Advertising Week

Donald Trump Is the 'Experimental Drug' of American Politics

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(From l.) Katie Couric, Matt Bai, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Jamal Simmons debate the debate at the 'Elections 2016: The Wild Ride to the White House' panel at the Times Center Stage during Advertising Week on Sept. 27 in New York City.
(From l.) Katie Couric, Matt Bai, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Jamal Simmons debate the debate at the 'Elections 2016: The Wild Ride to the White House' panel at the Times Center Stage during Advertising Week on Sept. 27 in New York City. Credit: John Lamparski/Getty Images

"I was up until 2 in the morning because I was so revved up by this debate," Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric told an Advertising Week audience Tuesday morning before introducing a panel of political experts. "I'm sure you, like all of us, have a severe debate hangover. ... I think everyone is sort of really exhausted from this whole campaign, which seems as if it's been going on for years."

Ms. Couric and her panelists -- Jamal Simmons, a democratic consultant and former aide to Al Gore; Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster, Washington Examiner columnist and ABC News political analyst; and Matt Bai, national political columnist at Yahoo News -- took the stage at Manhattan's Times Center to debate Monday night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as the overall political climate in a session titled "Elections 2016: The Wild Ride to the White House."

Some highlights:

Who won the debate?

Jamal Simmons: "I look at it like this: that there are different people that each candidate is talking to. So I think Donald Trump, for the people who like Donald Trump, they loved what he did last night, because he got in there... he didn't back down on the birther stuff, he was really tough on Hillary Clinton. So I think he did well for his people. I think Hillary Clinton sort of was trying to go after people who are a little more in the middle and make sure that they knew that she was a plausible presidential candidate, and she did well on that front. So in that sense I think they sort of shot past each other, and that's why I would call it a wash."

Matt Bai: "The public reaction in the immediate aftermath [of a debate] isn't always the reaction days or weeks later. ... You don't really win or lose a debate. As Jamal was saying, you come with different objectives, and it's possible for both to win, it's possible for both to lose."

Kristin Soltis Anderson: "I think they are who we thought they were. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump performed in exactly the way you would expect. There were no real surprises there. I think the only voter group that might have been surprised or disappointed by what happened is if there were any Republican voters who are telling pollsters like me, 'Yes, I support Donald Trump,' but are waiting for him to exude that sort of presidential/Oval Office sort of aura. We didn't really get that last night."

Trump the disrupter

Mr. Simmons: "What Donald Trump is really good at is coming out and being the kind of strong man on the stage. He really took control of the conversation, and if we're having an election that's about change vs. more of the same, Donald Trump didn't pay any attention to the rules, he talked over people, he interrupted when he felt like it. He looked like a disrupter -- I mean, he was disrupting, right? And Hillary Clinton looked like the person who you could trust to take care of things. And then the question is just what you're in the market for. You know, who are you shopping for? And if you're shopping for somebody who can actually do the job, she was clearly the one. But if you're shopping for somebody who's going to overturn the apple cart, he would score some points."

Trump the channeler

Mr. Bai: During the debate, Donald Trump "showed, by my view -- and I've been doing this awhile -- no capacity, no depth for governing. And really no pretense of it. No policies, no command of issues, nothing approaching a plan that you could actually enact, pay for -- no interest in it. And yet at the same time, a mastery of the emotion of the electorate -- you know, really where people are. I thought the things that jumped out at me last night -- you know, there were no killer lines -- but when he said to her, 'Oh yeah, Hillary's got a lot of experience but it's bad experience.' He said at one point, 'Under President Obama we have lost control of all the things we used to control.' This is channeling a very powerful impulse and a long-building impulse in the electorate."

Trump the experimental drug

Ms. Anderson: "An analogy that I've used is, he's the experimental drug. And if you've been sick for a long time, maybe you're OK with the weird side effects, because it's just time to try something different.'

Trump's tails

Mr. Simmons: "I think Donald Trump will be for disaffected white voters what Barack Obama was for disaffected black voters. And I think you will see people show up places in ways that we didn't expect. ... I think Hillary still wins it, I think Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite. But it really will matter down-ballot. And so you're starting to see it in Senate races, you'll see it in congressional races... and I think it maybe helps the Republicans hold on to the Senate, because we'll be surprised by people who show up [to vote] in some of those states."

Clinton needs to tell her story better

Ms. Anderson: "I think she needs to learn more how to tell the story of why she should be president. I still think that that was a flaw in the performance last night -- was that it was a lot about why Donald Trump's not right to be president. She brought up, you know, pretty much the entire opposition research file: You didn't pay so-and-so contractor, you said x horrible thing about women, on and on and on. ...

"And Trump is this master storyteller, right? Love him or hate him, he picks a villain: China, Mexico, the corporations that are outsourcing things, bad trade deals. He picks a hero: himself and the voters -- we're going to fight back. He has an obstacle: It's those politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You know, it's a story you can follow. And I'm not sure that I'm clear what the story is that Hillary Clinton is telling. ... If you're a voter who's casually paying attention to the election in between 'Dancing With the Stars' and dropping your kids off at school, you know, I think story matters. It gets people emotionally invested. I think Hillary Clinton needs to get people emotionally invested."

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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