Debate Matters Most To People Who Are Undecided About Two Incredibly Famous Public Figures

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Pictured: the electorate, apparently

The most important people watching the debate, we’re told, are college educated suburban white women. The fate of the Republic apparently hangs on people who haven’t seen Trump until tonight. 

The lines have been brightly, if roughly, drawn. Hillary’s people are urban types, whether they are snooty college professors, disdainful hipsters, smug techy types, and, you know, black people (who can’t be any of those). Trump’s supporters are angry rural rednecks, but given raw numbers, much more likely to be fairly comfortable exurban reactionaries, the cultural quasi-elites, who are widely, almost exhaustively celebrated for being the uncelebrated type.

So that leaves, according to a lot of analysis, suburban people. And not just suburban people, many of whom have made up their mind, but college-educated suburban women, who, as Jew Newell points out, are a “traditionally Republican demographic that Trump has bled from his wherevers.”

You know how this goes: these are conservative women but ones who actually hate misogyny, unlike their more exurban, Wal-Marty counterparts, and who are smart enough to not want a know-nothing buffoon running the country. So they’ll be the ones watching most closely tonight, paying attention while the rest of us are quipping on Twitter, to see if this Donald Trump guy has the chops to be President.

In other words: if Trump can pretend for 90 minutes not to be the person he has spent a lifetime proving that he is, and the last 16 months reinforcing in more and more outlandish ways every day, on the front page of every paper, the lead of every news broadcast, and on every single website on the internet, then he might persuade this vital bloc and win the White House.

Not to put too fine a point on that, but that’s madness. First of all, it is super condescending to suburban women to assume that they know almost literally nothing about two of the most famous public figures in America and so are basing everything on tonight. But what’s even more mad is that the pundits might, in a way, be right.

Not about suburban women, per se, although that is an important demographic (though it is one that is more of an assumed cultural instinct than hard and fast numbers: scrolling through all the college-educated suburban women I know, none of them are voting for Trump, and indeed are revolted at the thought. So we’re not talking about suburban women, but rather “suburban women”. You know the type.) What people mean is the apparently great swath of undecideds, who a) think that Trump might be a dangerously unstable maniac but b) yech, Hillary.

This is very real, I think, which shows exactly what kind of country we are. Hillary is a deeply flawed candidate, with a lot of self-inflicted wounds, but there is literally no argument as to who would be a better President. So to have it come down to this is incredible. Because, I can’t emphasize it enough, it comes down to Donald Trump pretending not to be himself for 90 minutes.

If he remembers a few talking points, that doesn’t mean he suddenly started to take policy seriously. If he doesn’t insult Hillary directly, it doesn’t mean he stopped being a sexist bully. If he doesn’t spend 90 minutes talking about how great he is, that doesn’t mean he stopped being a blowhard vulgarian whose horizons begin and end with the endless grasping of self-aggrandizement.

But, apparently, it doesn’t matter. If enough people believe it, and if the media reinforces that with “did Trump win the expectation game, and therefore win?” narrative, he genuinely can win this election.

I don’t think it’ll happen. Hillary is just better, and I don’t know if he is disciplined enough to keep it together. Even if he does, and all the lies about him being Presidential come tumbling out, Hillary still has the demographic advantages, and has been winning the whole time. It has gotten uncomfortably, terrifyingly close, but the candidate winning the whole time generally wins.

That said: who’s terrified? I am.

(Note: we’ll be live-blogging tonight, archaic as it is. Tune in!)

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