Debate: Trump consolidates the GOP base; Clinton reaches out

Trump sets his strategy as a brutal attack on the Clinton family; Hillary rises above the vicious attacks and sets out her strengths to those put off by the ‘Trump tapes’.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off in St Louis in the context of Trump’s campaign troubles | Source: Vox
“She doesn’t quit. She never gives up… She’s a fighter” — Donald Trump on Hillary Clinton

As the Trump campaign implodes over an unearthed 2005 video of him admitting sexually assaulting women, adding further fuel to the car-crash of his recent campaign, Hillary Clinton and ‘the Donald’ met in St. Louis (to a frosty start; without a handshake…) for the second Presidential Debate of the 2016 election. With many rumours that Trump wouldn’t turn up at all, the pair arrived with two very different intentions. With the knowledge of his ever-reducing chances of winning, Trump met Clinton in what many saw as the ‘last chance’ to turn his fortunes around. Hillary, meanwhile, was simply set on ensuring his continued demise.

After the Clinton campaign had spent two days ridiculing and delving into Trump’s history of his ‘woman problem’ unearthed by the Washington Post, Trump seemed intent on destabilising the Clinton-relationship, and focusing on Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Accusing the Clinton family of covering up Bill Clinton’s infidelities and sexual assault, Trump sank to the lowest level of political discourse. With the attacks, the Republican nominee demeaned Hillary as a woman even more than he already has — linking her to her husband, as though as she is a woman she cannot possibly have independent thoughts.

Trump’s insistence on Clinton’s ‘candidacy for Prison,’ as many have coined it, also gained traction throughout the debate. Trump insisted that a Trump administration’s Attorney General would use ‘special prosecution’ to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. First of all what politician or law expert is going to serve in an administration, in a functioning democracy, that openly aims to conduct political prosecutions in a Soviet ‘show trial’ manner? My personal guess is very few, even from the Republican base which aims to see Clinton prosecuted. That’s despite the fact that even the official FBI investigation — headed by a Republican — found little to no evidence of wrongdoing and the case has all been thrown out.

In that context, Trump’s comments are dangerous for any functioning democracy. Add that to comments regarding sexual assault, and we can all but conclude that Trump’s campaign was in its last ditch attempt to save itself. Although the first post-debate poll showed Clinton with a 5% lead (47–42, YouGov), this has always been a ‘turnout election.’ With Trump’s comments comes excitement from the GOP and Trump base, leading to questions of whether Clinton’s comparably less enthused supporters will simply not turn out and hand some close, key battleground states, such as Florida (Clinton +2.7%), Ohio (Clinton +0.5%) or even New Hampshire (Clinton +3.7%)* to the Trump campaign.

The problem with the idea that Trump could win by enthusing the GOP base lies in the Clinton campaign’s outreach strategy. While Trump attempts to solidify the core support, Clinton went on the attack over women’s issues, and put herself above the low attacks of Trump — to the tune of 57% of people saying she was more “presidential” in a post-debate CNN poll. Clinton had a great opportunity following the release of the ‘Trump tapes’ to go after married, white women — a group that has traditionally always voted Republican, but that is now ripe for the picking after Trump’s comments. If she succeeds, Trump’s hopes of winning the White House are virtually zero.

“I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted. I think that says a lot about Donald” — Hillary Clinton on Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton, as expected, didn’t score any ‘knock outs.’ She was calm and steady in her approach — as she sought to shore up support further in ‘Blue Wall’ states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, two states she currently leads by double digits in. Appealing to white women in those states will undoubtedly make Trump completely non-competitive, while the reach out strategy should make currently Republican women reconsider their vote in states like Ohio, Maine, Florida and even safe red state Arizona, where Hillary Clinton currently only trails by 3% and where Senator John McCain’s rescinding of his endorsement for the GOP nominee may boost Clinton’s chances in the state further.

The final question of the night was also one completely different to anything we have seen so far in the 2016 cycle: What do each of the candidates respect about each other? While Clinton dodged the question politically — insinuating that Donald was a good father, Trump said that Clinton was a fighter, contradicting his previous claim that she doesn’t have the “stamina” needed to serve as President. A rare moment where the candidates weren’t at each other’s throats and looking like a normal, comradely debate highlighted that the two of them are human, despite both sides pitching the other as less than human. Humanity and humility is something that this campaign has missed, and it was good to see that side of both candidates on the town hall floor.

After a weekend like no other so far in this campaign, or indeed any recent campaign for the Presidency, Trump’s campaign has gone into meltdown while Clinton sets out on her ‘Get Out The Vote’ Strategy of visiting early voting states. While Trump appealed to the core vote, he proved right that he does not have the temperament or character to serve as Commander-in-Chief, and with his thoughts on the criminality of Clinton’s behaviour, he proved himself to be dangerous to many voters. While Clinton steadied her ship on the path to the White House, the next debate will prove crucial: if Trump cannot inspire enough anti-Clinton voters to back him, it’s game over. If Clinton leaks support to third parties or fails to capture Republican women, the race will remain dangerously close right into November.

Debate Winner: Hillary Clinton (D)

*All polling results via New York Times polling averages