Spinning the Loss

Perhaps politics is like sports. Someone wins, someone loses, and the same things matter, game-planning, skills and raw talent, situational awareness, and sheer physical strength. That’s how Donald Trump sees things. He keeps saying that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the “stamina” to do the job. And there’s the trash-talk and the taunts, to get the other guys off their game – make ’em worry – undermine their self-confidence. That’s done in cable news interviews – but sometimes you lose. That happens in a long season of game after game.

That has to be explained to the fans, and in sports there’s a model for how to handle that:

Getting handed the franchise’s worst loss in 27 years – a 31-point meltdown against Philadelphia – has a way of limiting your options.

Even 48 hours after a three-hour reality check that put the brakes on his team’s promising start, coach Mike Tomlin was hardly in a mood to search for any sliver of a silver lining.

“We got our butts kicked,” Tomlin said on Tuesday.

A whipping that magnified cracks in the defensive front seven that Pittsburgh’s offense was able to gloss over through the season’s opening two weeks. The Steelers (2-1) barely laid a hand on Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz and put on an exhibition of poor tackling that turned modest gains into big ones.

“We do it hard,” Tomlin said. “We need to do it smarter than what we displayed on Sunday.”

When you lose you don’t blame the refs, or the weather, or anything else. You say you’ll do better. That won’t happen again. You own it and you’ll fix it.

Donald Trump didn’t get the memo:

Donald J. Trump lashed out on Tuesday in the aftermath of a disappointing first debate with Hillary Clinton, scolding the moderator, criticizing a beauty pageant winner for her physique and raising the prospect of an all-out attack on Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities in the final stretch of the campaign.

Having worked assiduously in recent weeks to cultivate a more disciplined demeanor on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump cast aside that approach on Tuesday morning. As Mrs. Clinton embarked on an ebullient campaign swing through North Carolina, aiming to press her newfound advantage, Mr. Trump vented his grievances in full public view.

Yes, he blamed the ref, and more:

Sounding weary and impatient as he called into a Fox News program, Mr. Trump criticized Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor, for asking “unfair questions” during the debate Monday evening, and speculated that someone might have tampered with his microphone. Mr. Trump repeated his charge that Mrs. Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be president, a claim critics have described as sexist, and suggested that in the future he might raise Mr. Clinton’s past indiscretions.

He was feeling terribly wronged:

Defying conventions of political civility, Mr. Trump leveled cutting criticism at a beauty pageant winner, Alicia Machado, whom Mrs. Clinton held up in Monday night’s debate as an example of Mr. Trump’s disrespect for women.

Mr. Trump said on Fox he was right to disparage the former Miss Universe because of her weight.

“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem,” said Mr. Trump, who was the pageant’s executive producer at the time.

He had no idea how petty that sounded, and boorish, and he certainly didn’t realize the trap he had walked into:

Mrs. Clinton has already been broadcasting an ad highlighting crude remarks from Mr. Trump about women; she answered his taunts about her marriage with a rhetorical shrug, telling reporters Mr. Trump was free to run whatever kind of campaign he preferred. On board her campaign plane, she plainly relished her moment of apparent triumph, and poked fun at Mr. Trump’s morning lamentations.

“Anybody who complains about the microphone” she said, “is not having a good night.”

There would be no more good nights:

Having drawn closer to Mrs. Clinton in the polls, Mr. Trump now faces an intensified clash over his personal temperament and his attitudes toward women and minorities – areas of grave concern for many voters that were at the center of the candidates’ confrontation on Monday.

And the hammering began:

Against Mr. Trump’s brooding, Mrs. Clinton cut a strikingly different profile on the campaign trail on Tuesday, emerging emboldened from her encounter with the Republican nominee. At a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Mrs. Clinton, brandishing her opponent’s debate stumbles, assailed Mr. Trump’s comments suggesting he avoided paying taxes and welcomed the 2008 financial crisis as a buying opportunity.

“What kind of person would want to root for nine million families losing their homes?” Mrs. Clinton asked the crowd. “One who should never be president, is the answer to that question.”

