Second TV Debate: Trump’s rhetorical disaster

Published on 2016/10/10
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As an absolutely impartial observer – I’m neither a fan of Trump nor Clinton – my judgement on the second televised debate couldn’t be clearer: Trump’s appearance was a disaster and will only accelerate his slump in the polls.

Following the release of the video from 2005, Trump had almost everything riding on this debate. Right now, he has his back to the wall and his poll numbers have been dropping for weeks. I am convinced that his position will be even weaker in the wake of this second TV duel.

It was widely reported that Clinton came out on top in the first TV debate. I don’t think the result was anywhere near that clear cut. Both candidates were equally disappointing the first time around, but neither was catastrophically bad. My scoring of their first confrontation was 6:4 in Clinton’s favor. My scoring of the second debate is 9:1 – against Trump.

Trump had more than enough time to prepare for predictable questions about the video and his tax payments. Clearly, his aides advised him to divert attention from these issues as quickly as possible and to respond to such questions by changing the topic, shifting the focus to the terror threat posed by “Islamic State”.

As the debate got underway, and Trump was asked about the video and his highly sexualized remarks, he repeatedly fell back on the stereotypical defense, “It was just locker room banter.” He was visibly agitated, highly unsure of himself and changed the subject to the “fight against Islamic State,” even though the topic wasn’t under discussion at that time. A little later, when he was asked to reveal how many years he hadn’t paid federal income tax (recent disclosures show that he registered a loss of almost one billion dollars in 1995), he fell back on the same strategy and talked about the fight against Islamic State, rather than answering the question that had been put to him. I guess that somebody close to Trump had told him that he would be able to score points on this topic.

There were reports that Nigel Farage, the former leader of the British UKIP party, helped Trump to get ready for this TV duel. Farage is an impressive rhetorician, but I am certain that he was embarrassed by Trump’s performance as he watched the debate unfold. Maybe it was even Farage himself who had advised Trump to keep switching to Islamic State. If it was Farage, an incredibly quick-witted political speaker, who gave Trump this piece of advice, he really should have taken into account the fact that Trump is simply too inept and clumsy to carry out such delicate rhetorical maneuvers.

Clinton spoke calmly, clearly and confidently. While she was speaking, Trump “prowled” nervously back and forth, like an excited schoolboy trying to urgently attract his teacher’s (here: the moderator’s) attention to signal that it should be his turn now as he had something extremely important to contribute. And then there was Trump’s continued sniffling – which he blamed on a defective microphone last time around. I think there were no problems with the microphone this time, but he carried on sniffling because he was so nervous and was well aware of his own rhetorical deficiencies during this kind of direct debate.

Unless something totally unexpected happens, Trump has lost the election, and that’s no bad thing. But I could still never bring myself to vote for Clinton. My vote would go to Gary E. Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate – even though we don’t agree on everything.

About the Author

Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is one of the leading experts for the strategic positioning and communications of companies.