LZ Debate Squad: Trump the Survivor Comes Back

Experts largely agree the GOP nominee met the moment, won on points, and moved past tape scandal

Donald Trump faced enormous pressure heading into the second presidential debate against Hillary Clinton.

Amid defections from high-level Republicans over leaked video from 2005 of Trump speaking crudely about women and two weeks of lost momentum and drooping poll numbers, the GOP nominee needed a comeback moment.

According to LifeZette’s “Debate Squad” of debate experts, political consultants, leading conservatives, and political science professors, Trump largely delivered — at least a strong enough debate performance to keep the fight alive.

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Here were the main takeaways from the squad:

Brian Darling
Donald Trump finally showed flashes of the candidate who drew the most votes in the history of Republican primaries during this second presidential debate. This was the performance Trump supporters expected during the first debate.

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The mainstream media will focus on “locker room talk” and the now-infamous Trump video. The first few minutes when Trump struggled to explain his sexist talk was the only time during the whole debate where Trump was playing defense.

For the remainder of the debate, Trump was on the offense. He accused Hillary’s platform of being “just words” and brought up the point that she was an ineffective senator and secretary of state.

Trump promised a “special prosecutor” to investigating Hillary’s disappearing emails and said that she would probably end up in jail.

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Trump called for “extreme vetting” of refugees from countries that have become an incubator of terrorism and accused Clinton of campaigning for a massive increase in refugees from dangerous countries.

Trump used WikiLeaks disclosures to paint her as a liar.

This debate may not turn the election, but Trump was successful in landing punch after punch on character issues and policy grounds. Trump won.

Brian Darling is a former senior communications director and counsel for Sen. Rand Paul. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling.

Heather Richardson Higgins
Trump took off the gloves, landed punches repeatedly, and changed the tone instantly when saying to Hillary that if he were in charge “you’d be in jail”.

He set up the audience to watch for the zingers. He circled like a shark, often staying in the shot when she was talking. This distracted Clinton and the audience and likely degraded her message delivery.

Trump hit Hillary far harder than ever Rick Lazio did – but the extended focus on the video and her own condescension allowed him to fight back in a way that seemed proportionate, not bullying.

As predicted: He said he is ashamed of what he said in the bus but that she should be ashamed of what she has done to the American people…over and over again.

For his supporters: The optics of the now older but still passionate Clinton rape victims showed he WILL DO WHAT IS REQUIRED TO WIN.

For the undecideds: Trump wasn’t crazy and seemed not-dangerous. That makes this debate a win for him.

If Republicans continue to cut and run from Trump rather than graciously accepting his apology, that is a lose-lose strategy not only for Trump but for all their down-ballot candidates.

So expect the media to double down on the video and anything else they can dig up to keep the pressure on.

Heather Richardson Higgins is President and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice.

Robert G. Kaufman
Donald Trump performed significantly better in the second debate than the first, staving off for the time being the complete collapse of his campaign. Barring no more devastating revelations about his personal conduct, Trump emerged miraculously with a plausible chance of winning an election where the odds, dynamics, and recent trends still favor Mrs. Clinton.

Trump weathered the first half our of the debate focused on his lewd conduct perhaps containing though not eliminating the huge negative fallout from his latest discovery of his misogynistic outbursts. Mrs. Clinton handled the issue deftly in tone and demeanor as a specific instance of another solid performance demonstrating her discipline and skill at making the best of a bad record ethically and substantively.

The final two-thirds of the debate favored Trump, however, because of his huge improvement in managing to focus on the issues rather than personal shortcomings of the candidates.

Trump delivered a constant barrage of effective attacks on Hillary Clinton’s support for the disaster of Obamacare, the stifling effects of Obama’s tax, spend, and regulatory policies on the economy, Mrs Clinton’s pivotal role in the Administration’s feckless foreign policies, including the debacle in Syria, and the Administration’s ill-advised policies, whicht have impeded the United States from realizing its enormous potential to be the world’s number one producer and supplier of energy.

Trump also made a more sustained, focused, and effective case for the superiority of his market-oriented alternatives for energy, the rational for his pro-growth tax reduction policies, and his call for peace through strength. Trump may have drained his critique off some of its impact, however, by publicly disagreeing with Mike Pence about how the U.S. should respond to escalating carnage in Syria.

Trump even displayed some long overdue grace by complimenting Hillary Clinton at the end of her debate as being a tenacious competitor.

Whether Trump can salvage his campaign from its multiple self-inflicted wounds depends mightily on him making more major mistakes or revelations reinforcing the perception that Trump lacks the qualities to be President. Trump has virtually no margin for error, though this debate will give him the chance to fight another day.

Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America.”

Dr. Ben Voth
Trump scored a surprisingly strong comeback from his first debate and 48 hours of adverse media attacks. Employing a direct confrontational interpersonal style, Trump told Clinton with a great deal of direct eye contact that she should be in jail and that he would appoint a special prosecutor to examine her misconduct on destroying 30,000 emails after being subpoenaed by Congress.

The audience inside the studio roared over the moderator instructions by Anderson Cooper calling for silence. Cooper corrected the audience for being intrusive while refusing to correct the audience when they cheered for Hillary Clinton paraphrasing Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high.”

Probably the biggest argument of the night was when Hillary Clinton explained early in the debate that it was good that someone like Donald Trump is not in charge of the law and Trump interrupted to say, “You would be in jail.” The confrontation over emails and the idea that Hillary Clinton was above the law tapped into emotional dynamics at work among his followers.

Clinton was strong at relating to audience questioners in the studio. She used their names and made strong interpersonal behaviors to indicate her interest and empathy. Trump’s weakest answer was responding to a Muslim woman in the audience.

