Like Richard Nixon in his debate with John Kennedy, Hillary Clinton has to worry not just about what she says, but how she looks saying it.
WASHINGTON, September 24, 2016 — In his book “Winning Debates,” Steven Johnson writes, “You’re more likely to persuade an audience by focusing on what they believe than what they don’t believe.”
That puts Hillary Clinton at a decided disadvantage. She goes into Monday’s CNN debate having to defend failed immigration policies.
Those policies have nearly destroyed America’s borders. She promises to increase immigration from regions of the globe that gave America the Fort Hood shooter, the San Bernardino husband-and-wife jihadists, the Boston Marathon bombers and Ahmad Khan Rahami, who last weekend planted explosives in New York and New Jersey and engaged in a pitched gun battle that left two police officers wounded.
Clinton went on record on NBC’s “Face the Nation” calling President Obama’s plan to resettle 110,000 Syrian refugees in America a “good start,” and saying that the United States should “do more.” She pledged to increase that number by 65,000.
A Rasmussen poll released on Tuesday found that only 12 percent of respondents support Obama and Clinton’s Syrian refugee plan, with 6 percent saying that number should be increased.
But Clinton has more to worry about on Monday than the unpopular substance of her campaign positions. There are the optics of the event as well.
As was the case for the granddaddy of televised presidential debates—the Nixon-Kennedy exchanges of 1960—the flickering image broadcast to million Americans can be more about flash than substance.
As Scott Althaus notes in the “Encyclopedia of Media and Politics”:
“It is widely believed that those who listened to the debate on radio thought that Nixon had won, while those who watched the debate on television thought that Kennedy had won. Such a difference would presumably demonstrate the power of visual imagery over the spoken word.”
Vice President Richard Nixon had earlier injured his knee while on the campaign trail. When it became infected, Nixon was hospitalized for two weeks, during which time he lost twenty pounds.
Nixon’s bad luck continued when he arrived at the CBS studios in Chicago on Sept. 26, 1960. As he stepped out of his vehicle, he hit his bad knee on the car door. This only added to the misery of a man still recovering from a bout with the flu.
When a studio makeup artist attempted to dab a little powder on the candidate’s face to brighten his continence for the cameras, Nixon refused.
Gaunt, his knee throbbing, running a low-grade fever, his five-o’clock-shadow looking more pronounced under the studio’s blinding klieg lights, Nixon came across to television viewers as a sinister, sweating ball of nerves.
What the younger Sen. John Kennedy lacked in substance, he more than made up for in charm and good looks. Some historians even suggest his photogenic presence is what gave him a slight edge with women voters in what turned out to be a very close election.
Television loves Donald Trump. Millions of Americans were entertained by the in-your-face, “Your fired!” confrontational style of Trump’s NBC reality show “The Apprentice.”
But his stance on immigration, coupled with his refusal to abide by the dominant culture’s politically-correct vocabulary—more notable for what can’t be said than what can—proved key factors in his political rise.
When Fox News aired the first GOP candidates’ debate in August of last year, the Nielson organization said 24 million Americans watched. “The rating shattered even the rosiest expectations for the beginning of debate season,” CNN reported. “Television executives were stunned.”
Trump campaign rallies are standing-room-only events. Hillary Clinton gatherings, on the other hand, are small, intimate affairs.
Recently, unlucky union members gathered in Las Vegas for a convention were graced by a video conference call from the Democratic candidate.
She told America’s dwindling organized workers that she is opposed to free people having the choice to seek employment in a “right to work” state, unmolested by thuggish union organizers demanding, like the government, a cut of their wages.
It’s at this point that her voice begins to rise in anger, “Why aren’t I fifty points ahead?” she asks rhetorically, her eyes narrowing.
She implies their lack of enthusiasm is helping the Clinton fizzle now sweeping the nation. “I need your help to get Donald Trump’s record out to everybody,” she yells in exasperation, her hands gesticulating wildly.
All that was missing from Clinton’s Nixonian moment was the flop sweat and five-o’clock shadow.
Monday night, under the glare of studio klieg lights and peppered by the relentless verbal barbs of Donald Trump, we might see a few beads of sweat accumulate on the fevered brow of an angry and desperate Hillary
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