will She Use It?: When the topic is cultural politics, Trump bites back. But when it’s class politics, his answers are lame—or he’s just silent. Therein lies the key.” Among their insights: “A little over a week ago, that ex-pugilist, Senator Harry Reid, leveled a blistering attack on Donald Trump as a “scam artist” who “rips off working people” and is hiding his tax returns, playing footsy with Vladimir Putin, and running a fake charity all to enrich himself…Trump’s response? Silence. It’s amazing to think that there’s anything that will quiet Trump, but after examining the political campaign to date, it’s clear that Donald Trump is well aware of what attacks hurt him, and which ones don’t. Trump’s tell is simple: he ignores the attacks he can’t parry, the ones that could open a conversation that would hurt him with the voters who (currently) support him most strongly.”

USA Today’s Heidi M. Przybyla lists “5 things Hillary Clinton needs to do on debate night,” including: “play offense”; “Be more likeable”; “Outline a positive vision”; “go off script”; and “Have a compelling answer about Iraq and Syria.” At Roll Call, Jonathan Allen offers “Five Objectives for Hillary Clinton in the Debates,” including: 1. Tell us what you’ll do for the country; 2. Let baby Donald hide behind your skirt; 3. Destroy Trump’s economic message; 4. Talk tougher on national security; and 5. Stop talking in paragraphs and pauses. Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line “Clinton can win the debate even if Trump doesn’t act unhinged. Here’s how,” and suggests, “Job One for Clinton is to project as much steadiness, sobriety of purpose, and mastery of complex issues as possible, on the theory that voters will reward the candidate who actually takes the debates seriously as a proving ground for the excruciating pressures and brutally tough choices required of a president.”

“With by far the largest debate audience in history expected, working the refs could have an unusually rich payoff for the perceived “winner.” But the race is going to have to wind up being very close for a single debate to really matter. In the end, it did not in 2012.” — from Ed Kilgore’s New York Magazine post, “These Are the Lessons To Take — and Not To Take — From the First Debate in 2012

New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg sees the first presidential debate, conducted by Lester Holt, a registered Republican, as “A Moment of Truth for Presidential Debate Moderators.” Rutenberg writes, “Can the moderators this fall turn their debate stages into falsehood-free zones? What does that look like in this election? Debate organizers say they want to avoid a situation in which the debate becomes one big fact-checking or hectoring exercise and never gets to important policy differences…Nobody wants a repeat of Matt Lauer’s performance a couple of weeks ago when he let Mr. Trump’s claim that he always opposed the Iraq war go unchallenged …Actually, scratch that. One person does — Mr. Trump, who portrayed critics of Mr. Lauer as liberals seeking to push debate moderators to be tougher on him than on Mrs. Clinton.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “Debate Monitors Shouldn’t Duck“: “Holt and his colleagues Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace need to keep in mind that they are far more affluent than most of the people watching the debates. They should think hard about what life is like for those — from Appalachia to Compton, Calif., from the working class in Youngstown, Ohio, to the farm workers in Immokalee, Fla. — who find themselves in less comfortable circumstances than those at the media’s commanding heights…I want Trump pressed about whether foreign interests have helped prop up his business empire and then asked how voters can possibly judge the truthfulness of his answer if he refuses to release any tax returns…In the short term, I’d be worried that the talk of Trump’s “low expectations”at the first debate is a tip-off that the media hivemind might frame a debate tie as a Trump win.”

In “Election Update: Where The Race Stands Heading Into The First Debate,” Nate Silver sets the statistical stage for tonight’s debate. “…Clinton is a pretty good bet at even-money. As of Sunday morning, she’s a 58 percent favorite according to both our polls-only and polls-plus models…FiveThirtyEight shows somewhat better odds for Trump than most other forecast models. Not all 2-point leads are created equal, and Clinton’s is on the less-safe side, certainly as compared with the roughly 2-point lead that President Obama had over Mitt Romney on the eve of the 2012 election…about 18 percent of the electorate isn’t yet committed to one of the major-party candidates, as compared with 6 percent late in 2012.1 The number of undecided and third-party voters has a strong historical correlation with both polling volatility and polling error — and in fact, the polls have been considerably more volatile this year than in 2012.”

Meanwhile, “Trump is trying to rig the debate by kneecapping Lester Holt,” argues Colbert I. King at Post Politics. “Holding them both to the same standard should do the trick. Anticipating tricks from Trump, a master trickster, is Holt’s challenge. Good refs know the game, and the characters out to game the system…Trump’s public argument being that Holt will throw off the debate if he tries to correct Trump. Trump’s objective: reduce Holt to a potted plant in the moderator’s chair.”

At Vox, Dara Lind explores “The real reason debate moderators don’t want to fact-check Donald Trump” and notes, “…On the eve of the first debate, the head of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Janet Brown, crushed those daydreams into finely ground dust…”I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,” she told CNN. In her view, it’s the candidates’ job to fact-check each other — not the moderator’s job to fact check them.” However, the monitors absolutely should badger the candidates to answer the question at hand. No free passes.

CNN reports that the first debate will “likely be the most-watched political event in history.” A cord-cutter alert from Daily Beast’s Amelia Warshaw: “All the major news networks will also be offering free live streams in addition to those provided by YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter. Viewers without a cable subscription can view the debate live on CNN.com, for free and without a cable provider login.”

3 comments on “Political Strategy Notes – First 2016 Presidential Debate Edition

  1. Amy Hellwig on

    As an aid to the debate moderator in doing his/her job, and to assure candidate respect FOR the moderator AND the ground rules as laid out which the candidates are expected to follow,
    The moderator should have the ability to TURN OFF the candidate microphones if the candidates impinge on the time alloted to their competitor, interrupt the competitor or if they do not abide by the rules as established

    Reply
  2. pjcamp on

    ”I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,”

    This is exactly why the debate beat should be given back to the League of Women Voters. Journalists are not competent to do debates.

    Reply

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