On MSNBC Weekend with Ari Melber, The Root Politics Editor Jason Johnson discusses Donald Trump’s comments to Billy Bush on Access Hollywood and the impact of the scandal on the upcoming second presidential debate. Dr. Johnson discussed the issue with former Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, GOP strategist Sarah Isgur Flores and Democratic strategist Fernand Amandi.
Dr. Jason Johnson was quoted in The New York Times article “The Subtle Phrases Hillary Clinton Uses to Sway Black Voters“
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root and professor of political science at the School of Global Journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said Mrs. Clinton’s language showed how much she had evolved as a candidate, in reaction to the times.
“What she demonstrated was an incredible dexterity and adroitness that she has learned in the last year when it comes to discussing racial issues,” he said.
“This is not the Hillary Clinton of the 1990s,” he said.
“This is the Hillary Clinton who, like Bernie Sanders” and several other candidates, he added, “got smacked upside the head by the Black Lives Matter movement and realized that you can’t speak to these issues the way you used to.”
On CNN Live with Carol Costello, The Root Politics Editor Jason Johnson and Ron Brownstein, Senior Editor at The Atlantic, discuss preparations for the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Every media analyst and historian in America believes that Monday night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will turn out to be the most-watched debate in American history, with close to 100 million people tuning in over its 90 minutes. Given that President Barack Obama won a second term in 2012 with about 65 million votes, the Clinton campaign is probably wiping its brow in relief right now. She won the debate.
She won the debate in the eyes of most people watching, and she won the debate in the areas she needed in order to improve her chances at victory. However, more important than Clinton’s winning is that Trump actually lost, which sets the country up for a fascinating set of takeaways.
1. Why Clinton Won
Clinton went into the debate in pretty bad shape by most electoral measures. Her national lead was rebounding to the high 40s and 50s but her Electoral College lead, by recent polls in Colorado and Pennsylvania, was falling into margin-of-error range. She needed to give Americans a reason to votefor her and not just against Trump. Donald Trump was surging in most polls heading into the debate and all he needed to do was make sure he passed the “presidential test” of standing next to Clinton for 90 minutes and not coming across like a blathering idiot. She did her job. He did not.
The first 20 minutes of the debate were rough. Trump interrupted Clinton consistently and was aggressive on almost every measure, and managed to mention Ohio, Michigan and Americans losing jobs abroad much better than Clinton did. But he ran out of gas after the first 30 minutes. From then on, Trump’s answers to almost every other topic, from birtherism (saying essentially, “Black people wanted me to force Obama to show his birth certificate”) to his nonsensical monologue at the end about how his temperament is his strong suit did him in. Clinton supporters are enthused about this performance and it gives them hope. Trump’s surrogates were left trying to explain how anything he did made sense. The biggest indicator that even the Trump campaign thought he lost? The candidate and most of his surrogates blew off interviews with almost every channel but Fox (I literally heard a Rudy Giuliani staffer say as much) and Donald Trump didn’t even attend his campaign post-debate party, instead choosing to lick his wounds back in New York City.
2. Social Media Tells the Tale
The Spin Room is dead. Long live the Spin Cycle. The Spin Room of a presidential debate is the large open area near the press tables that is filled after a debate with surrogates whose job it is to justify and “spin” their candidate’s performance. The thing is, that’s old-school. The public knows how they feel about the debates through social media about 20-30 minutes in, and the Spin Room has been effectively replaced by the “Spin Cycle” of memes, GIFs and tweets that will actually drive news coverage throughout the day.
By every measure, Trump lost on social media. Whether it was the memes about his bizarre sniffling through the debate or him being fact-checked by his own tweets, it was a disaster for him. A Trump loss doesn’t automatically translate to a Clinton win, but in this case, it did. The Democratic National Committee sent out about seven emails during the debate, calling Trump out on his lies and highlighting Clinton’s message. The Republican National Committee sent out one. The Clinton campaign was flooding the internet with clips showing video of Trump contradicting himself and Clinton surrogates sharing her story. The Trump campaign was almost silent. Clinton won the night with her “Shimmy Shimmy” move (during one of Trump’s rants), which has already gone viral, and will likely be remixed over an ODB beat before lunch.
Social media is a much stronger indicator of how the public feels about a debate than the television pundits, many of whom (like voters) are already set in their opinions and thus don’t reflect any ups and downs of enthusiasm.