Before the debate he had been hammering away on trade, immigration, and national security, and now he was getting hammered, so, if he knows what’s good for him, he should stop whining, if he can:

Mr. Trump’s comportment on Tuesday threatened to undermine his gains of the past month, and recalled his practice during the Republican primaries and much of the general election of belittling political bystanders in language that alienated voters, like attacking the Muslim parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq and a Hispanic federal judge.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump will approach the remainder of the race with the unfiltered abandon of his comments Tuesday morning.

By the day’s end, Mr. Trump had returned to a caustic but somewhat more conventional script, attacking Mrs. Clinton in bitter language at a rally in Melbourne, Fla.

Blasting Mrs. Clinton as a “vessel for her friends, the donors,” Mr. Trump exhorted the crowd, “We’re going to get rid of that crooked woman.”

He was back on track, and then he started whining about Lester Holt again. He couldn’t help himself, and that’s a worry:

The fear among Republicans is that Mr. Trump will confront adversity by continuing to swing impulsively at politically inopportune targets, dragging the party again into needless and damaging feuds, as he did for most of the summer.

The notion of raising Mr. Clinton’s infidelity is particularly controversial among Mr. Trump’s advisers, who have sent conflicting signals about that line of attack.

Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a CNN interview that he deserved credit for holding back from that particular subject, saying Mr. Trump had been “polite and a gentleman.”

But Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and a close confidant of Mr. Trump’s, called for a far harsher approach. Mr. Trump, he told a reporter for the website Elite Daily, had been “too reserved” in his confrontation with Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Giuliani recommended attacking Mrs. Clinton for having questioned Monica Lewinsky’s credibility in claiming an affair with Mr. Clinton. He also called Mrs. Clinton “too stupid to be president.”

Trump’s political base loves that attitude, but no one else does, and the other side knows it:

Democrats signaled on Tuesday that they would welcome an extended battle with Mr. Trump over matters of temperament and personal character. Priorities USA Action, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton, released a television ad highlighting a debate exchange in which Mr. Trump said his temperament was his “strongest asset,” along with clips of Mr. Trump using obscene and violent language.

And Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, said in a television interview that Mr. Trump had appeared “flustered” and “ran out of gas.” During a campaign stop in Orlando, Fla., Mr. Kaine suggested that Mr. Trump was too unsteady for the White House.

“If you’re that rattled in a debate,” he said, “try being president.”

They have his number, and Slate’s Isaac Chotiner notes this twist:

With two debates remaining between the candidates, the question is: Should Trump actually attend the remaining showdowns?

This was, at least, the question Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani’s floated Monday night – “If I were Donald Trump I wouldn’t participate in another debate unless I was promised that the journalist would act like a journalist and not an incorrect, ignorant fact checker.”

Chotiner, oddly enough, thinks that Rudy’s right:

If Trump were to do what he normally does and distinguish the interests of himself and his country, he would skip the rest of the debates. Canceling would prompt some bad press and even (briefly) more concerns about his suitability for the presidency. But that’s preferable to two more nights like the one he had on Monday, especially since the American people have repeatedly proven, both before and during the rise of Trump, that they don’t care as much as one might think (or hope!) about the violation of political norms. For this unfortunate reason, declining to debate Hillary Clinton again might just be Trump’s best strategy.

It may be time to hit the man who drops everything to lash back at anything that might be an insult:

Would another debate be much different? Decoding whether Trump is capable of doing something, such as preparing for the next debate, is always a difficult task, so it’s near impossible for any non-philosopher or non-expert in the mechanisms of the universe and freewill to say whether Trump “could” have prepared for last night’s debate or “might” be capable of doing so next time. What is certain is that he didn’t, and as the night wore on his answers got closer and closer to gibberish, his lack of knowledge strikingly apparent. I don’t see that changing.

But it isn’t just the debate that hurt Trump; it’s the cycles that follow. Perhaps Clinton’s most successful attack featured Trump’s reportedly cruel treatment of a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who (she claims) he fat-shamed two decades ago. But what might have been a debate night story is still going strong the next day; the candidate, predictably unable to help himself, went on television Tuesday morning and shamed Machado some more…

Can his campaign withstand the repercussions of two more bad performances and the resulting effect on his psyche? And why should it?

Yes, hide him:

As occasionally ridiculous as they are, the debates remain one of the better ways for viewers to learn about the candidates. If Trump walks away, he just might benefit.

