How Trump Can Recover From His Debate Performance
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Many feel the first presidential debate did not do President Trump any favors. He had sparks of brilliance, but generally came across as indifferent (his attempt at being level headed?), except for the times when he those same detractors found him to be arrogant, rude, and condescending. Outside of his base, it didn’t impress anyone or do him any favors.
Going into the debates, the strategy of both camps seemed to be obvious. For Team Biden, their candidate just had to stand up, communicate some nebulous platitudes, and not get lost in senility. For Team Trump, their candidate just had to remind the American public of his successes in office and to lay out a straightforward vision for his next four years - without being abrasive. In this sense, while declaring winners and losers is generally reserved for partisan opinion, it isn’t outside the realm of objectivity to suggest Biden beat Trump.
It cannot be overstated that the only thing propelling Trump to victory in 2016 was the exact same bravado and confidence that was on full display Tuesday night. In the debate formats, his interjections of “wrong” that year were appreciated both for its hilarious novelty as well as its reconciliation with media bias and political falsehoods. Like many Americans, he despised Hillary and personified the deep disgust with the Clinton name. Moreover, he was the only Republican candidate that could beat her. People are packages, and Trump’s package includes traits that got him to the presidency. Now, however, he needs to redefine himself to remain there.
In 2016, Trump was an unknown political entity. He spoke honestly, gruffly, and from the hip. He called it like he saw it. It was refreshing.
In 2020, Trump is not an X-Factor anymore. He is President Trump, and as such, the demands placed on him are inarguably different. His presentation of both himself and his positions received rave reviews from sites I myself submit articles to and read generally. While there are many aspects of the performance that reminded Americans that he won’t back down - absolutely critical when thinking of interactions with world leaders that don’t respect or have time for niceties (Obama/Iran, Obama/anyone, Kennedy/Khrushchev, etc.) - there is the subjective “optics” of a debate that serves less to rally a base and more to win over so-called independents and the crucial suburban mom vote.
Viewed through a prism of courting potential voters, rather than revving up committed voters, how can the night of September 29th be viewed as a success? Moving forward, how can he atone for his both laggard and boorish behavior in the coming weeks?
For starters, Trump needs to open the next debate with an apology to the American public, Chris Wallace, and Joe Biden. It could sound something like this:
“To the city of Miami, thank you for hosting Vice President Biden and me for a second debate. Before we begin, I want the American people to know that I did not arrive in Cleveland as I wished to or as you deserved. To you all, I am sorry that I represented our nation through cut offs and put downs instead of can dos and will dos. To Chris Wallace, thank you for your impeccable moderation and forgive me for the way I treated you. Finally, to Vice President Biden, please accept my apologies for the personal insults and my regrets that our first debate did not inform the American public of our positions. It only reinforced the divisions unnecessarily created by hostility and anger. To the American public, I believe I am the right - the only - choice to be your president. But I need to convince you. Tonight, I will.”
Let Trump put his own spin on the message, but reconciliation would go a long way. How hard would that be? Nothing gains more traction in modern life than honesty and vulnerability. Trump has the honesty thing down pat; he sees right through D.C. BS and lets everyone know about it. The vulnerability piece, however, is not his forte.
If he is to win in November, he needs to make a subtle shift. This isn’t to say he sheds every aspect of classic Trumpian charisma; however, he might be better served to also harness some restraint. There are a few reasons behind this.
First, conservatives need to remind Americans why they are the better choice to lead with civility, tolerance, and grace. As a general rule, it is incontestable that conservatives are nicer people, but if their leader doesn’t display that, then it is a useless argument. BLM and Antifa loons can burn down every building in sight; so long as Trump represents conservatives, they will be lumped in together.
Second, to court the all-important voting blocs that will be imperative to carry Trump to victory, he can’t continue with the same old schtick. Who did he win over last night? His base? What good will a minority base of hard-core Republicans do against millions of agitated and disgusted voters looking for every reason to not vote Democrat?
Third, it is time for Trump to mature as a president. Look, this article fully recognizes that Trump was uniquely positioned to carry Republicans to victory over Democrats in 2016. He was the only candidate that could do it. Period. But we can juggle that reality with the new realities facing essential voters at the ballot box. He can still do his Trump thing without being mean about. Trump is a smart, witty guy. Let that come out without the aspersions. Call out Biden’s malarkey and bad ideas without insulting his intelligence.
We need a Trump victory in America to stave off socialism. To do that, we need a Trump victory in the debates. To do that, we need a different Trump on October 15th.