3. Leave Lester Alone
It has become a tried and true tradition to attack the moderators of debates, regardless of which candidate you support, and Monday night was no different. In the first 20 minutes of the debate, when Trump was laying body blows and Clinton was on the ropes, it’s fair to critique NBC’s Lester Holt for not stopping the interruptions. However, that is a minor note, and ultimately, a candidate like Clinton has to know that Trump is going to come out in attack mode. On the more important moderator responsibility of keeping the candidates truthful, Holt did an adequate job. When a candidate lied, and let’s just be honest, it was mostly Trump doing the lying, Holt remained firm, would re-ask the same question over and over again and insisted on getting an answer. When Donald Trump advocated “stop and frisk,” Holt repeated over and over that the practice was ruled unconstitutional. Could he have been more aggressive as a moderator? Possibly. Did both Clinton and Trump talk over, around and through Holt several times in the night? Yes. Did Holt’s own moderating substantively influence the outcome of the debate in some way that favored one candidate or another or took away from the viewer’s experiences? Not at all. In an election year like this, I’ll consider that to be a good job.
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This article originally appeared online at The Root.
In the entirety of American political history, there has never been a good idea that stemmed from a late-night talk show. Talk shows are for stupid pet tricks, evolution of dance segments and odd recurring characters. So the idea that a debate between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump was essentially passed like a junior high note from Jimmy Kimmel to the Republican nominee Wednesday night had “bad idea” written all over it from the start. This debate degrades the primary, makes Sanders look foolish and helps Trump’s chances of reaching the White House. If that doesn’t qualify Trump-vs.-Sanders as one of the most disturbing and dangerous events of this election year, then you haven’t been paying attention.
This whole fiasco begins, not surprisingly, with Sanders. Sanders of the relatively good ideas, limited legislative accomplishments and insufferable audacity to think he’s being excluded from a club he never belonged to. That Sanders. The Sanders campaign has long complained that the Democratic National Committee, run by Hillary Clinton’s “BFF” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, organized only a few debates and at awful times to protect Clinton.
With the chance of getting the Democratic nomination all but mathematically impossible, Sanders has been attempting to cajole and then shame Clinton into debating him one last night before the California primary June 7, which essentially wraps up the Democratic race. Clinton has refused, and Sanders, knowing that we are headily edging toward the “bust” part of the #BernieorBust campaign, hatched an idea. If Clinton won’t debate him, then perhaps Trump will. Trump at least so far has indicated that he would be happy to debate Sanders … for a price.
I want to make it clear that I’m not some stickler for tradition. I think that shaking up the electoral process is generally a good thing. Last year, when there were 17 Republicans running for the nomination, I suggested breaking them up into NCAA-basketball-style brackets. I believe that third parties and independents have an important role to play in our democracy.
I also know crazy political Hail Marys when I see them. The attempt by Sanders, knowing full well that he won’t be the Democratic nominee, to debate Trump is about as much a political stunt as Ted Cruz picking Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential candidate when he was trailing Trump by 200 delegates.
The desperate Sanders campaign wants the American public to conflate strategy with its “rigged system” rhetoric. Late in the primary, candidates in the lead never want to debate because all they’re doing is giving their opponent a chance to get onstage with them, look legitimate and score some points. Obama rebuffed Clinton’s calls for more debates in 2008, Trump refused more debates with Cruz in April and now Clinton doesn’t want more debates with Sanders. Avoiding more primary debates isn’t an act of cowardice; it’s good strategy.
There have been six televised debates, countless speeches and interviews, and a year of campaigning. After all of that, the majority of Democratic primary voters chose Clinton. To suggest that one more debate would make a difference is like saying a few more hours in the studio would’ve saved Kanye’s last album. Both ideas are pipe dreams. But here is where the pipe dream becomes a nightmare.
Sanders’ plan to debate Trump plays right into the GOP nominee’s hands because it legitimizes and “normalizes” Trump’s behavior. This is a man who said he is happy to do a debate because it will have huge ratings, but only if Sanders or the networks pay him for it. The fact that Trump wants to nominally give the money to charity means nothing (just ask the veterans). However, giving Trump a stage to “look” presidential is the first step to his winning over low-information independent voters.
Sanders may think that he’ll slam Trump and call the GOP front-runner out on his various violent and dangerous policies, but the bigger takeaway will be that Trump was given a national stage with incredible ratings to debate someone he won’t actually have to face in November. This debate is like when you have a creationist “debating” an evolutionary biologist. Just allowing for the debate implies that these two positions are equally worthy of discussion, when everything from the birds in the sky to Jurassic World says they are not.