Well, the pivotal moment came and went – Donald and Secretary Clinton (is that OK with you? I just want you to be happy) faced off Monday night and we all lived to fight another day. Here’s what didn’t happen:
1) a question about a fake government agency
2) a dig at Donald’s small hands
3) a brawl
4) anything particularly significant
One week later and POLITICO’s numbers that mattered this week show a definitive win from Hillary Clinton. While his 40% chunk of loyal supporters didn’t waver, he made no headway with undecided likely voters – a performance like Monday’s doesn’t convince those who still view him as “strongly unfavorable.” Still only 31% of voters find him trustworthy, and 59% think he lacks that coveted temperament to be President.
All in all, though, the new polls are hardly significant deviations from what we saw pre-debate. A few stories have stuck in the last few news cycles: Trump’s tax returns and Alicia Machado, say, but the numbers reveal an unconvinced electorate.
Arthur Brooks at the Times sees the lack of deviation as poor strategy on both candidates’ parts. As part of their live opinion analysis, Brooks explained the implications behind our low expectations – and lack of surprise at the result – as a failure to recapture the imagination of the undecideds who think they know so much about Clinton and Trump:
Most people will say Mrs. Clinton got the better of these exchanges and had a good night. But both missed the opportunity to break out and show more repertoire. Mr. Trump continued to own the image of “strength,” toughness and the notion of shaking up the D.C. status quo. Mrs. Clinton kept her perceived monopoly on empathy and compassion for vulnerable people.
Interesting academic work suggests the most successful politicians defy conventional categories and steal traits that are normally associated with their opponents. The candidates will need to at least attempt this kind of shakeup to have any hope of achieving breakout in this campaign.
What would that look like? Where could you poke Trump to find those rivers of compassion? How can Clinton’s wariness of the podium transform her into the Iron Maiden?
If Trump were to suddenly go on a 3am Twitter rant about his sympathy for the children of undocumented immigrants, his followers would be mortified. Even at the slightest deviation from his free-wheeling candor, his voters bristle at the perceived change in tactic; no one is voting for the soft side of Trump. And while more progressive Democrats were itching for a more “maverick,” less-beholden candidate, no Clinton supporter is hoping she’ll trade in her grandma branding for a politically-incorrect attack on…anything.
Maybe if we had this discussion in May, or if these nominations were sewn up after Super Tuesday, the camps would have time to get creative with their messaging to the undecideds. But with barely over five weeks left til Election Day, the talk is all swing state polls and likely voter models, not how this war will be won beyond a weary victory eeked out in the trenches.