Ten bucks says Hillary Clinton won that by a country mile. In fact, $23-trillion, or whatever the United States' national debt is, says Clinton won that debate by a mile.
And, can we do that every week, please? Clear the network schedules. Never mind your old procedurals and comedies. That, people, was true TV drama. It was dramatic, surreal, funny at times and it came with a new, sizzling kind of vibe – the one where the woman, 68 years old, has the wit and stamina to defeat any man.
The essence of drama is conflict and there was conflict galore. Built up as the Super Bowl of political debates, possibly reaching as many as 100 million Americans, the first presidential debate was not the gladiatorial conflict that was promised. For more than a year Donald Trump has been the triumphant gladiator on TV. Abrupt and abrasive, cocky and caustic, he destroyed a lot of male competitors in the Republican presidential primaries. Facing a woman, in what was also billed as "Mr. Unqualified vs. Ms. Dishonest," but wasn't, he simply defeated himself.
No politician wants to be caught out with millions of potential voters watching and yet he was. Hillary Clinton wrote the narrative from the beginning and he followed along, taking the bait, failing to assert a narrative of his own. Sometimes, arguing with men isn't about creating a narrative; it's about kicking the other guy. Arguing with an experienced, confident woman is a lot different. Your own attitude toward women and on issues of safety, security and fairness are your greatest weakness.
In the end, you can have your Twitter, which is Donald Trump's best medium. It's TV that gets people elected.
Television isn't rocket science. Turn up, wear camera-friendly clothes, act in a genial manner, smile, make your point pithily and never, ever whine or look threatening. That's usually the rule.
Trump failed to grasp that on television any man can look menacing if he gives the faintest sign of being a bully. On TV, in the camera's unnerving eye, that's weakness. The greater centrifugal force of modern American politics turned out to be all bark and no bite. Worse for him, he showed incredible exertion in trying, vainly, to puncture the persona of a former Senator and Secretary of State.
The dynamic of the TV's delivery of the message isn't obscure or hard to understand. Marshall McLuhan nailed it decades ago, when television was young. In McLuhan terms, on TV such people as Barack Obama are cool while some like Trump are hot. Trump, Monday night, was relentlessly hot. Hot is bad. TV is a cool medium. By McLuhan's definition – and he was correct in so much – hot is very, very bad.
On Monday night's debate, for all his male toughness and cocky confidence, Trump never appeared fully at ease in his own skin. He smirked and interrupted but gave the impression of being utterly humourless and thoughtless – and his regularly flashing a smirk had to make viewers wonder what the heck he was smirking about. The suggestion of innate smugness, a trait that is simply off-putting on TV, worked in the Republican debates, with their chaotic tenor and tone because Trump was the one who seemed most confident about himself.
In the intense hothouse of a one-on-one TV debate, self-confidence does not translate to poise or gravitas. In the case of Trump, it was a matter of intensity and exertion to impress. That exertion creates the heat of energy and, when seen on TV, it makes people uneasy. Guy's trying too hard. And if he's that rich and successful, why is he coming across like a slightly desperate, grinning huckster?
Cool media benefit a candidate who is utterly relaxed. Cool media require effortless completion by the audience of the person they are watching intensely. The viewer can project a great deal onto certain people on TV, and with Trump – who looked tired from the start – what they projected was a despicable kind of desperation.
In Clinton's case, the message is that she's very confident, unruffled, at ease with herself, and has nothing to hide. She didn't generate the heat of trying. And there was the stamina issue. She seemed to grow more confident. As if waiting for the moment, near the end, when she could skewer Trump with his own sexist rants and insults. It was done coolly, and triumphantly, as was her entire performance.
It was devastating to watch, a conquering act of coolness on a medium that gives victory to the cool. Ten bucks, or $23-trillion, says she has the stamina to do it over and over.