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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