Clinton’s overall performance was good but not as strong as Debate No. 1. Trump gave the performance he should have given in the first debate and showed a greater ability to deliver lines his followers so desperately wanted to hear regarding gun control, trade, immigration, Islamic terrorism, the Supreme Court, and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Dr. Ben Voth is director of debate and an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Ron Bonjean
Tonight was the equivalent of a surreal political nuclear war. For the first time in American politics, one candidate threatened to put the other one in jail. While the 2016 campaign is in a very sad state of affairs, Trump largely stopped the bleeding tonight within the Republican ranks with his improved debate performance. However, it’s unlikely he was able to bring more general election voters into his camp beyond the conservative base.

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The expectations bar was set low, but Trump performed better than Clinton tonight because he was more aggressive, successfully counter-punched, and kept hitting on his broad attack themes against Clinton of change and character. While she left a number of attacks unanswered, Clinton did hold her own on many policy issues that would really play well to her own base — but not to the broader electorate.

Ron Bonjean is a partner of the public affairs firm Rokk Solutions. He remains the first person to serve as the lead spokesman in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He has served as a strategist for the Republican National Committee in numerous senior communications roles for high-ranking officials.

Grover Norquist
Donald Trump didn’t lose the debate.

He was focused and coherent, which was a big step up from the first debate. He has “stopped the bleeding” from the past week or so.

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Hillary was singularly unimpressive.

Trump did focus briefly on Hillary’s tax hikes (which are found at HighTaxHillary.com.)

He was forceful on defending energy workers and opposing regulations — standard Reagan Republican positions.

It would have been nice for Trump to focus more on Obamacare — and what he would replace it with. Ditto his very sound tax cut policies.

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Eddie Zipperer
Trump needed to have a really great night, and he did. Everything was stacked against him in this “town hall” debate.

I’ve been to a real town hall meeting before. You know what it didn’t have? Two obnoxious people from some other town pushing their own town’s agenda. But that’s what this one had with Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz. The first half hour was devoted to nasty comments he made 11 years ago. The moderators were hardly trying to hide their disdain for him. The crowd was admonished whenever they cheered for Trump but not when they cheered for Hillary. Legitimate Hillary scandals were mostly brought up by Donald Trump or not at all.

As far as scandals go, the moment of the night was when Hillary claimed Donald was lying about the 33,000 emails she deleted, and the crowd gave her a Candy-Crowley-style instant fact check.

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But none of that mattered much because this debate finally got to policy, and Hillary Clinton can’t win on policy. That’s why she can only talk about Trump’s character. It is the only issue she wins on. Her answer on Obamacare was essentially — Obamacare is great, and only I can fix it. And that paradox pretty much sums up everything about her campaign, which is built on the faulty premise that everything is perfect and we desperately need Hillary the Change-Maker to fix it.

Her Supreme Court justice will deal with the “real world,” which I took to mean as opposed to the world of the Constitution. Trump wants an originalist.

She’s still trying to figure out what her “public view” on trade will be, which is one of Trump’s strongest issues.

She’s trying to pander to coal miners — fat chance they’ll forget she wants to put them out of their jobs.

Bottom line: Trump turned in a strong, measured (though still Trumpian) performance. Most Republicans and independents are going to say, “I hate Trump’s lewd comments, but they didn’t suddenly make me a pro-higher taxes, anti-job, anti-economic-growth, Constitution-changes-on-its-own, open-borders globalist.”

Eddie Zipperer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College and a regular LifeZette contributor.

Beverly Hallberg
In an election cycle that’s broken all the rules, here are the three memorable moments from an unconventional debate.

1) #LockerRoomTalk
Trump did very little to diffuse the first 30 minutes of scandal-babble. He reiterated his apology (or what he considers an apology), but then seemed dismissive. Pro-tip: calling it “locker room talk” doesn’t cut it. What he should’ve done was say he was wrong, ask for forgiveness, and confess he is a changed man. Then, pivot to Bill Clinton. Call out the man who didn’t just use “words,” but many claim acted maliciously towards women.

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2) Are there any adults in the room?
ABC’s Martha Raddatz quickly became the Candy Crowley of this election cycle, rounding out the list of worst debate moderators. One quick look at Merriam-Webster’s definition of “moderator” and you’ll notice that an “arbitrator or mediator” was definitely not the role Raddatz assumed.

3) Honey Badger Don’t Care
For better or worse, Trump and Clinton were themselves: Trump squirming and irritated; Hillary stiff and rehearsed. So points for authenticity? Last night was also a study in Trump: Unleashed. Take away his podium and he’s proven he will roam that stage for better or worse. It also gave us a full view of his hair…not necessarily a win.

Beverly Hallberg is president of District Media Group.

Jenny Beth Martin
In last night’s town hall debate, Donald Trump did what he needed to do – he apologized for his crude remarks caught on an 11-year-old tape, then moved to aggressively frame the election as a choice between change and more of the same. For more than an hour, on all manner of subjects, he repeatedly reminded viewers that four years of Hillary would mean a continuation of virtually everything wrong with the government today – and, more importantly, that she offered no change in a positive direction. Instead, she wants to double down on every Obama policy that’s responsible for the stagnant growth of the last seven and a half years: more regulations from Washington to kill our domestic energy industry, more ObamaCare (including even single-payer!), more taxes on the job-creating sectors of our economy.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, continued to show herself either incapable of or unwilling to recognize that doing more of the same won’t change things. She seems to think that all is well with the world, for the most part, and that only some minor tinkering around the edges is needed to make things perfect.

When the chips were down, Donald Trump delivered a strong win.

Jenny Beth Martin is chair of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

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