Wednesday, October 19, 2016

‘Psy-ops in the guest box’:
Dueling guests in Debate Round 3

IF YOU want to know who’s behind in a pre-election, three-debate, winner-take-all competition, look at the one who’s doing everything possible to distract the opponent and the public from focusing on what’s important: The issues at hand.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee much beleaguered by his own past as much as by the breathtakingly sorry present, has made diversionary tactics a stock in trade for the last sixteen months. Last time out, in the previous debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Trump brought along four women who had accused Hillary’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, of sexual indiscretion (or worse) back in the day of the 90s.

But for tonight’s Round 3 debate at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, both campaigns are set to deploy their own human campaign memes in a duel of sorts, what NPR’s Scott Horsley perfectly described as “psy-ops in the guest box .”

Clinton will take the more tactically navigable course of inviting two guests whose political identities couldn’t be more different yet, under Clinton’s call, more unified. And The Donald’s choices for debate guests strongly suggest he’ll pull out all the stops in a last-ditch move of imagistic desperation. If Team Trump attempts tonight to make heat synonymous with light, as it has in the past, it likely makes for must-see TV — the way a train wreck is a must-see roadside attraction.

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Because perplexing: The Trump campaign has invited two new people to sit in the Manipulated History Honorary Chairs: One is Pat Smith, the mother of San Smith, one of the four American officials who died Sept. 11-12, 2012, in the attack on the Benghazi embassy. Pat Smith, who’s been a vocal critic of Clinton, spoke with vigor and passion at the Republican National Convention this summer.

The addition of Smith as someone prepared to sit and stare in stony silence at Clinton for the whole debate makes a kind of poisoned, passive-aggressive sense. The fact that Clinton “personally” blames Clinton for the death of her son makes her appearance that much more poignant.

The other guest is more of a head-scratcher.

Malik Obama, the president’s half brother and a Trump supporter, has been invited to attend the debate as a guest of Team Trump. Malik, the president’s half-brother, has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, but not being an American citizen, it’s not clear what purpose or problematic associations he would have at the debate on Team Trump’s side. He can’t vote here, and there’s no one on the ballot named Obama, and his status as a non-citizen support carries the weight of the visitor expressing preference in a contest whose outcome he has no impact on at all.

Clinton's countering with two deep-pocketed players long in the public eye: Republican Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard and a former Republican presidential candidate, who was persuaded to sign on with Team Clinton as a fundraiser and evangelist, certainly on the grounds of expedient political practicality; and Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” cutthroat Mark Cuban, a man of seemingly independent mien who’s taken great relish in being a boil on Trump’s ass for months.

That’s your tale of the tape. Tonight may be one of those nights when the audience may be almost as interesting as the debaters themselves. There’s always the unpredictable afoot. It’s the third of three. And don’t forget, after everything else ... it’s happening in Las Vegas. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Image credit: Clinton-Trump faceoff: Frontline (PBS)

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