If I were involved in messaging for the Clinton campaign—and I’m not, and the people who are involved are actually very good at what they do—I would have spent the last week or more trying to subtly deflate the expectations for the debate. Not for my candidate’s performance, but for the importance of the debate, particularly the importance of this one event tonight. Mostly, I would never have anything come out from the campaign about tonights event that didn’t say something like tonight, in the first of three debates… or the first opportunity to…
Tonight’s debate appears to be Event Television—I have the sense, and I know this isn’t scientific at all, that a fair number of people currently supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign are expecting that tonight’s debate will be a game-changer, that, oh, Donald Trump will start crying or swearing or storm off in a huff halfway through. It’s possible, I suppose, because Donald Trump isn’t totally predictable. But the likelihood is that we will have something awfully close to the usual debate: an hour and a half of a joint press appearance, during which the candidates will say things they have been saying for months, possibly phrasing it slightly differently. Each candidate will say something the other side will find outrageous and/or untrue, but which at least most of the supporters will find defensible, if not ideally worded. YHB is planning to watch it at the University with a gang of students in a course on political activism. From the event description: Cheering and hissing the candidates will be allowed and encouraged. I support this! But it’s probably more drama than will really be called for.
Let me put it this way: I doubt that anything will happen that anyone who chooses not to follow politics will find interesting if it isn’t explained to them, and they presumably won’t choose to listen to the explanation. Each side will be outraged by something the other says. The unusual part is that there’s a strong possibility that some prominent conservatives will be outraged by something Mr. Trump says as well, and will not rush to defend it. There will be some who will defend it, though, so people who don’t enjoy following the details won’t know the difference.
My point is that the unrealistically high expectations are based on something Hillary Clinton has no control over: Donald Trump’s demeanor. Her campaign and her surrogates should not be ramping up the expectations that he will melt down, because they have no idea whether he will or not. Yes, it’s a possibility, far higher than any candidate in the time we’ve been holding debates. But it’s not certain. And if tonight is an ordinary (boring) event, they’re going to have a more difficult time getting people excited for the next two, which are just as likely as this one to be dramatic.
But my other point is that Hillary Clinton’s greatest asset as a politician is persistence. Well, and intelligence and what appears to be an unusual ability to build long-term individual working relationships, although you should take that one with the usual grain of campaign salt. But her political persistence is, I think, universally recognized. She is a tortoise, not a hare. The dramatic event is not for her. She started running for 2016 in 2009 and had won the nomination by 2013, at the absolute latest, and probably much earlier. Whether she really does think long-term (a desperately needed quality in self-government) or she is just too arrogant to concede defeat, she is not the sort of candidate who needs to or can stake everything on one night. That’s just not her. Donald Trump, yes, the season finale is where it all happens. Nobody in My Party should be saying things like Monday night is, to me, 75 percent of the rest of the campaign. They should be saying that Hillary Clinton is not about one television show, however high the ratings, and that whatever does or doesn’t happen tonight she will get up tomorrow and keep working.
And most important, they should say that this is what she would be like as President. That as President she would not be a reality-tv star dependent on the Big Night. That in office, she would be as persistent as she has been as a candidate, and that whatever Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping or Hassan Rouhani does isn’t going to throw her off her game. Hillary Clinton, as a candidate, should aspire to be boring, and to reassure us that she would be a very boring President. That’s her strength. Playing up a television show seems to me to be a mistake.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,