He's Behind You! By declining numerous opportunities to take the “kill shot” against her Republican opponent, Clinton ensured that Donald Trump emerged from the debate with just enough credit to keep his candidacy alive. Had she comprehensively trounced Trump, it’s just possible that the Donald’s already fractured ego would have disintegrated completely, causing him to resign his candidacy. That is the last thing the Clinton Campaign wants.
THE SECOND US PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE demonstrated brilliantly the difference between strategy and tactics. Hillary Clinton’s performance was all about the political needs of the next 30 days. Donald Trump was fighting for his life.
By declining numerous opportunities to take the “kill shot” against her Republican opponent, Clinton ensured that Trump emerged from the debate with just enough credit to keep his candidacy alive. Had she comprehensively trounced Trump, the panic in the Republican camp would only have gotten worse. The calls for Trump’s replacement would have become deafening, and it’s just possible that the Donald’s already fractured ego would have disintegrated completely.
This is the last thing the Clinton Campaign wants. Their strategic objective is to keep Trump in the race. They are confident that he has already done more than enough to lose the presidency. What they are hoping for now is that in the remaining 30 days of the campaign Trump will do enough to deliver the Senate – and maybe even the House of Representatives – to the Democratic Party.
Considerations of strategy were nowhere near the top of Trump’s mind. His campaign was bleeding copiously and unless he staunched the blood-flow it would very soon be dead. His only tactical option was to hurl everything he had at Clinton and hope that the sheer intensity of his assault would break him out of the rapidly tightening cordon of condemnation strangling his bid for the White House.
In this he was reasonably successful. His combative performance, aimed directly at his electoral base, was just enough to hold these white, male, working-class voters in place. It was also enough to remind even his most vociferous Republican detractors of how he got to be their party’s nominee. On the issue of Clinton’s insider status, and especially on the vexed question of her deleted e-mails, Trump’s gloves definitely connected with Hillary’s jaw.
But he did not knock her out. On the contrary, in the course of delivering his wild rhetorical blows, Trump unwittingly extended the Clinton Campaign’s strategic advantage. His threat to use the powers of the presidency to put Clinton “in jail” is without precedent in US political history, recalling the very worst excesses of the Nixon White House. The Democrats will undoubtedly offer up Trump’s threat as further proof of his utter unfitness for America’s highest office.
His repudiation of his vice-presidential running-mate’s, Mike Pence’s, statements about Syria will also rebound to the Democratic Party’s advantage. Trump’s eagerness to work with the Russians (ostensibly to “defeat Isis”) reinforces the growing concern among American voters that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will stop at nothing (not even hacking into the Democratic Party’s and Clinton’s confidential computer files) to prevent “Hawkish Hillary” from becoming President of the United States.
Between now and 8 November, Clinton’s campaign team will use Trump’s words to consolidate their candidate’s gains among disillusioned Republican and independent voters in the dozen or so “swing states” she must win to secure the 270 votes needed in the Electoral College. The Democratic Party’s strategic symphony, portraying Trump as a “clear and present danger” to the constitutional liberties of the American people, will build relentlessly to a crushing crescendo.
With CNN’s scientific poll of debate-watcher’s declaring Clinton the winner of the second presidential face-off by a margin of 23 percentage points (Clinton: 57 percent – Trump: 34 percent) Hillary’s victory march just got a whole lot louder.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 10 October 2016.