Clinton: ‘It’s a good thing that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.’
Trump: ‘Because you’d be in jail.’
Those five words changed the face of American presidential politics, maybe forever. Before Trump came along, it was impossible to imagine one presidential candidate threatening to arrest another if elected. Now, it’s par for the course on debate night. And that’s a truly beautiful thing.
But we can easily get bogged down in the fireworks and forget that the purpose of a presidential debate is to give each candidate the opportunity to present their agenda and scrutinize their opponent’s. I know, it’s boring. But it’s important to any democratic society.
So tonight we at the Aussie Speccie hooked Trump up to the Conservatometer and rated his answers on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being Sanders-worthy and 10 being so solid you’d expect to find it in the pages of the National Review.
Here we go.
Trump drew the ire of doctrinaire conservatives early in the primary for supporting a single-payer healthcare system. He promised full coverage for all Americans, saying ‘The government’s gonna pay for it’ and the taxes ‘of some wealthy are going to be raised.’ It was a real stinker, showing an ignorance of his viciously pro-market base and of the woeful failures of extant single-payer systems around the world.
That Trump didn’t show up for the debate tonight. This Trump was right on the money. He called for an end to the interstate bans on private coverage, which effectively give certain companies monopolies in certain states. He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare) in full, and replace it with a private, market-based system. ‘We want competition.’
He also loudly backtracked on his dabbling in socialized medicine, pointing out that Canadians with extreme illnesses often fly to the United States for treatment, because Canada’s public healthcare system is crippled with a swollen bureaucracy. (Really, Canada’s system is a disaster.) That’s a key point that conservatives often forget: not only are market-based systems better than public ones on principle, they’re also more efficient on delivering much-needed care to patients.
This was probably a nod to Republican defectors more than voters at large, but it was smart. Trump can’t win with just the conservative vote, of course, yet he certainly can’t win without it. No Republican can.
But Trump was, as usual, somewhat sparing on the specifics. It’s true that (1) repeal Obamacare and (2) abolish monopolies is enough of a policy in itself. But when going mano a mano with a wonk like Clinton, he would’ve done well to throw out more specifics. Saying of Obamacare that ‘Its numbers are going up at numbers that nobody has ever seen worldwide’ doesn’t really cut it.
So, with thanks for the hat-tip, the Conservatometer gives Trump’s healthcare answer a 7/10.
One of the preselected questioners – a Muslim woman – asked both candidates (i.e. Trump) what they (i.e. he) would do to protect her from Islamophobia. He didn’t take the bait. Calling the rise in Islamophobia ‘tragic’ – which, if it existed, it would be – Trump instead turned to the failures of the Muslim community to police themselves for extremism. He told American Muslims that, ‘If you see something, say something.’ It was handled with a tact that no doubt surprised seasoned Trump-watchers.
And, if you squint really hard, it was a perfectly sound answer to the question. The best way to make Americans fear Muslims less is to prevent Muslims from killing Americans. After all, the jihadists’ bombs that rocked San Bernardino didn’t plant themselves. The Sig Sauer MCX used to massacre 49 LGBT Americans in Orlando didn’t pull its own trigger.
Trump also backtracked on his proposed (and extremely popular) Muslim ban, saying that particular policy ‘has morphed into, in some form, extreme vetting’. Elsewhere, he’s explained that this will apply to countries that have been ‘compromised by terrorism’. That’s sensible – in fact, it’s stupidly obvious – and it avoids the controversial (though constitutionally sound) question of religious tests for citizenship. Just as well.
Then, slipping briefly into a tangent about Mid-Eastern refugees, he again pointed out the stupidly obvious: ‘The Gulf States are not carrying their weight but they have nothing but money.’ The West can’t play foster mum to the entire nation of Syria. If their neighbour in the region don’t want to offer them a place to crash, that should tell us something.
The answer on its face was average-to-good, but given how deftly he redirected an obviously hostile question, we’ll give him a 10/10.
Trump went the full Pat Buchanan on this one. He pointed to NATO’s repeated and disastrous interventions in the Middle East, noting that ‘Every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else’ – Libya gets a nod later – ‘we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people [they overthrew].’ Too true.
He made it abundantly clear that he had one single priority in Syria: to destroy Isis. He even echoed that disheartening statistic that hostile, totalitarian states are doing more to fight that battle than we are. ‘I don’t like Assad,’ he said, ‘but Assad is killing Isis. Russia is killing Isis. And Iran is killing Isis.’ NATO, meanwhile, is indirectly helping Isis and al-Qaeda kill Assad. Then came that golden line, music to every realist’s ears: ‘I think it would be great if we got along with Russia so we could fight ISIS together.’
Whether this answer checks out or not really depends on which school of conservatism you fall into. If you hail from the paleoconservative wing, where wars are fought only as a last resort and with the singular objective of keeping the homeland safe, he gets a 10/10. If you’re from the neoconservative wing, which endorses pre-emptive wars and nation building, he’s probably hovering around a 1/10. Being more of the paleo persuasion myself, I give him full marks. But that’s your call.
Trump said his ideal nominees are ‘people who respect the constitution of the United States.’ In particular: ‘They’ll respect the Second Amendment and what it stands for.’ He named the late Antonin Scalia as his paradigm of a great SCOTUS justice, as any conservative would. This is a yuuuge issue for Trump: after securing the nomination, the list of potential nominees he published was widely hailed as his first and most important homage to the Cruz-leaning conservative base he’d alienated over the course of the primary.
Again, a little light on the specifics. SCOTUS appointments aren’t really one of his main interests, but they are probably conservatives’ number-one priority He should be more fluent in their language by now. Still, not a bad answer. 6/10.
Another subject well outside of Trump’s expertise. In the past, he’s been able to coast by getting out of Clinton’s way and letting her shoot herself in the foot. Voters haven’t forgotten her promise to the coal-rich state of West Virginia: ‘We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business’ by investing in renewables. So Trump’s never really had to tackle the question himself.
He didn’t do too badly. He lashed out at the Environmental Protection Agency, saying its laundry list of emissions regulations ‘is killing these energy companies’. This has allowed foreign buyers to swallow up the market, leading to ‘China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States.’
‘I’m all for alternative sources of energy,’ Trump promised, ‘but we need more than wind and solar… There is a thing called clean coal.’ (South Australians, take note.)
This was an exotic and refreshing blend of Trumpian protectionism and Republican orthodoxy.
‘We have to protect our energy companies,’ he emphasized, but his means of doing so wasn’t more government regulation, as it has been in the past. It was, rather, a largescale repeal of EPA-imposed regulation, which would allow American companies to compete with foreign enterprises and produce more American jobs – the heart of Trump’s domestic policy agenda.
Conservatometer says 9/10.
Right, then …
So what do we take away from all this?
Trump was in top form, combining his personal brand of provocative populism with a rock-solid(ish) conservative agenda. At this point, most polls show Clinton winning the debate, which she may well have. She gave an excellent performance, keeping cool as Trump interrupted her with personal attacks and answering all questions – none of which were provided to the campaigns beforehand – with a concision and depth of knowledge that will impress undecided, policy-driven independents.
Yet winning over independents might not have been Trump’s primary agenda tonight. With so much unrest within the GOP, he might’ve taken this as an opportunity to sure up his own ranks. His ad hominems were the stuff of memes, and no doubt delighted the militant Trumpists… so much so, perhaps, they didn’t realize he was spouting policies long associated with the hated Establishment. Either way, we’ll take it.
All up, the Conservatometer gives Trump an 8/10 – and a firm, strictly platonic pat on the buttocks for encouragement. This is the Donald we’ve been looking for.