NEW YORK – The Donald Trump campaign, according to staff members and insiders who spoke to WND, believes its candidate successfully executed a plan to hold back on aggressive attacks on opponent Hillary Clinton, focusing, instead, on projecting a presidential bearing.
A survey of snap polls after the debate Monday night at Hofstra University validates the plan, the Trump team members told WND.
Trump was widely criticized by pundits for not attacking Clinton when opportunities arose during the debate. But the campaign says it knew in advance Clinton would try to bait Trump into traps that would cost the campaign momentum, having to spend several days in post-debate damage control.
Clinton telegraphed her debate strategy last month. The New York Times reported Aug. 29 the Clinton campaign had hired psychological experts to help devise a strategy that would bait Trump into making costly mistakes, including being perceived as overly aggressive “with a woman as his sole advisory on the debate stage.”
The New York Times said Clinton, “a deeply competitive debater, wants to crush Mr. Trump on live television, but not with an avalanche of policy details; she is searching for ways to bait him into making blunders.”
Snap judgment for Trump
The instant polls taken immediately after the debate, although not scientific, almost unanimously showed Trump was the winner of Monday night’s first presidential debate, with Clinton winning only the CNN poll. The CNN poll was the only attempt at a scientific sampling, though it was heavily weighted toward Democrats (41 percent of respondents versus 26 percent GOP) in a sample size of only 521 registered voters.
Trump won not only the Drudge poll (82 percent), but also polls by Slate (55 percent), Politico (77 percent), Fortune magazine (53 percent), Time magazine (55 percent) and CNBC (68 percent).
The London Daily Mail reported that the majority of snap polls show Trump won the debate “by a landslide,” with the Republican candidate overwhelmingly winning even local polls, such as WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio (60 percent), the San Diego Union-Tribune (66 percent) and WKRN-TV in Nashville, Tennessee (63 percent).
At a minimum, the instant polls show the enthusiasm of Trump supporters compared to Clinton backers.
The Clinton debate strategy keyed off a perceived Trump weakness, taking the playbook from how MSNBC host Chris Matthews moderated a town hall interview with Trump during the Wisconsin primary last April, which Trump lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 48 to 35 percent.
In the interview, Matthews skillfully maneuvered Trump into giving the cable network a sound bite in which Trump appeared to suggest women should be criminally punished for having abortions in jurisdictions where it is outlawed.
See Trump’s response on abortion:
The Clinton campaign apparently saw it as a “gotcha moment” that Trump was insufficiently adept to avoid. The Clinton team hoped its candidate could lure Trump into a similar misstep.
Had Trump attacked Clinton aggressively over a variety of obvious weaknesses — ranging from Clinton Foundation scandals, to the Benghazi terrorist attack, to her “extreme carelessness” handling classified emails on her private server as secretary of state — the Clinton campaign “spin doctors” were ready to pounce on Trump as an aggressive male spouting “refuted” GOP talking points or conspiracy theories.
Even when Clinton attacked Trump as “sexist” as the debate wound down, Trump refrained from lashing back. He easily could have said Monica Lewinsky is the only proof needed that the Clintons have waged a tag-team war to silence Bill Clinton’s female victims.
Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich tacitly verified the Trump strategy, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity after the debate that Trump’s refusal to take a shot at Hillary Clinton at that moment was “the best single moment” of the entire evening.
Trump broke tradition by appearing in the press “spin room” at Hofstra where he explained he didn’t want to mention her husband’s abuse of women because he knew Chelsea Clinton was in the audience and he did not want to offend the family.
The point was clear: Trump was attempting to outmaneuver the Clinton attack team plan to portray him as an out-of-control bully. From the standpoint of the Trump team, the punch not taken nevertheless spotlighted Clinton’s vulnerability on the sexual-abuse issue.
Biased against Trump?
On the eve of the debate, as Breitbart reported, CNN’s Brian Stelter said moderator Lester Holt signaled to his NBC colleagues that he would try to avoid the left-wing backlash suffered by Matt Lauer at the Commander-in-Chief Forum last month and be aggressive with “fact-checking.”
Critics of Holt’s performance dubbed him the “third debater,” and the Washington Examiner found the moderator interrupted Trump at least six times to ask follow-up questions, while never interrupting Clinton, helping to keep Trump on the defensive.
And Holt never raised the major issues such as Clinton’s email server, Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.
The Trump campaign anticipated that Trump would be challenged by Holt in a manner resembling Candy Crowley’s challenge of Republican Mitt Romney in the third debate with President Obama in 2012. Holt, in fact, pressed Trump on issues such as stop-and-frisk, Trump’s opposition to the war in Iraq and the controversy over Obama’s constitutional eligibility.
In each case, Trump was prepared to hold his ground, pointing out there is no Supreme Court decision declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and that, except for a brief comment on Howard Stern’s radio show, he had spoken out against the Iraq war, while Clinton as U.S. senator had voted for it.
Moreover, Trump noted, Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 started the birther controversy by releasing to media an anonymous letter alleging Obama was not born in Hawaii, as well as the first photos of Obama in Kenya wearing traditional Muslim garb.
Holt’s handling of the debate became a major topic on Facebook and Twitter ahead of Trump’s telephone interview on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning. Asked about the controversy, Trump refused to accuse the NBC News host of bias.
When host Steve Doocy asked Trump what grade he would give Holt, Trump said a “C,” adding he thought the news anchor asked unfair questions at the end.
“I thought he was OK,” Trump said.