Hillary Clinton as Mitt Romney


If you tuned in to last night’s debate because you were expecting a substantive examination of the great issues facing our country and about which some hard decisions need to be made—and soon—you were disappointed. Trump’s signature issue, immigration, was hardly discussed and questions of war and trade were not debated at the highest level. If you tuned in last night to watch a reality-show inspired smack-down handed to one or the other candidate, you were similarly disappointed. This debate was not that, surprisingly, quite boring for most of it. But, as Charles Krauthammer commented at the debate’s conclusion, the debate was a draw and the thing about draws is that they almost always go to challengers.

Although I think it is indisputable that Trump whiffed on a number of fastballs down the middle from Clinton, the first several plate appearances scored him solid hits. From there, the consensus among the pundits and the fancy-people is that he tanked. And I confess that I was disappointed in his second half performance, too. There was no home run and he seemed to get on base mainly on errors after the opening part of the debate. He got bogged down with a lot junk pitches from Clinton. He didn’t strike out, but he did hit a lot of foul balls on pitches he’d have been better off letting pass. He barely escaped striking out looking, in my humble opinion.

But my opinion and the opinion of other experienced debate scorers does not seem matter.

Indeed, the consensus across the anecdotal platforms that tells us what the only important people in this election—the voters—think, offers an alternate take. Online “snap polls” handed Trump a near universal win, including sites like Slate and Time, which cannot be described as leaning Republican or conservative. At the New York Post Salena Zito offers some interesting insights on a group of undecided independents and Democrats who gathered to watch inside a bar in Youngstown, PA called, of all things, the “Tin Lizzy.” One of the people Zito interviews for the article, Ken Reed, is a registered Democrat and small business owner. He offered the following observation on the evening:

By the end of the debate, Clinton never said a thing to persuade me that she had anything to offer me or my family or my community. . . . Have to say that Trump had the edge this evening, he came out swinging but also talked about specifics on jobs and the economy.

Reed went on to explain that Secretary Clinton came across as “smug or as though she was reading her résumé” and that there was nothing about her résumé that touched his life.

At a similar gathering happening in a watering hole a world apart from the Tin Lizzy, Hollywood conservatives, for the most part, had a like reaction:

“This is nothing but a good time,” said ‘Magic’ Matt Alan of satellite radio and Outlaw Radio. “Trump is cleaning the floor with the miserable, no-talent hack. Is there any debate? He’s kicking her ass. Look at her. She wants to kill him.”

And then there was this:

“On balance, Trump is winning,” said Andrew Klavan, a novelist, screenwriter and author of The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. “He’s keeping his cool. If he was a little smarter, he could take her apart, because she’s not proposing anything new. Even so, Trump is an entertaining guy and it’s serving him well tonight.”

Klavan’s comment fairly sums up my opinion of the debate. The part of me that wants to see a substantive dismantling of the politics of the Left is disappointed. But the part of me that understands such a dismantling would not have resonated at this time is counseling patience. This is because the hurdle of achieving popular disdain for the purveyors of Leftist hokum has not been cleared, so I take it as a sign of progress that voters don’t find naked Leftism resonating either. That they are willing to grade Trump on a curve suggests that they do not yet see themselves—as conservatives would have them do—hiring a President to provide this dismantling of the Left. They don’t yet know that this dismantling is necessary to improve their lives. What they do know, and seem to know better than the pundits (even and including me) is that Hillary offers nothing that will improve their lots in life or improve the standing of our country.

In last night’s debate, she was the more polished and experienced candidate. No doubt about it. But does this help her with the people she needs to convince to support her? The thing pundits are just beginning to understand about the voter uprising this cycle is that formerly complicit voters are saying, “No thanks!” to all of that. A good friend of mine remarked this morning that Hillary Clinton reminded him of an old boss he doesn’t like. He expected more out of Trump than he got, but if Trump was full-on Trump in seeming ill-prepared, Hillary’s problem was that she was full-on Hillary by a factor of ten. She didn’t show anything original or insightful or that indicated she’d been paying attention to what people have been saying concerns them in this election. She recited talking points and tired clichés she had rehearsed in front of a mirror—probably since 1992. If this were 1992, perhaps it would sell. But we’ve seen this movie before and didn’t like it much. It’s a much harder sell today—mainly because we know how it turns out. That politics and those debates produced a farce. If we are going to have to endure a farce, let’s at least be entertained by someone who will call it such.

Put differently, Hillary Clinton is the Mitt Romney of this cycle. She failed in 2008 next to Obama because he was the candidate who understood that a new kind of politics (like it or not) and a new kind of media outreach was required to capture the imagination of an American public tuned out and exhausted of the old-style political game. He fought on a different plane. Clinton hasn’t been a good student either of her husband or of Obama. Similarly, Mitt Romney failed against Obama because he wanted to play the old game, too. He wanted to recite policy talking points and show off his polish and acumen on points. Voters yawned and called BS. They. Don’t. Care.

Clinton is likely to lose this election because she refuses (and, probably, can’t) learn the new rules. She is the polished corporate BS slinger that everyone recognizes and despises. The high school debate team captain who annoys all but the teachers most needy of validation. She makes Trump seem interesting and compelling by comparison, even when he rambles and trips over himself—as he did in many places last night. Whatever Trump actually is or is not, he seems to be the more “real” candidate to the people tired of this show. They want to change the channel.

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About Julie Ponzi

Julie Ponzi is Senior Editor of American Greatness. She holds an M.A. in political philosophy and American politics from the Claremont Graduate University. She was an Earhart Fellow and a Bradley Foundation Fellow while studying at Claremont and also earned a Publius Fellowship from The Claremont Institute. Formerly the Director of Academic Programs at the Claremont Institute, she also taught American politics at Azusa Pacific University. Her writing has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, The Online Library of Law and Liberty, The Columbus Dispatch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Washington Times. She was also a regular and long-time contributor to the Ashbrook Center's blog, No Left Turns. She lives in California. You can follow her on Twitter at @JuliePonzi