Gavin Polone: Why Donald Trump (and Democracy) Actually Won the First Presidential Debate

Donald Trump Debate 3 - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Donald Trump Debate 3 - Getty - H 2016

"All Trump needed in order to post a 'W' was to not seem too much like Trump. Unless I missed it, he didn’t use the 'C' word or goose-step across the stage yelling 'Sieg Heil,' " writes the producer.

Trump won the first debate. I know you want to believe the Democratic surrogates who say Hillary trounced Trump. Yes, Hillary Clinton is a more coherent speaker. She certainly offered a clearer, more specific and more rational picture as to why her plans and experience would make her a better president. He brought up many ideas of what is wrong with the country and what needs to be changed but offered no precision as to why those things are wrong or how to fix them. He misrepresented NAFTA and crime statistics. He was evasive about his taxes. She would have won on points if that was how these things were scored. But they’re not.

All Trump needed in order to post a “W” was to not seem too much like Trump. Unless I missed it, he didn’t use the “C” word, goose-step across the stage yelling “Sieg Heil” or lie too obviously…actually, strike the last one, he did lie, but, as his going-in poll numbers showed, he could get away with that. And, based on the first debate, I’m sure the next round of polls will show a continued up trend for the Republican nominee — most recent polls show Trump within the margin of error or ahead.

Trump’s objective wasn’t to get poorly educated whites to vote for him. He’s got them. And he has no chance at picking up a meaningful number of black or Latino voters. Trump needs to focus on the 8 percent of the electorate who are undecided. From all that I have read, many of those undecided voters are political moderates who are moved by Trump’s anti-trade, pro-security rhetoric but can’t abide by his boorish incivility. On that level, Trump interrupted Hillary too much but he didn’t screw up as one might have expected.

As the whiners whine all over social media, I am just a little bit happy about how such an awful candidate is succeeding in this campaign because it might just make things better in the long run. You see, in this country, we rarely, if ever, take action to fix things that are obviously broken until a tragedy occurs. We didn’t get serious about going after Bin Laden, even though he was involved in major attacks against the U.S. in Yemen, Kenya and Tanzania, until 9/11; we won’t get a highway bill passed until a bridge collapses and kills a lot of people (The American Society of Civil Engineers rates the state of our infrastructure at a D+) and we won’t change the woeful way we nominate a candidate for president until we suffer the prospect of an inept, lying demagogue actually becoming our Head of State.

Think about it, how is it that the only two candidates that are presented to the public in any kind of major way are from parties to which a plurality of the people have decided not to join? More American voters identify as independents, not Democrats or Republicans.

Even if you are a staunch Republican, can you really be happy with a candidate who has routinely embarrassed the party, thereby limiting its ability to hold onto its House and Senate majorities, with racist statements and outrageous behavior like his encouraging Russian hackers to steal the property of his opponent?

And if you are a Hillary lover, and you reject the fact that a majority of people rate her as unfavorable, can you really say she is the best candidate for your party, given that SHE IS NECK AND NECK WITH DONALD F------ TRUMP?

To end up with better choices, rules governing the election process need to change. First, we need to change the laws that permit huge money to be contributed to candidates. As it Is now, candidates can only be nominated by allowing themselves to be bought by special interests or because they are super rich and can pay for a campaign themselves. Campaign finance reform would open up the process to those who want to maintain the integrity of their decision-making and protect us from unqualified but affluent candidates buying their way in. It may take a constitutional amendment to end the ability of special interests to fund candidates, or billionaires to fund themselves, but the constitution has been changed 17 times before and should be again. What issue could have a more positive impact on our government than limiting the power of money in politics?

Further, the Democratic party needs to remove its rules that offer 16 percent of its delegates to the party elites, who naturally will support other party elites, before the campaign even starts. Yes, Hillary won more of the popular vote than Bernie Sanders, but there is no way you can claim his still-remarkable performance wasn’t weighed down from day one by the constant reporting that he was behind Clinton by a seemingly insurmountable margin. And for that reason, many young voters who would have voted Democratic have turned to Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in record numbers, having been disillusioned by the Democratic Party’s nomination process (In 2012, Stein received 0.36 percent of the vote and Johnson 1 percent; they are now polling at about 2.5 percent and 8 percent respectively).

Finally, greater access to the process needs to be granted to more parties. The process of getting on the ballots of all 50 states is too expensive. To run a national campaign, it takes a large organization and significant funds. Nobody wants to donate their money nor their time to a party that can’t possibly win, so, to raise both, it is essential that a would-be candidate have access to all state ballots and the process to get that access should be made easier and cheaper. It is also important that an up-and-coming party and its candidate be included in the presidential debates. The Presidential Debate Commission is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties and they set the bar too high for inclusion, at having to average 15 percent in national polling. Why that number? Probably because they’re protecting their duopoly. Why not a 5 percent limit? We’ve all seen debates with four, five or more candidates, and they work. Maybe the barrier could be raised with each subsequent debate, giving lesser-funded and -known candidates at least a chance to prove themselves, gain support and make it to the finish line.

In short, the lesson from this first debate is that if we don’t want to be worried about someone like Donald Trump getting elected to the most powerful position in the world, we need to support change in the system that has given us these two weak presidential candidates.

Gavin Polone is a producer-director.