Get ready for news organizations to grade Trump’s debate performance on a massive curve. Here is a depressing harbinger of what’s coming, from CNN today:What Sargent doesn't mention is that Hillary Clinton is going to bumped down one or several grades precisely because she'll know what he's talking about. Journalists and pundits will use this against her two ways: (1) They'll dismiss her command of the subject because, well, of course she should know her stuff after all these years, and (2) they'll act as if she's showing off by displaying a command of the facts. Remember Frank Bruni in 2000 sneering at Al Gore for knowing what he was talking about at the first debate with George W. Bush:
In front of a vast television audience, the GOP nominee could reshape perceptions of his character and readiness -- if he can avoid being drawn into gaffes and personality clashes by Clinton. He will benefit from rock-bottom expectations, given controversies whipped up by his tempestuous personality and the vast gulf in experience between Trump and Clinton.In other words, if Trump doesn’t try to urinate in Clinton’s direction or manages not to vomit all over his podium, he will have “defied expectations.” So presidential!
It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan, the Yugoslav president who refuses to be pried from power ... Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic’s challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. Then he had to go a step beyond that, noting that Serbia plus Montenegro equals Yugoslavia ... and as Mr. Gore loped effortlessly through the Balkans, barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin, it became ever clearer that the point of all the thickets of consonants and proper nouns was not a geopolitical lesson ... it was more like oratorical intimidation, an unwavering effort to upstage and unnerve an opponent whose mind and mouth have never behaved in a similarly encyclopedic fashion.Apparently, when two candidates are seeking the job of Leader of the Free World, it's unfair of one to demonstrate that he or she is more qualified than the other -- at least when the other is a frattish, gregarious, backslapping big-man-on-campus Republican.
I don't know how Hillary Clinton will overcome this hurdle. She'll have to look as if she's not trying to embarrass Trump, whereas Trump will get higher grades the more he insults Clinton. And, of course, Clinton can't forgo gravitas to give Trump a taste of his own medicine -- see the CNN story quoted above, which warns that Trump will have to "avoid being drawn into gaffes and personality clashes by Clinton." Really, she can't win.
(Greg Sargent quote via Digby. Frank Bruni quote via Jonathan Chait.)