Widget Image
Follow PPD Social Media
Connect With PPD
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
HomeOpinionHow Trump Wins the Debate

How Trump Wins the Debate

Donald-Trump-CNN-Republican-Debate-FL
Donald-Trump-CNN-Republican-Debate-FL

“So far I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” Donald J. Trump said at the Republican debate hosted by CNN in Florida. The comment came a mild exchange with Sen. Ted Cruz over the senator’s flip-flops on ethanol and immigration. (Photo: AP)

On one of my first trips to New Hampshire in 1991, to challenge President George H. W. Bush, I ran into Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

He was returning to the scene of his ’68 triumph, when he had inflicted the first crippling wound on Lyndon Johnson.

“Pat, you don’t have to win up here, you know,” he assured me. “All you have to do is beat the point spread.”

“Beat the point spread” is a good description of what Donald Trump has to do in Monday night’s debate.

With only a year in national politics, he does not have to show a mastery of foreign and domestic policy details. Rather, he has to do what John F. Kennedy did in 1960, and what Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

He has to meet and exceed expectations, which are not terribly high. He has to convince a plurality of voters, who seem prepared to vote for him, that he’s not a terrible risk, and that he will be a president of whom they can be proud.

He has to show the country a Trump that contradicts the caricature created by those who dominate our politics, culture and press.

The Trump on stage at Hofstra University will have 90 minutes to show that the malicious cartoon of Donald Trump is a libelous lie.

He can do it, for he did it at the Mexico City press conference with President Pena Nieto where he surprised his allies and stunned his adversaries.

Recall. Kennedy and Reagan, too, came into their debates with a crucial slice of the electorate undecided but ready to vote for them if each could relieve the voters’ anxieties about his being within reach of the button to launch a nuclear war.

Kennedy won the first debate, not because he offered more convincing arguments or more details on the issues, but because he appeared more lucid, likable and charismatic, more mature than folks had thought. And he seemed to point to a brighter, more challenging future for which the country was prepared after Ike.

After that first debate, Americans could see JFK sitting in the Oval Office.

Reagan won his debate with Carter because his sunny disposition and demeanor and his “There you go again!” airy dismissal of Carter’s nit-picking contradicted the malevolent media-created caricatures of the Gipper as a dangerous primitive or an amiable dunce.

Even George W. Bush, who, according to most judges, did not win a single debate against Al Gore or John Kerry, came off as a levelheaded fellow who was more relatable than the inventor of the internet or the windsurfer of Cape Cod.

The winner of presidential debates is not the one who compiles the most debating points. It is the one whom the audience decides they like, and can be comfortable taking a chance on.

Trump has the same imperative and same opportunity as JFK and Reagan. For the anticipated audience, of Super Bowl size, will be there to see him, not her. He is the challenger who fills up the sports arenas with the tens and scores of thousands, not Hillary Clinton.

If she were debating John Kasich or Jeb Bush, neither the viewing audience nor the title-fight excitement of Monday night would be there. Specifically, what does Trump need to do? He needs to show that he can be presidential. He needs to speak with confidence, but not cockiness, and to deal with Clinton’s attacks directly, but with dignity and not disrespect. And humor always helps.

Clinton has a more difficult assignment.

America knows she knows the issues. But two-thirds of the country does not believe her to be honest or trustworthy. As her small crowds show, she sets no one on fire. Blacks, Hispanics and millenials who invested high hopes in Barack Obama seem to have no great hopes for her. She has no bold agenda, no New Deal or New Frontier.

“Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” wailed Hillary Clinton this week.

The answer is simple. America has seen enough of her and has no great desire to see any more; and she cannot change an impression hardened over 25 years — in 90 minutes.

But the country will accept her, if the only alternative is the Trump of the mainstream media’s portrayal. Hence, the strategy of the Democratic Party for the next seven weeks is obvious:

Trash Trump, take him down, make him intolerable, and we win.

No matter how she performs though, Donald Trump can win the debate, for he is the one over whom the question marks hang. But he is also the one who can dissipate and destroy them with a presidential performance.

In that sense, this debate and this election are Trump’s to win.

Written by
Columnist

Pat Buchanan has been a senior adviser to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. From 1966 through 1974, Buchanan was a confidant and assistant to Richard Nixon. From 1985 to 1987, he was the White House Director of Communications for Ronald Reagan. In 1992, Buchanan challenged George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination and almost upset the president in the New Hampshire primary. In 1996, he won New Hampshire and finished second to Sen. Robert Dole with 3 million Republican votes. Buchanan was born in Washington, D.C., educated at Catholic and Jesuit schools, and received his master's degree in journalism from Columbia in 1962. At 23, he became the youngest editorial writer on a major newspaper in America, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1966, Buchanan became the first full-time staff member in the legendary comeback of Richard Nixon. He traveled with the future president in the campaigns of 1966 and 1968, and served as special assistant to the president from his first day in office through the final days of Watergate. On leaving the White House, Buchanan became a columnist and founding father of three of the most enduring talk shows in TV history: "The McLaughlin Group," CNN's "Capital Gang" and "Crossfire." In 2002, he joined MSNBC where he remained for ten years. In his White House years, Buchanan wrote foreign policy speeches and attended four summits, including Nixon's opening to China in 1972 and Reagan's Geneva and Reykjavik summits with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 and 1986. Buchanan has written 12 books, including seven New York Times best-sellers: "A Republic Not an Empire," "Death of the West," "Where the Right Went Wrong," "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America," "Day of Reckoning," "Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War,” and "Suicide of a Superpower,” as well as a Washington Post 1988 best-seller about growing up in the nation's capital, "Right From the Beginning." He is married to the former Shelley Ann Scarney, a member of the White House staff from 1969 to 1975.

No comments

leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.