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BC Professor Evaluates First Presidential Debate

Boston College Assistant Professor of Communications Matt Sienkiewicz recently presented his views on the debating strategy of each presidential candidate as well as the effectiveness of the comments made by the candidates in light of the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26.

In a manner which seemed particularly critical of Mr. Trump’s tactics, Sienkiewicz communicated that the Republican nominee decided to “[double] down on a strategic assault on the mainstream media,” which included repeated denial of facts presented by his critics and a systematic targeting of the debate moderator Lester Holt, both of which are indicative of “a continuation of the strategy that began months ago” on the Trump campaign trail.

To Sienkiewicz, this suggested that Mr. Trump was “using the debate as a means to amplify his message to a smaller group”—a group that supports Mr. Trump already.  This is a surprising tactic, considering that many major news outlets predicted that a significant portion of the undecided voting population would be influenced by the matters of the first debate.

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Sienkiewicz extended this observation to Mr. Trump’s usage of social media.  He pointed out that Mr. Trump simply “kept repeating ... questionable versions of history that have spread virally through certain corridors of Twitter and Facebook, hoping to build further support in the areas of his demographic strength.”

“This is a new way of using media,” said Sienkiewicz, “that is, using media as a means of targeting, via social media, those people who you’re hoping to stir up most.”

However, he later went on to say that, despite Mr. Trump’s unusual methods of dealing with the media, his tactics may turn out to his benefit.  This would be the case if, as Mr. Trump appears to be hoping, the voter turnout is fairly low come November.  Such a situation could possibly favor Mr. Trump’s major supporting demographic.

On the other hand, Sienkiewicz noted that Mrs. Clinton took a more traditional approach to the debate.  “She was mostly there,” he said,  “to stand strong, look presidential, and hope that Trump would stumble into things that could work for her approach, including her social media presence.”

He also noted that unlike her opponent, Mrs. Clinton debated in a manner geared towards possibly swinging undecided voters, adding to her own base of support.

Sienkiewicz noted that “if Trump wishes to improve, he’ll have to find a way to convey a far, far greater depth of policy knowledge that he likely does not have.”  He suggested that Mr. Trump would likely attempt to “turn questions towards rehearsed, memorized bits that [suggest] consideration and knowledge.”

Alternatively, Sienkiewicz noted the possibility that Mr. Trump could rely on attacking his opponent directly rather than trying his hand at conveying knowledge of the current state of American and international politics.

“This,” said Sienkiewicz, “would seem desperate, perhaps, but couldn’t look much worse than he did in the first debate.”

He also suggested that “Clinton will try to recreate the last debate,” which he identified to be a “recipe for disappointment” on her side of the stage.

He presented the notion that, to this end, Clinton may attempt to widen her own voter base further while capitalizing on “recent revelations about taxes and Trump’s treatment of [actress] Alicia Machado.”

In terms of the upcoming debates, Sienkiewicz noted the inconsequential nature of the exchange between vice-presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, which occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Clearly, Sienkiewicz expressed his understanding that the true gravity of the debate schedule would rely upon the staunchly different tactics of Clinton and Trump—tactics which, as he suggests, may not change significantly over the course of future debates.

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Just an aspiring physicist spewing opinionated orations in the hope that someone is listening. Known to ride bicycles sometimes.