I’ve heard many people preemptively declare Hillary Clinton the presumptive winner of tonight’s debate against Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Many view her intelligence, grasp of policy, superior debating skills, and Presidential demeanor to be so vastly superior to his, that there is no way he could possibly compete with her on stage.
After all, Donald Trump is easily baited, and is completely unstable and unpredictable when faced with adversity and challenges on stage and on the campaign trail. He is known for his outspoken and unapologetic bigotry, misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and many other seemingly insurmountable deficits and short-fallings. Donald Trump is perhaps the most publicly reviled Presidential candidate in history, and one would think, the easiest target to take down. Simply put, Donald Trump has been his own worst enemy, and in any other campaign, it would have taken only a handful of the gaffes he has made to end his run, but not so with Trump.
When Ronald Reagan was President, his critics and detractors called him “the Teflon president”- a nickname that was coined by Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, reflecting how a plethora of scandals surrounding his presidency seemed to have no effect on his individual popularity with the public. Seemingly, nothing could stick to President Reagan, and he left office as wildly popular – if not more – than when he came in. If Reagan was considered the “Teflon President,” than surely Donald Trump has been the “Teflon Candidate.” Despite a 24/7 constant media obsession with every boneheaded, racist, and dangerous thing he has ever said and done, Donald Trump still managed to beat out 17 other Republican hopefuls, gained millions of rabid supporters, won over thousands of independents and disenfranchised voters, and closed the gap between him and Hillary Clinton. Currently, the two are neck and neck in the polls. Trump has done the unthinkable: he has used the hateful rhetoric of an authoritarian demagogue and fascist to demonize huge swaths of the American public, and used divisive language to incite violence and hatred, YET still managed to win over nearly half the electorate. This hatemonger is actually a viable candidate for President of the United States – arguably, the most powerful and influential job on the planet.
Donald Trump’s supporters admit that he sticks his foot in his mouth repeatedly, although they admire him for “telling it like it is” and for speaking the truth to power. They want a candidate who is willfully Anti-Political Correctness, and who flies in the face of traditional politics and convenient policy soundbites. They want someone they perceive to be like them, and Hillary Clinton is decidedly NOT that.
For those on the Left and in support of Hillary Clinton, it would seem that she has all the preternatural abilities and advantages going into tonight’s debate. She has been active in politics for over 30 years, and has spent a lifetime in service to the poor, to children, and to middle class families everywhere. She is the former First Lady and spouse of a former President, and knows the workings of the White House and Capitol Hill. Clinton is an experienced ex-Senator and former Secretary of State, who had very high favorability ratings while in office. Hillary also has a wonkish understanding of policy and the nuances of Government. If anything, Hillary Clinton may be the most capable politician to ever run for the Office. Her grasp of policy and governance is stunning, even to the most veteran of politicians. She also has a practical knowledge of how Washington works, and knows full well what it means to collaborate and work across the aisle. For good or for bad, Hillary Clinton is a career politician and a Washington insider, who has an infinite number of connections and alliances. She also has many enemies and detractors, but what politician doesn’t? It is undeniable that Mrs. Clinton knows how to get things done, and possesses a good deal of political capital. Hillary Clinton may be one of the most experienced, intelligent, and capable people to ever run for the office of the Presidency.
And yet…and yet…she may still lose. Even despite the enormous deficits of her polarizing challenger, and all her many strengths and capabilities, there is still something undeniably looming underneath Hillary Clinton’s Presidential run. There are still huge obstacles to her being elected. It’s something we’ve heard about for months, but it’s something that will inevitably rear its ugly head in the debates specifically. You see, it’s not her grasp of facts and figures, Hillary’s comprehension of policy, or her innate ability to debate that worries me. Clinton obviously has all those strengths in spades, and perhaps in a normal debate, against a more traditional candidate, those would all be huge assets. Yet, even against a more orthodox candidate, as a woman, I still think Hillary has the unenviable task of having to win over people who society has predisposed to dislike her. Her intellect, poise, and debating skills have NEVER been the problem with Hillary Clinton. IT’S ALL ABOUT LIKABILITY.
Men are praised for power, and women are praised for how they look, and for being demure. If she attacks too much or gets too animated, she is labeled a “crazed and shrill bitch.” If she lays back and debates the finer nuances of policy, she’s an “egghead wonk, and completely unrelatable.” And the worst possible scenario is if she appears wonkish and elitist, and seems to be patronizing and haughty at Trump’s inevitable ignorance and perceived stupidity. Remember Al Gore’s loud sighs in his debates against George W. Bush? He was expressing the frustration the rest of us Liberals were feeling at Bush’s lack of policy knowledge and superficial understanding of government. Gore was sighing because he was a smart and capable politician, with years of experience and a firm grasp of how to govern this country. Gore was sighing for all of us, and for everyone who recognized that Bush was simply unsuited for the job of President. Yet, as we soon realized, his justified sighs were patronizing and haughty, and only served to alienate the public and humanize George W. Bush. Those sighs not only made Gore unlikable, they made Bush imminently likable and avuncular. As was oft repeated, many Americans felt that they would enjoy sitting down and drinking a beer with Bush. He was one of them. Those sighs ultimately humanized Bush, and made him instantly relatable. Well, those sighs would be even worse coming from a woman.
I hate to say it, but I think Hillary is — and always has been — in a lose-lose situation. She’s a woman, and sadly, judged by an irrational and woefully sexist patriarchal standard of how a woman should behave. But more so, whereas men are judged positively and worthwhile for being aggressive and confident, women are seen as “bitches” – or worse – for showing the exact same temerity. On the other hand, if she comes across as too wonky and knowledgable, she’s simply a “know-it-all nerd” who nobody likes. If a smart and capable man like Al Gore had trouble seeming relatable, comfortable, and likable, it is a thousand times worse for ANY woman, and especially a woman like Hillary Clinton – with all her perceived baggage – real or imagined.
I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Hillary Clinton to be our nominee, but I like Hillary. I think she is deeply flawed, and has made some catastrophic mistakes, but which of us hasn’t? What politician doesn’t come with baggage? I liked Bernie Sanders, but Hillary is much more electable in today’s political climate. Even if I don’t always think she represents herself well, I know Hillary Clinton is smart, capable, experienced, and passionate about the same issues I care about. But sadly, I also think she’s in a practically no-win scenario when debating this cocky sociopath. I do think Hillary Clinton may narrowly win the Presidency, but in many ways, she will never be “America’s President.” As you know, no candidate will ever receive the mandate of the vast majority of the people ever again, as was sometimes the case in the past. Our society is currently too divided and polarized. However, Hillary Clinton, if elected, will undoubtedly be the most unpopular candidate to ever win the Presidency. If she can nearly be beaten by a man as grotesque and deplorable as Donald Trump, there is something clearly deeper than her past mistakes in Benghazi and email servers at work. This is more than emails and Whitewater. Hillary Clinton is a woman, and although she may become the first female President of the United States, she will never “WIN” a debate. She can’t. We won’t allow her too. It’s not Hillary Clinton I’m worried about tonight. It’s everybody else.