Monday night is a night I’ve long been waiting for. It’s the time when Hillary should finally be in her element and Donald will ... let’s just say that Donald will be Donald.
Trump is a man who is impressive in many ways. His net worth is surely impressive. His skills as an entertainer are equally so. And I have no doubt that if you are sitting at a bar and Trump were to sit down next to you and start guzzling martinis, he’d be an impressive conversationalist. But one thing he is NOT is informed about the topics on which a President needs to be informed. He also seems to lack curiosity when it comes to gaining more than a superficial command of those topics. And he’s about to go mano a mano against a woman whose knowledge of public policy and curiosity about public policy are off the charts.
Game over. That’s my prediction.
I will admit to having a bias here, and it’s not just that I’m a Democrat. By trade, I am a line attorney – which means that it’s my job to know my cases cold. Then, at some point, I have to present my understanding of the facts and legal theories to a manager who doesn’t have the luxury of spending as much time on any particular case as I do. So that person gets to make the ultimate decision even though I am far more knowledgeable about the details of my cases. It’s kind of like being a school teacher – steeped in your subject, but also constrained by the fact that there is someone who sits in your district’s central office who has ultimate control over large swaths of your curriculum. When you work as a line attorney or a school teacher, you learn to appreciate the value of knowing a subject at a high level of detail. And you also learn to appreciate those managers who may not know the subject as well as you do, but at least they demonstrate the curiosity to learn as much as possible in the time allotted. Hillary comes across as such a manager. Donald Trump does not. And he’s applying for the job of the Ultimate Manager.
Now I understand the two main counter-arguments here. First, some will point out, Trump has been a successful CEO in the real estate business. Surely, he must have shown some degree of curiosity about learning the tools of his trade, or else his company would have fizzled out long ago. But the problem is that knowing about real estate is one thing, but understanding (a) the Pacific Rim, (b) the Indian Subcontinent, (c) the Middle East, (d) Europe, (e) Africa, (f) Latin America, (g) military policy, (h) the intelligence community, (i) environmental policy, (j) urban affairs ... and (z) Capitol Hill is something else. Hillary has an incredible command of so many of these topics. She has devoted her adult life to understanding them on various levels, whereas Trump projects a certain disdain for getting into those weeds. Monday night, I think it will catch up to him.
The second counter-argument is that Trump will benefit from the stupidity of the American public, who surely will give him the benefit of low expectations. As long as he doesn’t get flustered and is able to come up with a “moment” or two, he will have passed the “Presidential test,” and that’s all he needs to do to be considered the winner and go up in the polls. But I’m not buying into this one either. Where I differ with many members of my Party is that I don’t think the American public is stupid. I think they tend to score a debate pretty accurately. When they gave the first debate in 2012 to Romney over Obama, it’s because Obama really did stink up the joint that night. Once he woke up in the second debate, the result of the campaign became a foregone conclusion. And I predict a similar outcome here – only this time, I don’t see Hillary messing up the first debate. She had enough sparring matches with Bernie that she ought to be able to bring her A game on Monday. Frankly, even if she brings her B game, it ought to be enough.
But could I be wrong? What if for some reason, Trump truly has a magic moment? The Lord shined on Debating Donald once before, you know, and it was against a candidate every bit as brilliant as Hillary – Ted Cruz. I’m referring to the time that Cruz insulted Trump for having “New York values.” Here was Donald’s response:
New York is a great place. It’s got great people. It’s got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York … Thousands of people killed and the cleanup started the next day … I was down there. And I’ve never seen anything like it. And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death and even the smell of death; nobody understood it. And it was with us for months: the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched, and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers, and I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.
Bullseye! As a child of a mother from the Bronx and a father from Brooklyn – neither of whom came from money – I was livid at Cruz’s crack about New York. Trump spoke for me and tens of millions of other Americans who love New York and love New Yorkers even more (except, of course, for the obnoxious ones). And he made that statement – he hit that home run – at a debate.
If Trump is to have another such moment at this debate, I think we all know where it’s going to have to come from. It will be in response to a question about Hillary’s comment regarding the “deplorables” and “irredeemables” who support Trump’s campaign. As I discussed last week in this blog, that was the one time that Hillary really stepped in it and gave Trump an opportunity. And yes, he’ll likely get one shot at an Oscar-winning performance where he speaks on behalf of his supporters and all the undecideds who haven’t sipped the Clinton Kool Aid. But as far as I can tell, when it comes to having that magic moment in response to Hillary’s slip up – that’s one answer to one question at one debate. That’s it. Otherwise, we will be listening to an absolute mismatch between a professional statesperson and an amateur who resembles the guy at the end of the bar.
Think about it this way. Let’s say that, like me, you don’t exactly see Hillary as the Tom Brady of politicians. She’s kind of like the veteran second-string quarterback who is serviceable because of her knowledge and experience but lacks the talent to be a legitimate starting QB in the NFL. That’s still light years ahead of where Donald Trump is. He’s like a professional tennis player who one day decides that, without practicing, he can put on a helmet, walk onto the gridiron, and play quarterback against the Broncos or the Vikings defense. That would be a crazy thought. And yet that’s where we’ll be on Monday night. By all accounts, he hasn’t done much debate prep, he has never seemed to know the issues in depth, and he will be left almost completely to his Bullshitting skills. I don’t doubt that those skills are impressive. But he’ll be in a different league Monday night. Take Hillary – and give the points!