David R. Henderson  

What Some People Like About Donald Trump

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He fights back.

"Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l'attaque, il se defend" ("This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.")

I've read various articles about why people like Donald Trump, or, even if they don't like him, will probably vote for him. All have an element of truth, sometimes small, sometimes large. I don't want to get into how true. I don't know that many Trump supporters or, at least, I don't that many people who admit they are Trump supporters.

But here's what I see people responding positively to Trump about and it's something that caused me to respond positively to him when I watched the second "debate" between him and Hillary Clinton: he's a fighter and he calls people out.

When the debate started last Sunday night, my plan was to watch maybe 20 minutes to see if Hillary took my advice not to shake his hand (she did take my advice, not that she asked for it) and to see how he handled the groping women issue. Although I knew in advance that designated allegedly-undecided voters would ask questions, I just knew that either Anderson Cooper or Martha Raddatz would run with that issue like a dog with a bone. It turned out to be Cooper.

(The transcript is here.)

But once we got past that, it got more interesting. I've often been in the situation that Trump was in. No, not that situation. Rather, the situation of being ganged up on in an intellectual or semi-intellectual forum. I've written about that before. I've had situations where I was on one side of the issue and the interviewer had 2, and occasionally 3 people on the other side and the interviewer himself was on the other side. And, with the exception of a few tough questions, Cooper and Raddatz were on Clinton's side.

One little instance: The audience was told, in no uncertain terms, before the debate started, not to applaud. Many in the audience broke the rule, applauding for Hillary. Neither Cooper nor Raddatz objected. My guess is that pro-Trump people in the audience thought "Ok, I guess they aren't enforcing that rule." They got their chance a few minutes later. Clinton warned people about putting Trump in charge of the law. (By the way, neither Anderson nor Raddatz pointed out that the president is not in charge of the law. They, like Clinton and, apparently, Trump all shared the same premise. I guess that's because that's how U.S. presidents have behaved for a long time). Trump replied that if he were in charge, she would be in jail. Many in the audience applauded. Did Cooper let one that go? Of course not. He said, "We want to remind the audience to please not talk out loud. Please do not applaud. You are just wasting time."

And what did the Donald do? A few minutes later, he pointed out that it was "one on three." He didn't do it every time. For example, Anderson Cooper had the gall to flesh out a question asked by one of the participants by summarizing the New York Times article that had speculated, on skimpy evidence, that Trump might not have paid taxes for over a decade. Trump didn't call him out on that one but he did on others. When Clinton's emails were raised and she bobbed and weaved, neither Cooper nor Raddatz gave any background. It was clearly asymmetric.

At one point, when Trump fought back, I laughed at their being called out and slightly cheered. I was talking to a good female friend about it later, someone who was appalled at the groping issue that had come out earlier in the week. She dislikes Trump even more than I do. But she told me she also was appalled by their unfair treatment of him. The high point of her being appalled was when Raddatz decided to enter as a third debater and challenge Trump about a fairly obvious point he was making about not signaling the enemy in advance what you will do. And Martha (I'm calling her by her first name because I'm tired of correcting my spell checker when it changes her last name to "Radiate") didn't show a lot of knowledge about it either.

I was disappointed, actually, that Trump decided to debate her instead of saying, "Hold it. Your job is to moderate, not to be another debater against me." So even Trump didn't go as far as he could have in calling for fairness. But he at least did it at times.

Compare Trump's occasional fighting back to Romney's response in 2012 when Candy Crowley decided to take Obama's side on the issue of Benghazi. Romney looked stunned but he didn't fight back. He didn't say, "Listen lady, do your job. Your job is not to take Barack Obama's side or do instant fact checking based on what you think you know. Butt out." Actually, Romney didn't even address it publicly until 2014, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt. Trump did fight back.

Someone said that a lot of Republicans go to Washington thinking it's a sewer and end up, after a few years, thinking it's a hot tub. A big part of it is that they have made peace--not just with the interest groups but also with the dominant pro-government ethos. I don't have any reason to think that Trump is that different. But Trump has given many voters reason to think he's different.

When Trump loses the election, and I'm pretty confident that he will, there will be a lot of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking. One of the things that I hope happens is that potential candidates learn that, all other things equal, they will do better by defending themselves strongly from unfair attacks.

Postscript: After I started writing this yesterday, I saw a piece by Mark Bauerlein that covers related ground and, in some ways, does it better.


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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory




COMMENTS (16 to date)
pyroseed13 writes:

I tend to be very split on the issue of how engaged moderators should be in the debates. For example, I generally liked when Chris Wallace during one of the primary debates showed a chart clearly showing that Trump's proposal to eliminate "waste, fraud, and abuse" would not have a significant impact on the budget, despite what he claimed. Part of me thinks it's irresponsible to allow candidates to make clearly false statements without being challenged.

But here's the problem: How qualified are moderators to determine when the "facts" they have are actually true, and not subject to reasonable disagreement? This is even a bigger problem when it comes to issues such as foreign policy, where much of what people think is true is really just a testimony from "some guy." What Martha did was even worse, because rather than just refer to some unnamed expert, she actually felt that she was qualified to argue with Trump over a issue that she obviously didn't know much about.

Overall, I'm not sure what constitutes appropriate behavior for moderators.

Chris writes:

For a presidential debate, I feel that moderators have a responsibility to do some basic fact checking, and push back on blatantly false answers. This can ideally keep the whole debate from turning into false statements from both sides, with the other side then spending all remaining time on saying "uh, no, that's a lie".

