The debate was bad enough for Donald Trump, but the next day spin made it even worse. These things grow in the telling.
What difference will it make? None for his voters, but the the key is what difference it makes to everyone else.
Hillary Clinton moved to capitalize Tuesday on a sharp-edged debate performance that exposed vulnerabilities for Donald Trump, excoriating his values and character in an effort to expand her coalition of women, minorities and young voters.
Trump, meanwhile, scrambled to move his campaign forward. While the Republican nominee insisted that he was not unnerved, he and his advisers grasped at excuses to explain why he did not perform better at the first presidential debate Monday night.
Trump on Tuesday was unrepentant and eager to defend his past, degrading a former beauty pageant winner whom he targeted as his latest foil and vowing to attack Clinton over her husband’s marital infidelities in their next showdown.
Betsy Woodruff/Daily Beast on a Frank Luntz focus group:
Hillary Clinton’s Pitch to End Private Prisons Is the Surprise Hit of the Presidential Debate
A focus group in Pennsylvania loved Clinton’s attack on prisons that profit from inmates. Her position could help win a decisive victory in the state.
Clinton had her fair share of ups and downs as well; the Democratic nominee’s favorability among the completely undecided participants fell when she went on a lengthy riff about Trump’s birtherism, and nosed up when she talked about her dad’s small business.
But her numbers among completely undecided voters went high and higher during her discussion of overhauling the criminal-justice system. When she pointed out that crime isn’t nearly as high as Trump suggests and that the system punishes black and Hispanic men more harshly than white men, the favorability number kept going up. And it went even higher when she praised the Department of Justice’s announcement that it would phase out Bureau of Prisons contracts to stop doing deals with private prison companies. And the number went up even more when Clinton reiterated her position to end all federal contracts with the for-profit corporations.
John Sides/WaPo on the key things about the debate:
Presidential general-election debates can move the polls but rarely decide the winner.
Media interpretations of who “won” the debate matter. A lot.
Is 2016 different?
But even a small nudge after Monday night — say, two points — in Trump’s favor would essentially cut Clinton’s lead in half. A similar bump for her would give her a more comfortable lead. The question, then, would be what happens in the later debates.
5 takeaways from the first presidential debate
Clinton hits him where it hurts, and Trump's boorish reaction hands her a win.
“It was bizarre,” said Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, who, like many Clinton allies, seemed visibly relieved. “He was clearly rattled, and clearly focused on defending himself, which I’m told narcissists are prone to do, and he clearly faded at the end. It’s not like she’s going to jump out to a 10-point lead, but this was good.”
Whether or not this reverses Trump’s momentum, or reestablishes Clinton's control of the race is an open question. Who won is not. Here are five takeaways.
Insiders: Hillary won
Eight in 10 agree Donald Trump lost the first debate. But Republicans aren't convinced it will hurt him
Tim Alberta/National Review with a conservative (LOL nothing matters) view of the debate:
It’s quite possible, despite the media’s consensus conclusion of an obvious victory for Clinton, that viewers at home scored it much closer – or even considered it a draw. We won’t know for at least four days, and perhaps a bit longer, as pollsters go into the field this week to measure the debate’s impact on public opinion. But this much is clear: Clinton needs a solid bounce, because Monday night couldn’t have gone much better for her, or much worse for her opponent. We’ve heard for weeks that September 26 would be the most important day of the campaign. If such a lopsided performance doesn’t translate into a comfortable lead for Clinton heading into the home stretch, then perhaps nothing will.
Nate Cohn/NY Times with one of the best analysis pieces of the entire election:
Theories of the Race: How Solid Is Hillary Clinton’s Lead?
But there’s one big difference [from 2012]: the number of voters who say they’re undecided or support a minor-party candidate. Strictly by the numbers, a three-point lead is not especially robust when 15 or even 20 percent of voters either are undecided or say they support a minor-party candidate.
The sizable number of undecided voters is partly responsible for the volatility in the polling this year. Mrs. Clinton’s lead has bobbed between two and eight percentage points since April (though Mr. Trump held a fleeting lead in the few days immediately after the Republican convention). With so many voters on the sidelines, fairly modest shifts in the tone of the race or news media coverage can bring undecided voters onto or off the sidelines, moving the polls even as few voters actually change their minds...
For this same reason, it’s a little hard to make sense of the shifts in the race.
One theory holds that the race is relatively stable, with the polls shifting only as each side’s marginal voters feel moved to voice support for a candidate they don’t really like. When the news is bad for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump, the voters at the periphery of their coalitions say they’re undecided, unlikely to vote or supporting a minor-party candidate. When the news gets better, these voters feel more comfortable saying they’ll support either candidate. This dynamic fits with the tendency of the polls to bounce up and down, almost like a stock market trading range.
