The Big Read: The lady and the Trump
To understand the US presidential election, imagine two athletes. One who wandered onto the field as if by accident and discovered he could win with natural talent, another who has fought and struggled in the sport for a lifetime.
The first athlete has God-given abilities he never even knew he had but has never acquired the habits of training and preparation. The second is less naturally gifted but has worked hard and done everything required to stay in good shape.
Donald Trump is the talented neophyte with no discipline and Hillary Clinton is the journeyman athlete who compensates for her limitations with diligent practice and painstaking attention to detail.
The distinction was apparent in the first presidential debate. Trump, who effortlessly dispatched 16 Republican rivals, came out swinging against Clinton, who plodded to victory in the Democratic primaries against a septuagenarian socialist senator from a tiny rural state. But a half-hour into the debate, Trump's lack of conditioning became apparent and Clinton outlasted him.
By the end of the debate, Trump was shouting about how great his temperament was as the audience and his opponent laughed at him dismissively.
Trump has tapped into a larger populist and nationalist movement gripping much of the Western world while Clinton is hanging on to the status quo for dear life. She is Pollyanna-ish about subjects, from the economy to the plight of the inner city, in ways she would not be if she were running against almost anyone other than Trump.
Clinton generally ran away from Trump's challenges on trade and disappearing jobs, preferring to jab him mostly on his shadier business practices and more conventional Republican economic positions.
But she got the best of Trump because she exploited his narcissism, thin skin and aversion to detail. She baited him into defending things for which there is no defence, ranging from not giving a worker his due or spreading racially charged conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama, distracting him from lines of attack that could boost her own substantial negatives.
Time and again, Trump took the bait. It has been a constant problem for him. He must answer every sleight, even if it makes him look small.
Clinton relentlessly stays on message. Like the lawyer that she was, she seldom asks a question to which she does not already know the answer. She sticks to her script and demonstrates a command of the facts at hand.
This might have made her boring if Trump stuck to broad themes. But she needled him until he talked mostly about himself.
For example, it wasn't good enough to have opposed the Iraq war before Clinton. He had to mention on which talk shows he made anti-war statements and contrast them with talk shows on which she made equivocal statements.
Trump is clearly exaggerating his prescience on Iraq but he still opposed the intereantion earlier than nearly any major figure in the Republican Party. There is no way to equate him saying "I guess so" to Howard Stern in 2002 when asked whether he supported the Iraq war, with Clinton's vote to send Americans to fight and die in Iraq, even if nearly all the US media seems to think so.
Yet when Iraq came under discussion, Clinton managed to make Trump look less like a debate opponent than a particularly annoying panhandler haranguing her for change. Clinton was calm, if not quite likable. She was in command and control, whereas Trump lashed out and interrupted repeatedly.
Eventually it was clear Clinton knew she was winning and was best advised to let Trump work himself into a lather with minimal commentary from her. Her smiles as Trump spoke said it all.
Clinton is not as charismatic as either Obama or her husband. She cannot rally the same reservoir of goodwill among young people and racial minorities, two indispensable Democratic voting blocs. But she can turn in a consistent performance and remind them of how much they'll dislike her opponent being elected.
Whether that's enough in November remains to be seen. But on the debate stage on Monday night it certainly worked.
"Slow and steady wins the race" is an old cliché. Lucky for Clinton, sometimes clichés are actually true.
- ©The Daily Telegraph