THE BLOG

Trumpocalypse Now?

28/09/2016 13:00
Bryan Faust via Getty Images

It's only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away

Bee Gees

Fact-checkers, opinion pollsters and TV analysts generally agreed Hillary Clinton got the best of Donald Trump in the first of three presidential debates. However, Clinton may have controlled the evening, but she clearly did not succeed in landing decisive blows on the frequently incoherent, babbling Trump.

While 90 minutes of Trump will not have convinced swing voters that he is not a cliché salesman - all talks, no substance - Clinton will definitely not have won the hearts of voters sitting on the fence. She came really well prepared, but at the same time her whole performance looked squeaky clean and sometimes her reactions to Trump had a forced appearance. This debate will not have done a substantial job at improving her favourability or likeability ratings, which are definitely one of her vulnerabilities. After the first debate, many Americans will still have an impression of Clinton similar to another line from the famous Bee Gees song: "You think that I don't even mean a single word I say".

Generals over hacks

And many a voter fed up with elites and the political establishment will have loudly cheered when Trump uttered the words: "I'll take the Admirals, and I'll take the Generals any day over the political hacks that I see that have led our country so brilliantly over the last 10 years with their knowledge." This anti-elitism, anti-establishment attitude - despite Trump being part of it himself all his life - mixed with protectionist standpoints and tough but empty law and order quotes is what propelled Trump to where he now is in the first place. And not a hundred debates in the world will make people who warm to this rhetoric rethink their support for Trump.

All in all, the debate will not have substantially changed the chances of winning the White House for either candidate. The sad fact remains that come November 8 many Americans will vote for Clinton because they hate Trump and just as many will vote for Trump because they hate Clinton.

The market verdict

Financial markets delivered a quick verdict for Clinton. The Canadian dollar and Mexican peso strengthened and US stocks futures climbed right after the debate. In general, risky asset such as shares and commodity currencies mostly rose in reaction to the debate. This reaction is understandable, because from an objective point of view Clinton won the debate and she is clearly more favourable to free trade and open markets and her financial plans are more thought-through than those of Trump. Moreover, financial markets probably believe that the debate showed that Clinton's recent scepticism towards free trade is largely campaign oratory. Once in office, she would most likely opt for a pragmatic trade course and her protectionist stances will rescind to the background.

With Trump it was the opposite, he was back at ranting against China, trade deals, foreign companies etc and the way he has been expressing his protectionist views will make it very hard for him to walk back on most of these promise once he sits in the Oval Office.

Loose cannon

The debate was Trump's to lose and Clinton's to win. Trump succeeded in not getting blown away and keeping himself in check for most of the time, while Clinton failed to nail it convincingly. Despite the 90 minute debate being the perfect place to show that Trump is a loose cannon who can be provoked easily and whose plans would ruin the nation's finances and that she is the responsible and experienced stateswoman with a coherent and financially sound plan for the country and a vision for how to operate in a complex and dangerous world. Clinton managed to do this once or twice like with: "A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers near the nuclear codes."

On June 15 2015 Trump announced his bid for the presidency. With that - to quote the Bee Gees again - he "started a joke, which started the whole world crying". However, what to most sounded like a joke at the time has turned out to be serious. Last night's debate has highlighted how serious indeed a Trump presidency would be and the debate has not substantially lowered Trump's chances of winning.

We have no winner yet

Overall, Trump did not do as badly as many would have expected and he reinforced the impression that - especially with Republican dominated House and Senate - he could do a lot of damage to the American and global economy (and this coming from the man who himself said: "We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble").

Clinton won the debate but she did not do as well as many would have hoped for. So, the upbeat reaction in the markets was perhaps a bit premature. Clinton will have to pick up her game quite a bit if she hopes to significantly improve her chances with the next two debates.

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