Not sure that it's worked in any of the debates so far, and obviously it's tough to draw the line between "facts" and facts, but ideally that's what I'd like to see. Because we haven't really seen that, the debates have mostly been garbage.

Jay writes:

@pyroseed13

I tend to agree, as long as the treatment is close to equal. I don't care how the moderators call balls and strikes just as long as its the same rules for both candidates which it clearly wasn't at this and other debates.

Khodge writes:

Who fact-checks the fact checkers? (Shout-out to Candy Crawley.)

Moderators are going to fact-check what they are passionate about. As such we can expect "facts" that are not really.

The choice of which facts to check is even more subjective. Do you really fact-check hyperbole? Is the moderator going to go after every non-consequential point of one candidate while giving a pass to the other?

Jeff G. writes:

I thought Cooper and Raddatz's engagement with candidates was both appropriate and welcomed. I would agree that Trump probably got picked-on more than Clinton but I think this has more to do with his way of speaking than an inherent media bias. Trump's responses are often incoherent, nonsensical, and almost always off-topic. This makes it easy—and appropriate—for the moderator to push-back for a better answer. I would much rather a moderator push-back and possibly run the risk of turning into a third debater then to just let the blathering stand.

Scott Sumner writes:

Is fighting back a laudable quality, if 99.9% of the time the attacks on you are justified?

Jeff H. writes:

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Chris writes:

I disagree. The debate moderator's job is to ask questions, and insure that the participants abide by the pre-agreed upon rules of the debate. The debate format should allow participants time to call out their opponents on any falsehoods and present their own arguments. Then the audience can decide which participant was correct.

Moderators fact checking statements is totally wrong.

Greg G writes:

Moderators being neutral between candidates does not require them to be neutral between fact and fiction.

Chris writes:

When I watch a debate I want to see how each candidate deals with the issues. This includes how they react to lies. I don't care what the moderator knows. I'm not voting for him/her.

When Trump was talking about Stop and Frisk in the first debate I was dismayed when the moderator challenged him. I don't care what the moderator thinks.... I wanted to see how Hillary would respond and challenge her opponent. This is what debates are for. Instead, her response was tainted because she was just following the moderator's lead.

Charlie writes:

For example, Anderson Cooper had the gall to flesh out a question asked by one of the participants by summarizing the New York Times article that had speculated, on skimpy evidence, that Trump might not have paid taxes for over a decade.

What an incredibly odd statement! This is the second debate that Trump has bragged about not paying income taxes in over a decade.

COOPER: Did you use that $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years?

TRUMP: Of course I do. Of course I do. And so do all of her donors, or most of her donors. I know many of her donors. Her donors took massive tax write-offs.


You may not care, but voters have every right to, and the NYT has every right to publish the tax returns Trump won't as it's of national interest.

Charlie writes:

Also, your memory of the Raddatz Syria exchange is pretty faulty.

A viewer asks: "what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo?"

Clinton answers, Trump follows with two minutes of word salad, coming no where near the question.

Raddatz redirects asking him point blank

Raddatz: Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, and I want to remind you what your running mate said...

Pressing candidates to actually answer questions, and helping viewers figure out of President's and their VP nominee have the same position seem like pretty important jobs for a moderator.

Trump follows with a stream of questions to no one...

Then apparently follows the exchange that upset you, but read it again. Trump eventually starts talking about Syria, but never even comes close to answer the question. The exchange ends with an exasperated:

Raddatz: Tell me what your strategy is it.

He's still come no where close to answering the question. Raddatz is trying to press for an answer to the question, which is her job. I wish more moderators would push candidates to actually answer the question.


Charlie writes:

Of course, the context of the 1 on 3 line is hilarious and makes this whole post seem silly.

The three on one line comes right after this exchange.

Trump: I’d liked to know Anderson, Why aren't you bringing up the e-mails? I’d like to know.

Cooper: We brought up the e-mails.

Trump: No it hasn’t, it hasn’t and it hasn't been finished at all.

Cooper: Ken Karpowitz has a question.
Trump: One on three.

Who's right? Let's go to the video tape. Raddatz just minutes before:

Raddatz: And Secretary Clinton, I do want to follow-up on e-mails. You’ve said your handling of your e-mails was a mistake, you’ve disagreed with the FBI Director James Comey calling your handling of classified information “extremely careless”. The FBI said there were 110 classified e-mails which were exchanged, eight of which were top secret and it was possible hostile actors did gain access to those e-mails. You don't call that extremely careless?


It's crazy to me that you'd leave that context out.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Scott Sumner,
Is fighting back a laudable quality, if 99.9% of the time the attacks on you are justified?
No. But, as I think you could see, Scott, some of the attacks were not justified.
@Charlie,
Also, your memory of the Raddatz Syria exchange is pretty faulty.
Actually, it’s not. We’re just talking about two different things. You’re talking about her follow-up questions. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. As I said in my post, I’m talking about where she literally entered as a debater. Here was that exchange:
Raddatz: There are sometimes reasons the military does that. Psychological warfare.
Trump: I can't think of any.
Raddatz: It might be to get civilians out.

There’s not a question there.

Ricardo writes:

I am not a Trump supporter, but I'd like you to join me in a little crusade. Instead of saying "might not have paid taxes for over a decade," say "might have had no federal tax liability for over a decade instead." The latter is more accurate.

mhjhnsn writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

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