As usual, Donald Trump’s approach to news is non-traditional: Saying that the Tulsa police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher may have “choked,” as if she missed a free throw in the NBA playoffs, isn’t exactly how most people would put it. After all, choking doesn’t normally earn one a charge of felony first-degree manslaughter, as Officer Betty Shelby now faces.
But in addition to the virtue of simplicity, compared to the logorrhea emanating from the maw of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s approach has a realness about it which will serve him well when this issue dominates, as it likely will, Monday’s presidential debate.
Add in the recent terrorist bombings in New York and New Jersey and the knife attack by a Kenya-born Somali Muslim shouting “Allah” at a shopping center in Minnesota last Saturday, and the “law-and-order candidate” has the wind at his back during this critical period of the election season.
When you listen to Hillary Clinton speak, even about the deaths of Americans at the hands of police officers, she sounds like a bloodless robot programmed to mouth liberal tropes. Thus stands today, as columnist Matt Latimer put it so aptly, “the enthusiasm-starved campaign of Hillary Clinton, who over her decades in politics has perfected the talent of making even the most cutting-edge idea immediately sound like a cliché.” My one quibble with Matt would be the suggestion that Mrs. Clinton has ever held, much less been the original source for, a cutting-edge idea.
It’s not that Trump’s prescription of “stop and frisk” as the strong medicine required to treat America’s epidemic of inner city crime is innovative, some new blockbuster drug from big-policy-pharma. But in a nation beaten over the head daily with the fact that our violent crime rates are rising for the first time in a generation and that Islamic terrorism exists in the homeland, the public is desperate for someone who makes an even slightly plausible case that he understands root causes, who is not beholden to politically correct restraint (though questions remain about his fealty to constitutional restraint), and — most of all — who actually gives a damn not just what the rest of us think but how we feel.
Considering how new Donald Trump is not just to politics but, even within the limited time frame of his presidential campaign, to policy, it says a lot that his credibility on such important issues as crime and terrorism are roughly equal (according to recent polls) to that of Hillary Clinton.
By which I mean it says a lot about Hillary Clinton that after three decades slogging through the swamps of Progressive public policy, the electorate doesn’t trust her about key issues of the day any more than it trusts a blustery orange-haired reality-TV star with no pedigree in governing, or even in thinking about governing.
All of which leads to next Monday’s debate having the opportunity to be the most interesting and consequential political showdown in the United States since America’s first televised presidential debate, the 1960 matchup between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy which at most 15 percent of the voting-age American population might remember.
Donald Trump complained about the debate being up against Monday Night Football; if I were Roger Goodell, I’d be the one frustrated to be facing the looming ratings behemoth.
Polls are tightening but extremely volatile. There are many undecided voters and a not-entirely-crazy theory that likely-voter polling may not capture the opinions of many Americans who have not cast ballots in many years, if ever, but will turn out in 2016 for a man who will challenge a system that they believe is rotten to the core — with Hillary Clinton representing the worm that inhabits the barely covered muck beneath the misleadingly shiny surface.
In that environment, Donald Trump has one goal on Monday: to appear credibly presidential. It’s a multi-faceted task, comprised at least of plausible policy positions and a demeanor of calm but passionate leadership rather than simple bombast.
With so many unsubstantiated rumors about how each candidate is preparing (or not preparing) for the debate, with stories about the Clinton team counseling the candidate to give Donald Trump the rope to hang himself with, Trump has the considerable advantage of low expectations.
Obviously he should aim to exceed them.
Given what must be the top two issues up for discussion: crime (and the subsidiary conversation about law enforcement) and terrorism, both of which should be among Trump’s few strong suits, the debate represents an unlikely opportunity for The Donald to go on offense, to show Mrs. Clinton for what she is: an elitist who is wildly out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. What a remarkable reversal of position from the usual Republican-Democrat dichotomy.
Given how far left the Democratic Party has moved with Hillary Clinton in the Alinskyite vanguard (even as she sidles up to the white-shoe multi-millionaires at Goldman Sachs) and the fact that Hillary is a woman, and given Donald Trump’s unique background and style, this presidential election arguably offers a choice between the two most different candidates in our history.
Which is why the most common comparison made regarding the expected television ratings for Monday night is to the Super Bowl.
The first presidential debate in 2016 will likely garner double the viewership of the first Obama-McCain debate in 2008. As well it should, in an election of such consequence among an electorate desperate for change facing two candidates whose only similarity is the public’s dislike of them but whose many large differences are the true subject of this election.
History suggests that debates rarely cause a significant change in the trajectory of an election. But Monday offers the possibility of something completely different. So grab the popcorn, enjoy the show, and let’s just hope it turns out to be a drama rather than a tragedy.