The first thing Bai wants you to know is that Hillary Clinton is just an annoying shrew who can't possibly do a thing to help herself in the upcoming debates:
When Hillary Clinton takes to the debate stage next week, in the opener of a three-act tragedy that will rivet most of the nation, she should keep in mind that the campaign really isn’t about her.What a pathetic loser! No wonder no one will sit with her in the cafeteria. And Donald Trump -- he's crazy, but wasn't it great how he threw the winning touchdown last weekend?
I say this not because, when she talks to voters, Clinton too often has a tendency to frame her campaign as the necessary capstone of her long, lonely, twilight struggle of a career, rather than as a vehicle for reform -- although she does.
I say it not because Clinton can come across as aggrieved, a victim of venal Republicans and craven media who is biding her time until she can settle all the old scores, like Carrie at the prom.
No, I say it because at this point the campaign really isn’t hers to win or lose, and probably nothing she says will change its trajectory. It’s all about her opponent now.
(Does Bai understand popular culture? He wants to portray Clinton as a grievance-nursing whiner, but then he compares her to Carrie. Does he even remember that was cruelly mistreated before she got her vengeance?)
Bai goes on to tell us that Clinton has no agency in the debates -- silly girl! -- because it's all about Trump:
Barring some cosmic meltdown from Clinton, these debates will unfold as a test for Donald Trump. We’re about to find out whether he can pass himself off as a credible entrant for the job and, perhaps more to the point, whether he actually wants it.Hold that thought.
... Whether from incompetence or instability, Trump has managed to make himself not the default alternative to a candidate who is deeply distrusted by the electorate, but rather the dominant and more divisive figure of the two.Trump is incompetent or unstable, according to Bai, yet Hillary Clinton is "deeply distrusted," while Trump is (pant, pant) dominant. So why is he dominant?
Rather than play along with Trump’s “Dancing With the Stars” kind of campaign, Clinton has largely receded to the shadows offstage, content to watch while Trump gyrates and boogies himself into all kind of grotesque poses, alternately amusing and reviling much of the viewing audience.Or maybe she just can't get a word in edgewise as the media breathlessly clings to every last word or deed from Trump.
And so, improbably, the election is now a referendum on him. Clinton’s support is probably inelastic at this point; assuming she slogs cautiously through the debates in her admirable if uninspiring way, she can do little to change the minds of those who already know how they feel about her, which is pretty much everyone.What a drab little bore she is! Uninspiring! Familiar as an old shoe!
Whether that’s enough to deliver her the White House is almost entirely a question of whether Trump can yet persuade some segment of disenchanted, moderate voters that he meets the very lowest threshold for a plausible president -- someone who won’t destroy the world, at a minimum, and who might not embarrass them every day of the week for the next four years if they get really lucky.Shorter Bai: Low bar? Yes, I'm placing it as low as humanly possible.
... If ... Trump can appear more candid than crude, more disruptive than dangerous, he might yet vault himself over the absurdly low hurdle of acceptability -- especially if Clinton offers a contrasting study in insincerity.She's so awful, isn't she?
If Clinton were to ask my advice (and believe me, the phone isn’t ringing), I’d tell her to do herself a favor and leave home without the canned zingers that some comedy writer is probably typing up for her right now, because that’s a thing candidates have felt the need to do ever since “Where’s the Beef?” and “You’re no Jack Kennedy” entered the political lexicon at the zenith of broadcast television’s cultural influence.Right, because Trump won't show up having rehearsed any canned one-liners fed to him by, oh, say, Roger Ailes, because Trump is so darn authentic, even if he is crazy and boorish.
All that’s going to achieve is to make her seem more scripted and condescending next to a candidate whose core appeal for a lot of voters is grounded in shattering the tired artifice of modern politics. You don’t beat reality TV with a laugh track.Right, because we know Donald Trump is never condescending.
Here's where the column takes a peculiar turn -- although maybe it's not so peculiar:
... Even now, were Trump to just lapse into a coma and stay submerged until three days before the election, he’d stand a reasonable chance of winning.On the one hand, I think it's nuts to imagine that this sociopathic narcissist has any insecurities whatsoever. I think it's crazy to imagine that he fears the burdens of governing -- remember, he's the guy who reportedly offered to put John Kasich in charge of domestic and foreign policy if he'd agree to be Trump's running mate, while Trump's job, according to son Donald Jr., would be "making America great again."
That a man as preternaturally stage-savvy as Trump hasn’t been able to meet this standard tells you something about his labyrinthine psyche. That Trump manages to melt down in spectacular fashion every time his poll numbers rise beyond respectability suggests that he is, at best, deeply conflicted about the prospect of actually being president.
Trump doesn’t want to be a Loser, of course, because that’s the worst thing he can ever imagine being. But I also seriously doubt he wants to wake up every day and govern.
My guess is that, in his dream scenario, Trump loses by a few points, succeeds in persuading his followers that the election was stolen by the party establishment or the media or Mexican criminals, and then repairs to the comfort of Trump Tower to consider how best to exploit the whole affair.
So this is the high drama of the debates. We get to watch a man wrestle with his own fears and insecurities, struggling for just a few crucial hours to behave like someone other than a guy whom no one in his right mind would describe as presidential.
On the other hand, notice what Bai is saying here: Clinton can't win on her own -- she can only win if Trump consciously or subconsciously throws the election. Because she's pathetic and unlikable, and Trump, however crazy and awful he is, has all the power.