Donald Trump's debate performance was certainly not the fireworks spectacle many of us were hoping it would be. Hillary opened herself up to verbal kill shots a number of times, and Trump largely ignored them. For example, on the topic of cybersecurity, all Trump really needed to say was, "The most important step we can take is to vigorously prosecute any government official who uses an illegal, private server to transmit classified data. US law is clear: Intent does not matter. We cannot have our highest officials recklessly---and that's FBI director James Comey's word---disregarding our national security so they can hide their communications from the government."
That would have been fun, right?
Here's the thing, though. Everyone who could possibly be attracted to Trump's bullyciding of establishment politicians is already voting for Trump. If you were disappointed that Trump didn't go harder after Hillary, you've probably got at least one MAGA hat in each available color already. This debate wouldn't and couldn't sway you.
The reality is there are no "undecided voters." There's no one out there who still hasn't made up his mind on whether it would be better to have amnesty for illegals or a wall on the border. There's no group of people waiting to hear one last argument before they decide whether they want more solar panel subsidies or deep cuts to the business tax. In fact, if you're the sort of person who types "radixjournal.com" into your URL bar, Trump doesn't need to win your vote. He already has it.
An "undecided" is a person who has not made up his mind on whether or not he's going to vote at all. He tells everyone who wants to hear that he's undecided because he likes to feel like an even-handed, objective person. What he needs is not a convincing argument, but enough material to rationalize heading to the polls on Nov 8 instead of staying home.
Those people fall into a few groups:
- White working class voters who distrust Republicans in general.
- That 15% of black voters that thinks highly of the police.
- Socially acceptable Republicans who don't want to feel like they're choosing a crazy buffoon over a corrupt sociopath.
There are probably more groups, but those are the main ones. Trump's strategy last night was to look like an ordinary person. Fortunately for him, the media has set the bar so incredibly low with the constant Hitler comparisons that all he really needed to do was show that he's not a screaming madman with a god-complex, and he did that.
The voters I described are persuaded more by pathos than logos. Hillary's ability to rattle off talking points won nothing with them. Trump, by contrast, appeared warm, genuinely concerned, and passionate about trade, the decay of the Rust Belt (he called out swing states in that region by name), and crime in the inner cities. People will not remember what either candidate said. They will remember how the candidates made them feel.
I think Trump won last night because he showed the right kind of face to the people that need to be convinced. If his momentum continues upward, it proves he did.