Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Da Bait

Last night was the big show-down. After obsessive think-pieces by the media, pundits, and, well, everyone else, the two candidates met for the first time. Here are some take-a-ways:

  • Hillary is Old and Sick: This was probably the wrong message to set expectations. Hillary looked pretty spry and sharp. She didn't cough once. Trump had the sniffles. She didn't even drink any water.
  • Maybe Trump Really Didn't Prepare: Trump said he wasn't really prepping. People assumed that was spin. Doesn't look like it. He wasn't a quivering mess or anything but he wasn't all that sharp on his answers and got caught chasing his tail a few times (on whether he supported Iraq, for example). Worse, he never pivoted to attack Hillary's weaknesses--like her email, Benghazi, and so on. If Lester Holt was biased, Trump left all that on the table too.
  • This Is The Same Trump From the Primary: That's not necessarily a bad thing--but it isn't necessarily a good thing either. Trump is the same mix of bluster and bravado that served him well to get the GOP base. It may not work on the country at large though and if he can't expand his audience he's in trouble.
  • Clinton Was Pretty Polished: This isn't Clinton-fan-service. Her body language was clearly coached to wait patiently while Trump interrupted her. The Omnivore's guess is that the idea was to show "women everywhere" that Trump was a bully who talked over her.
  • Taking The Bait: The narrative here is that Hillary poked Trump and got under his (thin) skin and showed him to be a blustering bully. This is overstating the case but it's not entirely off-track. Trump did raise his voice, interrupt, and so on. Now, that might help him with some voters but Hillary (a) did a decent job of not being cowed (body language, patient smile) and (b) needed to show the world that Trump is that kind of guy. She more or less did that. Trump did not pivot into a calm, strong, presidential figure.

Who Won?

The real answer: wait a week and look at the polls. However--
  • Online Trump won almost all the polls. His electronic army is motivated and has high morale.
  • The pundits think that Hillary baited Trump and he took it, hook-line-and-sinker. That's a loss for him.
  • On policy depth, of course Hillary won, but Al Gore won on policy depth too.
  • The first 30 minutes of the debate are probably the most important and Trump's really weak answers came later.
  • After the debate, Team Trump had some issues with moderator Lester Holt. That's a tell. It means they think they didn't do well and are planning to create a counter-narrative that the fix was in.
  • The betting markets show a movement towards Hillary. This is money-where-your-mouth-is stuff.

Lester Holt

Lester Holt had a no-win job and he did not win. Team Trump says he's a shill for Hillary. Hillary fans are probably okay with him--but wonder why he didn't body fact check Trump into the floor. He got into it with Trump to a moderate degree but there was no surprise-attack Candy Crowley moment that left Trump dumbfounded.

Holt didn't hit Hillary on emails or her health--or any number of similar things--but, as noted above, neither did Trump. The email exchange was short and weak. Was Holt biased? Probably--he is the media--but The Omnivore doesn't think it rose to a level of malpractice.

Of course Trump made his own problems by saying he'd never caused Climate Change a Chinese hoax while a tweet from him saying exactly that was still up and re-tweeted 60k times (it has since come down). Facts are not Trump's friend and neither was Lester Holt.

The Omnivore's Take: No More Debates

Predictions without any teeth are pointless. While the smart money says Trump will do/will have to do another debate, The Omnivore is going to place some virtual tokens down that he doesn't. Why not? Well, the first reason is that he'd have to prep and (a) that's not really Trump and (b) if he's seen to take time out of his schedule to do it that would be like an admission that he lost.

Secondly, assuming Clinton gets a modest bump from this (let's say +2pts) the last thing Trump will want to do is have that happen closer to voting day. If it happens now, there's plenty of time for the "swelling to go down." If Trump's calculation is that it's better to take the hit by not debating, The Omnivore assesses he will.

The State of Play

There are two competing narratives coming out of the polling data. The first is that Hillary and Trump are tied and Trump may have an edge. That's fine--but the second is that while Hillary and Trump are close, Hillary has a ceiling above Trump's. Trump may have a 44pt total and if Hillary gets the soft-support, she can clear him by 8pts or so. In this model, Hillary gets people who are disgusted with Trump but don't like her either.

If the second model is, indeed, the case then this debate probably did not convince people who were worried about his temperament. It is possible that Hillary's general poise may have increased her already wide margins with women--and if that includes young women, that could be significant. 

Of course we will have to wait and see.

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