There’s a lot to hide, as Time’s Samantha Cooney notes here:

Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 28 times during Monday night’s debate, according to data compiled by TIME.

By the end of the night, Trump accounted for 55 out of the 84 of the debate’s total interruptions (all of the times Clinton, Trump, debate moderator Lester Holt or the audience cut off the current speaker.) By contrast, Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major political party ticket, only interrupted Trump four times throughout the debate, and had a total of 11 interruptions.

Most of Trump’s interruptions came during moments where Clinton criticized him, including a handful when Clinton question Trump’s treatment of women near the end of the debate.

Don’t let him do that:

Many were quick to criticize Trump’s frequent interruptions as sexist, noting that being ‘manterrupted’ is a common microaggression directed at women in the workplace. And studies have shown that men are more likely to interrupt women than they are men.

And women vote, although there was this:

Trump’s running mate Mike Pence had a different take during his round of morning show interviews on Tuesday.

 “He took command of that stage,” Pence told CNN on Tuesday morning, “and that in the contrast of a kind of avalanche of personal insults from Hillary Clinton.”

But he commanded the stage by shouting down the bitch, not with his brilliance and insight. That’s a problem that Amanda Marcotte addresses here:

Most voters are women, a fact that only becomes more true every election cycle. Under the circumstances, one would think that the man running for president and his male supporters would be diligent in their efforts to not remind the female voter of every sexist boss, condescending ex-boyfriend and street-harassing chump she’s ever encountered.

But apparently, the sexist id is stronger than common sense, as demonstrated by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his legion of piggy defenders. One could nearly hear Kellyanne Conway’s teeth grinding as Trump abandoned the pretense of respect and swiftly devolved into the living incarnation of mansplaining – the art of pompously lecturing a woman who is clearly smarter than you – during the debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Marcotte, however, notes this part of the debate:

It was a performance that culminated in Trump, in a fit of anger, saying, “But you want to know the truth? I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.'”

It’s a classic Trump move, to bring a topic up by claiming that he’s above mentioning the thing he just mentioned by claiming he didn’t mention it. But in case you didn’t get the implication, Trump made it clear backstage that he was talking about former president Bill Clinton’s infidelities. Because the best way to prove to female voters that you’re not sexist is to blame the wife for a man’s infidelities. Women love hearing that men only cheat because their wives are failing to please them. I highly recommend that Trump continue to use this as his outreach strategy to female voters.

He did the next best thing:

Clinton directly accused Trump of being a sexist pig during the debate, noting that he calls “women pigs, slobs and dogs” and bringing up the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who claims that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Rather than deny the charges, Trump went on Fox News Tuesday morning to basically defend his God-given male right to tell ridiculously hot women that they are failing to do enough to please his boner.

That’s one way to put it, but Marcotte is fed up with all of it:

This is what women have to put up with if they believe they have just as much of a right as a man does to be in public, to be ambitious and seek power. And then they have to put up with men scoffing at them and telling them they’re imagining how hostile the world is to a woman who truly thinks she is equal. Monday night, however, exposed the ugly truth: Women are not making this up, sexism is real and a lot of men are the worst.

It might be a good idea to hide this guy now – no more debates – and Jonathan Chait makes the other connection:

Before the first presidential debate, the defining confrontation of the general election was an inspiring speech by Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American Gold Star father. Khan’s speech was delivered before prime time, and its unexpected power might have been wasted had Donald Trump not taken the bait by repeatedly attacking Khan and his wife for days afterward. During the closing moments of Monday night’s debate, Clinton provided another Khan moment, and Trump, once again, could not help but reveal his own ugliness.

But this time, this was fully intended:

Clinton had been signaling her intent to focus on Trump’s longtime habit of humiliating women based on their appearance. A few days before, her campaign released an ad counter-posing some of his most infuriating comments about women with images of adolescent girls looking at themselves:

It is clear that Clinton planned to create this moment in the debate, because the question did not arrive organically. Trump had been talking about Iran, and moderator Lester Holt was trying to bring up the final question, when Clinton interrupted to spring her trap.

