On Monday 26th September 2016, Donald Trump passed the audition for the role of Commander in Chief, but hardly with flying colours.
If it was a debating contest the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton would have overwhelmingly won. Clinton was far more polished, policy focused and concise in her answers. In contrast, Trump was on the defensive for much of the debate, failed to effectively attack her on her weaknesses and tended to ramble and repeat himself.
It is important to remember that this is no conventional presidential election and Donald Trump is not your typical professional career politician, of which the average voter is well aware. The watching electorate expected Hilary Clinton to perform well and she matched those expectations on the night.
Donald Trump, as the political outsider with no prior experience in politics, was never expected to technically perform to the standard of Hilary Clinton. Trump’s challenge was to prove to the electorate that he had self-control, could plausibly appear presidential and was able to connect on the major issues affecting the nation. Overall, Trump succeeded in all those aims.
As Scott Adams explains so well in his blog (which I recommend reading), by avoiding the subject of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, he showed self-control and remained presidential, even though it effectively lost him the debate. The perceived “risk” factor of voting for Trump is a major issue of concern for undecided voters, and his performance at the debate goes some way in reassuring those voters, who are thinking of voting for Trump.
The Pundocracy have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing issues of little relevance to the average voter. Emailgate, birthergate and other issues may reflect poorly on the candidates but they are not the “bread and butter” issues that affect the day-to-day lives of normal voters. When Trump spoke about returning jobs to America, the major problem of gun crime in America’s inner cities and his opposition to futile Middle Eastern wars, it felt to me that he connected with the watching electorate.
A number of polls, taken after the debate, suggest that this was the case. According to a scientific flash poll by Breibart/Gravis, Trump won 46 percent versus 42 percent to Clinton, on which candidate was considered more “plausible” as president. On the question of ‘Who showed that they care about people like you?’ Trump won that 49 percent to 44 percent for her.
A PPD Post Debate Poll suggested that Trump scored with undecided voters who felt that although Clinton won the debate, Trump appeared presidential and came across as more genuine and passionate about the major issues, including the economy.
The media have promoted the narrative, post-debate, that the night had been a disaster for the Trump campaign and this may have played a role in the modest bounce in the polls for Hilary Clinton since the debate.
My own view is that Donald Trump has failed, so far, to seal the deal with the American people. Millions of Americans still have doubts whether Donald Trump is ready to enter the White House, and it is up to him to overcome these concerns, if he wishes to win the election. The good news for the Trump campaign is that the next two debates are a huge opportunity to improve his performance and persuade the watching audience that he can do better than scrape a pass on the most powerful job audition in the world.
Trump has made significant strides in transitioning from the aggressive populism where he started, to the more serious centre-right political space, where elections are won. I have written before that the political sweet spot is in the populist centre-right. The Republican candidate is edging closer to that invisible line, on the political spectrum, when the majority of the electorate will vote for the Donald. He isn’t there yet though and there is still a possibility that he won’t reach that line before Election Day on 8 November 2016.
Whether Trump can step up a gear in this final stage in the presidential election race and surge to victory is the million dollar question. If he can, than the most likely outcome of the presidential race will be a victory for Donald Trump, which I predicted at the beginning of the year.