Donald Trump’s Second Presidential Debate Performance Was Red Meat To The Alt Right

Who is Donald Trump trying to impress? And why?

If you were wondering exactly what audience Donald Trump was playing to with his combative debate performance in last night’s second presidential debate, here’s a clue.

Donald Trump’s “braggadocious” threats to prosecute Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidential election will do nothing to temper the fears of undecided voters who have no love for Hillary Clinton but harbour reservations about throwing their support behind an authoritarian wannabe strongman.

But this kind of language is absolutely lapped up by Trump’s strongest source of support – the conspiracy-tinged alt-right, who see Hillary Clinton not merely as an ethically challenged creature of Washington D.C., but as evil incarnate – the “wicked witch of Benghazi, cackling over her cauldron” as one pro-Trump social media user put it.

And the conspiratorial InfoWars site certainly lapped up Trump’s second debate performance, as seen in the instant reaction video shown above, and again at far greater length in that site’s six-hour coverage of the debate at Washington University in St. Louis.

But in the midst of the pro-Trump cheerleading, InfoWars reporter Owen Shroyer actually makes a very pertinent observation:

You know, it is an amazing dynamic where it seems like if you like Donald Trump, no matter what, he wins, if you like Hillary Clinton, no matter what, she wins. How do we break any ground on that? How do we break through that paradigm where only your candidate can win the debate? I think that that illustrates the polarisation that we’re seeing in this country in this election cycle.

Indeed, different sites and journalistic outlets have called the debate in line with their partisan leanings or the supposed proclivities of their readers, preferring to pander than to challenge or upset. The Guardian declared a victory for Clinton, while the Spectator and numerous American conservatives (even those opposed to Trump) declared him the victor.

As this blog commented following the debate:

My initial assessment: if you disregard actual facts (as we now seem to do), Donald Trump probably had the better of this debate. He went on the (nuclear) attack, hit Hillary Clinton hard, gave his supporter base something to cheer about and managed to do enough incendiary things to bump the Trump Tapes story fallout down the news agenda. Hillary Clinton didn’t commit any significant gaffes and was more poised, but again there was nothing tremendously inspiring about her sales pitch for the presidency.

And it seems that we do now disregard facts and adherence to them when judging a candidate’s debate performance. While Hillary Clinton certainly was not consistently truthful during the debate, Donald Trump made significantly more blatant falsehoods. But can he still be said to have “won”, by virtue of having been more combative in tone and unapologetic about his deceits? Apparently so.

What is clear is that more than ever – even more than four years ago, when Republicans trapped in an ideological echo chamber of their own making were convinced that Mitt Romney was going to lead them to victory – is that both sides have retreated to their respective ideological bubbles, hermetically sealed safe spaces of bias confirmation in which awkward facts or revelations are diminished or entirely ignored in order to avoid the slightest cognitive dissonance in the minds of their supporters.

Donald Trump’s combative performance and willingness to step into unprecedented territory in his attacks on Hillary Clinton will have been red meat to those of his supporters already firmly ensconced in the bubble. Threatening to send “crooked Hillary” to jail is red meat to the ascendant alt-right movement.

But will it have done anything at all to convince wavering voters that Donald Trump is capable of carrying out the duties of the presidency in a calm and measured way, or that he represents a safe choice for those unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly not.

And with less than a month to go until the election, Donald Trump still has all of his work ahead of him to reach that low but mysteriously elusive bar of acceptability.



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4 thoughts on “Donald Trump’s Second Presidential Debate Performance Was Red Meat To The Alt Right

  1. Chauncey Tinker October 11, 2016 / 10:16 PM

    I think if Hillary Clinton committed a serious crime, she should go to jail. Trump only talks about hiring a special prosecutor right, not hiring a special judge? If she did commit a serious crime and the FBI and the prosecutors between them don’t want to prosecute her, then surely it makes sense to hire a special prosecutor as clearly the authorities in that case are corrupt? Risking the exposure of state secrets has got to be serious right?

    Or, are politicians above the law?


    • Samuel Hooper October 11, 2016 / 11:21 PM

      I don’t disagree. And you could argue that Donald Trump threatening to hire a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton is totally different to all the times that political thugs seek to jail their opponents in other, lesser countries. And you would be mostly right, this isn’t like Ukraine or Turkey. But if Trump threatening his opponent in the midst of a campaign makes me (a big Clinton sceptic) uncomfortable, I question whether it is smart political strategy when people are looking for Trump to allay their concerns and meet a minimum bar of acceptability.


      • Chauncey Tinker October 12, 2016 / 9:49 AM

        Well I don’t follow US politics too closely but if US justice is as corrupt as this article suggests:

        then I would would be hollering “go Trump!” from the rooftops at that statement! My minimum bar of acceptability is that we have leaders who believe in the most fundamental principle of justice – equality before the law:

        Perhaps we could find some wrongdoing or other in Trump’s career but then that probably applies to most candidates now that we have so many laws. Endangering national security however, well the US really comes down hard on people who break secrecy laws normally:


        According to reports, the FBI took possession of Clinton’s private server last week. The IG for the intelligence community told members of Congress that at least two emails that traversed the device while she was secretary of state contained information that warranted a “top secret” label.


  2. AndrewZ October 11, 2016 / 6:43 AM

    I don’t think it’s about appealing to the alt-right. The timing of the release of the “Trump Tape” clearly suggests that it was held back until the moment when it could do the most damage as a last-minute surprise. Even if the Clinton campaign wasn’t directly involved – and that’s a big “if” – it was certainly done in a way that was intended to provide them with the maximum benefit.

    If Trump admits to any wrong-doing, beyond a perfunctory pro-forma apology for being too rude, then he will be on the defensive about his character for the rest of the campaign. That’s a losing position. So his only option is to go on the attack, and since his character has been questioned that means he has to engage in personal attacks on Hillary Clinton to show that her character is even worse. Bill Clinton is also fair game because Hillary was part of the political machine that covered-up Bill’s sleazy behaviour and ruthlessly slandered any woman who complained about how he had treated her.

    Therefore the last stage of the campaign will be a no-holds-barred mud-slinging contest. That might actually favour Trump, because Hillary Clinton has such a terrible record of dishonesty, dirty deals and conspicuous incompetence that Trump simply has to ask people if the things he said are worse than all the things she has actually done. Clinton in turn needs to throw as much dirt as possible at Trump in order to convince people that he’s no better than her. It’s going to be very ugly.


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