She mentioned this woman, he was caught off-guard, and the trap was sprung:

You can easily see why Clinton’s campaign decided this was the perfect anecdote to display his grotesque personal qualities. It contains several elements all at once. There is Trump’s lecherous habit of creeping around beauty contestants, which is its own deep vein of gross behavior. There is the cruel reduction of women to their appearance. And there is the anti-Latina racism.

But what truly made the set piece work was Trump’s response, which Clinton could not have scripted better if she tried. Unlike the previous allegations, he did not deny them, but instead burst out – three times! – “Where did you find this?” I have seen villains in Disney movies presented with damning evidence react this way, but I have never seen an actual human being do it, until now.

Then Clinton capped it off by noting that Machado plans to vote…

Of course she does:

Here it was again, the perfectly selected victim fighting back against Trump by voting, precisely the action Clinton hopes to encourage. Clinton’s campaign immediately capitalized by releasing a new web ad with Machado telling her story. And Trump, despite the entire Republican Party beseeching him to walk away from the Khan fight and never engage in attacks against ordinary Americans, insisted, in a Fox & Friends interview, on attacking Machado for being too fat:

That was telling:

You can watch the Fox hosts cringe as Trump launches into the diatribe, and then, as they gently try to steer him away, insists on returning to the subject. They can see him destroying himself again, in real time, in exactly the way they begged him to stop doing earlier in the summer, yet they cannot stop it.

It seemed impossible that this happened again, but it did:

Life rarely works out in such a simple and dramatically perfect way. Terrible human beings usually know how to conceal their terribleness. Even a villain as impulsive and egotistical as Trump has the benefit of an entire political party and associated media apparatus throwing itself behind the task of concealing his hideous character through Election Day. Trump, however, is not only a horrible human being but a congenitally incompetent one.

Clinton simply had to set up the situation and let him be who he is, although Josh Marshall argues that she did win this on her own:

Trump didn’t have a terrible night last night. For anyone who’s watched him closely for a year and a half he was simply himself. Cocky, angry, lashing out as an opponent increasingly dominated and embarrassed him. This wasn’t a bad showing. It was him. But it’s a good moment for all of those who constantly complain about Hillary being a terrible candidate, making this or that mistake, screwing this or that up, her performance last night was pitch perfect.

Yes, he did badly. But she brought it at least as much as he blew it.

Yes, she was well prepped. But it’s a bit more than that.

That would be this:

Clinton had an important challenge in front of her. Being substantive comes easy for Clinton. That’s who she is. And she’s been in dozens of debates. But in this case she needed to be positive, buoyant and optimistic in her tone while also needling him into outbursts. That could easily come off as baiting or nasty, especially when she had to counter his confusing mix of taunts and attacks and word salad digressions. She made it seem close to effortless.

Her answer-ending asides and bemused taunts had him getting angry within 15 minutes. By 30 minutes in, she was dominating the debate. Sure, he attacked here and there. He was louder. He interrupted more. But he was always responding to her. She had him on the ropes. She was setting the tone and the terms. And the fact that he could feel it made him angrier, more impulsive and more unable to sustain any kind of consistent message that would help him in political terms.

In fact, no one should underestimate her:

Sure he was bad. But she was at least as good as he was bad. And the quality of her performance made him much worse. As I’ve noted so many times over this ugly, antic cycle, being dominated spurs a reflexive run of outbursts from Trump, in a slashing effort to reassert dominance. He’s already out this morning lashing out at Alicia Machado for her weight, accusing the Debate Commission of sabotaging his mic, saying Lester Holt wasn’t fair.

She dominated him, the worst punishment Donald Trump can suffer. And she made it seem effortless.

And she’s a GIRL! He couldn’t assert dominance with a GIRL! His world must have been crumbling, so it’s no wonder Donald Trump was lashing out and whining that this just wasn’t fair – it wasn’t his fault.

Curiously, at the same time, in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin was saying that his Steelers would do better. That kind of loss won’t happen again. He owned it and he’ll fix it, so perhaps politics should be more like sports, not less. There, of all places, there’s total honesty. You lose, you fix it, or you’re gone. Keep saying that dropped pass or that missed tackle wasn’t your fault and you’re gone. That’s a bit brutal, but refreshing, and somehow impossible in politics. There, spinning the loss is everything, and that’s not worth watching. It’s only depressing.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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