The other theory holds that Mrs. Clinton really has lost ground, and that there’s no reason to suppose that she’s likelier to rebound than to keep falling.
Why would Mrs. Clinton have lost ground? Part of the explanation might be that her post-convention bounce hadn’t actually faded by Labor Day. Another possibility is that Mr. Trump has been fairly well behaved over the last month. He hasn’t gotten himself into too much trouble, relatively speaking, since his feud with the family of Capt. Humayun Khan, allowing other stories — including ones about Mrs. Clinton — to supplant the steady stream of stories about Mr. Trump’s remarks.
If this theory is right, Mrs. Clinton would still be the favorite — she leads today, after all — but she would be in danger.
Which theory is right? Historically, it’s not obvious that either interpretation is the better one. Sometimes, races really do change for good. Other times, shifts in the polls are just noise.
This was before the first debate. We shall see which is right but I ascribe to the first theory and not the second.
Meanwhile, Dem pollster Greenberg says his dial sessions last night revealed that some of these constituencies — in particular, white millennials and unmarried women — responded to Clinton’s targeted appeals. He said that unmarried women responded positively to the sections laying out Clinton’s economic agenda, while millennials responded well to Clinton’s defense of Obama and to her discussion of racism as an enduring societal problem.
This gets at a broader story, which has been discussed by Ron Brownstein and Bill Scher. Clinton, following Obama, is increasingly aligning the Democratic Party with constituencies that welcome diversifying America — and as part of that process, she’s energizing its core voter groups by eschewing white grievance and by fully engaging the battle against Trump’s racism.
Point-counterpoint, first with Jay Rosen/PressThink:
Asymmetry between the major parties fries the circuits of the mainstream press
And five other ideas I use to interpret campaign coverage this year
Now imagine what happens when over time the base of one party, far more than the base of the other, begins to treat the press as a hostile actor, and its own establishment as part of the rot; when it not only opposes but denies the legitimacy — and loyalty to the state — of the other side’s leader; when it prefers conspiracy theory to party-friendly narratives that at least cope with verified fact; when it is scornful of the reality that in a divided system you never get everything you want.
This is the thesis that Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein developed in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. They are think tank scholars with PhDs and Washington insiders who were frequently called on by journalists to explain trends and furnish quotes. They had incentives the same as journalists to stay on conversant terms with politicos in both parties. Mann and Ornstein came to the conclusion that something had changed in the Republican Party.
Next, Jack Shafer/Politioc:
In Defense of ‘He Said/She Said’ Journalism
Why we must give the devil his due.
While I consider Trump to be a first-rate liar and don’t mind saying so, I’m not convinced that jettisoning the "he said/she said" blueprint is such a good idea. Every politician lies. If we were to police all politicians in the news pages the way Barbaro did Trump, it would be entertaining. But political journalism as we know it could expire as profiles and news stories collapsed into spreadsheets grading the truth value of political utterances. Isn’t that what the fact-checker columns are for?
The Daily 202: Why even Republicans think Clinton won the first debate
THE BIG IDEA: The consensus that Donald Trump badly lost the first debate gelled overnight. Liberals predictably panned the GOP nominee’s performance on Long Island, but some of the harshest reviews are coming from conservative thought leaders who had been starting to come around.
Erica Grieder/Texas Monthly:
The Night Trump Unraveled
Making matters worse, for Trump, is the general consensus that he performed relatively well during the first half hour or so of the debate, only to deteriorate badly by the end. I personally didn’t think he did particularly well during the first half hour, either, which was nominally focused on economic issues. That might be a reflection of my own biases in favor of NAFTA, which he vigorously assailed, but his repeated interruptions and interjections during Clinton’s responses struck me as yet another measure of the man’s lack of impulse control. In any case, we can all agree that he deteriorated badly by the end.
Robert Schlesinger/US News:
Clinton came across as calm, relaxed and in command throughout. He repeatedly tried to talk over her – a classic, Trumpian dominance ritual – but she largely ignored him and serenely plowed on through. His attempts to demonstrate his own strength by throwing her off only ended up looking pathetic because she didn't take the bait. And that's putting aside how the image of a bossy man trying to shout down a strong woman will play with the female voters.
And not for nothing, his intrusions often made him look bad. I suspect we’ll see an ad in the coming weeks with her recounting his rooting for the housing collapse and his interjecting, smarmily, “That’s called business, by the way” before she continued recounting that 9 million people lost their jobs and 5 million lost their homes.