After the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast crew gathered in our offices to talk about what went down and what to make of this moment in American politics. For more, check out our live blog from the debate. And here’s video of our podcast taping:
FiveThirtyEight: Who won the second presidential debate?
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Here is some of our conversation about the debate. The transcript begins at the 29-minute mark and has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jody Avirgan: Throughout this election, we’ve had a lot of these conversations and these moments where we’ve looked for historical perspective. We did a segment over the summer where we asked, Does this feel as tumultuous as 1968? That’s kind of where my head is at tonight … particularly before the debate, when we had that press conference, and I’ve been really worried about the corrosive effects of this election going forward, regardless of who wins. So, let’s get into it. What are your thoughts about historical parallels for this? Are there any? What’s going to be the looming effect of this, Harry?
Harry Enten: You know, I had a line in one of the blog posts I was writing up, saying I’ve watched all the debates since 1960 and I’ve never seen any sort of moments like we saw tonight, whether that be before the debate with the press conference that Trump held with the three accusers of Bill Clinton for different allegations, whether it be Trump openly disagreeing with his vice presidential nominee on stage, and then also saying that, basically, Hillary Clinton should go to jail — I’d never seen anything like that. This is a new ballgame, in my mind, in terms of politics. Maybe there’s some stuff from the 1830s or the 1820s — those Jackson/Adams elections were quite something else.
Clare Malone: Harry has not watched the debate videos from then.
Jody: That’s some deep YouTube.
Nate Silver: We’re talking about Aaron Burr/Hamilton duel or something? Politics can get pretty nasty.
Jody: … Clare, for perspective, to remind people — I think it’s important to remind people — we do have one of the major parties at war with itself, weeks before a presidential election. You’ve written about this throughout, so what’s going to happen to the GOP in the next few weeks to settle that war?
Clare: It’s the Paul Ryans … sort of saying, ‘We don’t want this to be our party,’ people like John McCain pulling their endorsements. But again, the Morning Consult poll about that Trump video that came out on Friday where so many Republican voters of the base just said, ‘No, this is our guy, stick with him.’ And I think that says a lot about the problems that the GOP is going to face after the election. I think after the VP debate, Alec MacGillis had a really interesting thing to say, which was basically: You just saw Mike Pence do what the GOP is going to try to do post-Trump if he loses, which is basically to pretend like all these things weren’t true, it’s not happening, we’re really normal. And fine, you can do that, you can stick makeup on the gaping wound, like pancake makeup on a gaping wound, but it’s still going to be there and it’s going to seep out. All the people in the party who really are being motivated by things that go beyond the big ideas, the nostalgia for Reagan, whatever it is, who are animated by this fact that the country is changing — by 2044, we’re going to be majority-minority — those are things that aren’t going away after this election. And just because the Republican leadership wants to change up the face of the party, Trump has brought something out, and they really have to deal with it. It’s going to be messy after the election.
Jody: You know, there is an assault on the kind of way that we conduct our democracy going on, in addition to all the policy- and issue-oriented things that Clare just mentioned.
Nate: I mean, I’m not as big on this kind of puritanical, ‘Oh, how standards of discourse have declined,’ kind of stuff. … But I guess I do want to zoom out here a little bit. … The fact is that on Friday at 3:59 p.m. we had Trump with about a 20 percent chance to win the presidency based on the polls alone. That’s actually, by the way, one of the more conservative forecasts. There are people who have Trump at five or ten percent, and I can debate back and forth why I think those forecasts are too aggressive, but you know, is he in a better position that he was Friday at 3:59 p.m. before The Washington Post story came out with this Billy Bush tape with all these words in it? And more than just words, also implications of unwanted sexual contact toward women. And then you have this stunt before the debate, you have a bad half-hour of the debate, you have an okay final 60 minutes — maybe even a pretty good final 60 minutes. The one poll we have suggests a narrow win for Clinton, not a blowout, but none of that really leaves Trump better off than he was even three days ago. If it had been a total draw the last three days, just a ho-hum debate and nothing in the news, then even that would be bad just because you run some time off the clock when you’re behind, so it’s not like the campaign’s going well for him.
Clare: Also, given the fact that the preplanned event was around Bill Clinton’s sexual-assault accusations, to me it indicates, you know, we saw a lot of stuff happen the day after the last presidential debate. It kicked off a week of poor talking points, he talked about Miss Universe’s weight over and over, and so to me, it’s like, if this is what’s already been planned — you know, sexual assault — that sort of seems like the next week is going to be perhaps along this sort of more down-and-dirty vein, or attacking establishment Republicans who have said that they don’t want to support Trump. It seems it’s sort of planned out.
Jody: … Harry, let’s end on this, which is a polling question. Is it silly to even think that we can unwind all of the things that have happened in the last three days, looking at the polling? Or say that one of these things is going to matter more?
Harry: I think we have to wait. Patience is a virtue, and, I think, we’ll see where we are in a few days. We’ve still got a month left, but time is clearly running short for Trump. I’m sure he’ll trumpet the fact that he is currently winning the Drudge poll, which is a clicker.
Nate: By the way, you can unskew those Drudge polls, I figured out, where this disastrous first debate for Trump, he won 80 percent in the Drudge poll and lost the CNN poll really badly, right. The Mike Pence debate, he got 95 percent and narrowly won the CNN poll, and now, this is somewhere in between.
Jody: Nate “Unskew the Poll” Silver. You heard it here first.
Nate: So, basically, I think you need about 93 percent in a Drudge poll to win the real polls. And 90 percent is just a narrow loss. Again, if the polls show Trump five or six points back a week from now, I mean, he might think it could be a lot worse. Kellyanne Conway might, in her honest moments, think it could be a lot worse. [He’d] have to have a hell of a third debate. But it’s still a pretty bad outcome for Trump.
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