Politics & Policy

Democrats Have Set Themselves Up for Failure at the Debate, and They’re Panicking

(Reuters photos: Steve Marcus, Mike Carlson)
There is a different standard for Donald Trump.

We are just beginning to enter the liberal freak-out stage of the presidential campaign, which will grow much more intense with every day that the race is close. The press is already talking itself into making its coverage even more hostile to Donald Trump, and the lamentations that there is a lower standard for Trump will grow louder. 

The truth is that there is a lower standard for Trump, but the media won’t be able to change that no matter how much they rend their garments and fact-check Trump in TV chyrons and put the word “lie” in headlines. This lower standard is an inherent feature of Trump’s candidacy and the nature of the race.

There are at least five reasons why this is so:

Trump is an amateur. People naturally don’t expect a guy who decided the day before yesterday to run for president (for real this time) to have the same level of knowledge as someone who has been at this for 30 years.

Trump is a radical disrupter, not the conventional candidate trying to preserve the status quo. This gives him the freedom to ignore long-standing norms and conventions. Any other Republican candidate not releasing his tax returns would be bludgeoned into submission by now. But, for Trump, trampling on the rules is one of the purposes of his candidacy. 

It wants to be a change election. The level of discontent in the country and the difficulty of a party holding the White House for a third term means this is fundamentally a change election. The question is whether Trump, who is indisputably the candidate of change, can get over the bar of acceptability or not. This is not a high bar. So far he hasn’t cleared it, although he’s made some progress over the last month.

He’s being attacked as a dangerous monster. Hillary Clinton has basically opened up only one line of attack against Trump, which is that he’s a threat to the republic whose every utterance should be regarded with contemptuous disbelief. She hasn’t spent much time hitting his policies or warning of the alleged disasters of unified Republican government. This means that if Trump is not  perceived as a dangerous madman — again, not a high bar — he has invalidated her entire critique of him.

Disgust with the political class is abiding and deep. Trump benefits from the low view people have of typical politicians. Whatever you say about Trump — he is selfish, dishonest, unprincipled — his voters will respond, “Well, all politicians are.” This is a license for Trump to conduct a campaign that would make most politicians blush, and get away with it.

#related#Trump also has enough shamelessness and roguish charm to bulldoze through interviews even if he doesn’t know something and to make impolitic statements without consequence (beyond the greatest hits, who else could admit to attacking an opponent — Ted Cruz — because he was rising in the polls, or brag about buying off politicians?). 

All of this means that the usual standard is probably not going to apply to Donald Trump before November, no matter how much the press wishes it were so. And the Hillary Clinton campaign should be very nervous about the debate.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com

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