How Hillary Can Win the Debates in Four Words
Normally around this time of year, I write a post about how the debates aren’t really that pivotal, and that they merely solidify people’s pre-held beliefs on a candidate. However, I think this race has been so bizarrely off-topic on the question of who should lead the free world, that the debates might actually move some minds, at least the ones who are nominally willing to vote for Hillary Clinton but are hesitant to because they don’t want to “reward” her with their votes.
Luckily, I think most voters on the fence want Hillary to win the debates and want an excuse to vote for her. They want someone to vote for instead of just voting against someone else. And Hillary can do that in the span of just two hours. All it requires is something that Team Clinton has been very hesitant to allow her to do. And that strategy can be summed up in just four little words:
Just level with people.
This may seem so straightforward as to be useless, but it’s amazing how little Team Clinton has used this tactic — just leveling with people — in the face of so many faux controversies that have hurt her image on trust and honesty. Perhaps Team Clinton’s strategy of only very slowly and hesitantly addressing questions protects her from truly catastrophic errors, but that strategy has been played so many times that the strategy itself is now the biggest weakness of her campaign.
To see what I mean by being more forthright, imagine the following segments of the debate, in which just leveling with people is the overarching theme:
Opening Statement: “…I’ve been in the public spotlight for nearly 30 years, but I get the feeling people still struggle to figure out what makes me tick. I have tried to be as honest and candid as a public servant as I can be, but trust me, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Tonight, however, I am going as frank as possible with you about who I am, why I’m running, and what will happen to this county if we make the catastrophic mistake of electing Donald Trump…”
On E-mails: “…Look, I wish I had shown better judgment. I wish people could see just how messed up trying to conduct business in a bureaucracy like the State Department is. But I’m glad people hold me to a high standard. I just want people to hold my opponent Donald Trump to the same standard they hold me up to. Where is the IRS investigation of his self-dealing in his charities, or the criminal investigation of his defrauding of students at Trump University?”
On the Clinton Foundation: “…I am deeply aware of the dangers of the appearances of conflicts of interests and pay-to-play in our political system, and maybe I should have tried harder to put walls between the foundation and myself, but when a family is begging for AIDS medicine to treat their ailing daughter, I have a moral duty to do something about it.”
“Again, I’m glad people are holding the next President to a high standard on conflicts of interests. But if they do, they should be much, much more outraged that Donald Trump hasn’t released his taxes, that he’s clearly indebted to Vladimir Putin in some way, and that he’s been using campaign contributions as a slush fund for his own businesses.”
On Her Health: “You people in the media are crazy. We might elect the most unqualified, inexperienced, unfit human being to office in American history, and you’re focused on this? You’re damn right I was working when I should have been at home resting. You’re damn right being sick wasn’t going to keep me from honoring those who died at Ground Zero on 9/11.”
“You’ve put me in a lose-lose situation. If I don’t go out there, you’ll spend a week talking about my health. But if I do go out there, you take any sniffle or cough to mean I have avian flu. Look, when you’re President, there are no days off. I’m going to try and take better care of myself, but this is who I am. I don’t take days off. I never have and never will.”
On Why People Might Not Trust Her: “Being a powerful woman in the public eye is very new to people, especially when you don’t fit the mold people have for the President. When Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy or Barack Obama ran, people had just as many questions about their backgrounds and who they were, but they were always were given the benefit of the doubt because they were funny and charming and fit the mold for what people wanted in a President. I’m from a different mold: I work hard, stay in the office late, and get my energy from tackling issues, not doing big speeches in stadiums. For some reason, people don’t give me the benefit of the doubt on that. But that’s okay, because when I’m President, the hard work and all those hours are going to translate into victories for real, everyday Americans. And that’s why I’m running in the first place — because we need those real, tangible victories more than ever.”
Conclusion: “…I know millions of you are still on the fence. You want someone to vote for, not just someone to vote against. Well, if you care about defending Social Security, I’m someone to vote for. If you care about halting climate change and leaving this country better than when we found it, I’m someone to vote for. If you care about higher wages and better roads and less student debt and more affordable childcare, I am someone to vote for. I’ve spent 30 years trying to prove to you I’m worthy of these causes, and if I’ve come up short, it’s not for a lack of trying. And I’ll never give up when it comes to improving the lives of the American people.”
Maybe I’m putting too much faith into how these kinds of responses would play out, but I have a great deal of confidence that if Hillary Clinton were to just level with the American people in these debates, she’d win handily, and not just the debates, but the election.
In a world where almost every political strategy has downsides, this is one of the few win-win strategies out there. Even if doubters think you’re just “faking being honest”, the narrative is still about you trying to be honest. Being clear and forthright about why you want the job is beyond common sense. It is the stuff Democratic-leaning voters are hard-wired to value.
But if Team Clinton follows the established script of obfuscating the real but easily answerable questions about Hillary’s career as a public servant, this race will be a relative nail-biter to the very end. Sure, Donald Trump might do her a massive favor and implode on stage, but relying on your opponent to lose the game is rarely a good strategy. It’s just my humble opinion, but a few moments of candor and humility would do more for Hillary Clinton than all the pep rallies and TV ads out there.