Whether you are a person who relishes the confrontational nature of a presidential debate or one who detests it, the debates are one of the traditions in America’s political process. When Stephen Douglas debated Abraham Lincoln, the common debate format was much different. The opening debater got to speak for a whole hour. The person who went second got to speak for an hour and a half, followed by a half hour rebuttal by the opening speaker. There was no moderator, and the candidates often yelled expletives at each other in the process.
Today, we actually have a more civil and streamlined debate process than in the 1800’s, but there are some classic confrontational themes that continue to pop up in modern debates. Here is a look at a couple of them that were seen in Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump’s first presidential debate together on September 26th.
Big Guy Versus Little Guy
The familiar populist appeal of big guy versus little guy was a theme dusted off and replayed by Clinton even though both candidates fall squarely into the wealthy American category. Clinton, who has $80 million dollars in net worth, cast herself in the little guy role while she branded Trump, with $3.7 billion dollars in net worth, a big guy. To differentiate herself from Trump she pitted her father, a small business man with a Chicago screen printing business, against his father, a wealthy real estate developer.
“My father was a small businessman” Clinton stated. “He worked really hard, he printed drapery fabrics on long tables where he pulled out those fabrics and he went down with the silkscreen and dumped the paint in and took the squeegee and kept going.” This story combined the appeal of the modestly successful self-made business man doing skilled manual labor in the course of his business.
Clinton then used the $14 million dollar loan that Trump had to denigrate his start in business and to cast doubt on his ethics. “You know, Donald was very fortunate in his life and that’s all to his benefit. He started his business with fourteen million dollars borrowed from his father and he really believes that the more you help wealthy people, the better off we will be and that everything will work out from there.” Clinton alluded that Trump is overly optimistic about his economic plan because of how his world view was shaped.
Trump vs. Clinton, or Reagan vs. Sanders?
At times it was hard to find an original idea from either candidate in the debate because both drew on candidates of yore for their proposed policy inspiration. Trump freely states who inspires his economic direction. Trump pronounced, “Under my plan I will be reducing taxes tremendously from thirty-five percent to fifteen percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.”
The Trump campaign must see power in evoking ideals of Reagan because their “Make America Great Again” slogan is strikingly similar to Reagan’s 1980 slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Clinton however, chose to gain followers by picking up some of the causes of one of her former opponents for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton juxtaposed Trump’s proposed economic policy with her own viewpoint, which has increasingly grown similar to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ viewpoint. She remarked, “I’ve heard from so many of you about the difficult choices you face and the stresses that you’re under. So let’s have paid family leave, earned sick days let’s be sure we have affordable childcare and debt-free college.” Additionally, she has now endorsed tuition-free public college for the “working families” classification.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Political debates with each candidate campaigning to elbow the other out of the competition is not new. The financial markets disregard of candidates is not new either. One outlook from Fisher Investments on the Presidential Debate is that though debate spectators and members of the media will try to predict which candidate will be good for the economy, it is not good to let emotions sway investment decisions. Similarly, Oppenhiemer Funds’ view is that while national elections and policies are important, they should not direct long-term investment decisions.
Although political commercials may proclaim doom if the opponent wins the election, in reality it takes many more elements than just one political candidate to shape the economic landscape. While our debates may be less overtly heated than Douglas and Lincoln’s, they are still filled with political claims and accusations. It is a good idea to focus on the long term with investments and not let debate season be a game changer.