Discipline and Focus

 Las Vegas, Nevada

By Mary Hughes

Last March, as I stood next to Secretary Clinton waiting to have our picture taken, I thanked her for exercising such focus and discipline in the campaign. “What you are doing means so much to so many women,” I offered.

At that moment there wasn’t time to explain that earlier that month 21 women had filed in 17 California legislative districts close the gap CA targeted to increase the number of women serving in the California Legislature. Had there been a minute more I might have also thanked her for setting a standard of performance for these women candidates that might help restore voters’ confidence in public servants.

Sitting in UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center watching as the presidential candidates walked to their podiums for the third and final debate, I was reminded of my compliments, spoken and unspoken, and how little either of us knew then what would be required of her in the months to come.
I sensed less an air of anticipation in the room than inevitability. In the first two debates, it hadn’t taken but a few minutes for Donald Trump to interrupt, free associate and let go with the verbal jabs. Pundits had written that a good final debate would see him stick to his message and keep the wild swings to a minimum. So it was only a bit of a surprise when both candidates began in a sober tone and argued their points.

The first 30 minutes unfolded evenly and with less bombast than in the previous debates.
The back and forth was comparatively civil. But soon their voices rose as they parried on the debt, entitlements and immigration. Trump accelerated into his rhythm of critiquing her service, her husband’s record, the government and the state of the country. Clinton cited her plans and the shortcomings in his, providing supporting data and authorities in her answers. She derided his plan to deport millions; he mocked her “open borders’ mentality. They talked over each other.

For her, questions related to women and children evoked a genuine compassion and steely resolve beyond other proficient answers. Her defense of Roe v Wade and a woman’s right not to have the government dictate personal and family decisions used words that American voters have heard thousands of times. This time, though, those words were spoken by a woman who could shape government policies and choose the Court’s decision makers. Policy expertise in combination with personal experience made a powerful impression.


For him, trade, foreign policy and Obama-care presented opportunities to point out her incompetence, her failures, words he repeated again and again. And in this, he missed his chances. There are legitimate critiques to be made and prior decisions to be examined, but he had neither the depth of knowledge nor facility with foreign policy to truly call her to account. Instead, he spoke in National Enquirer-like headlines, exposing his shallow base of knowledge.

The media has reported Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election as the point of no return for his candidacy. I was more struck by Clinton’s examination of their relative experience and preparation for the job, ending with the pointed, powerful comparison of her overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden while Trump presided over the reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice.

Trump speaks in headlines, not in text and certainly not in footnotes. His absolute unwillingness to get bogged down by facts, to learn a subject and be conversant in it, is unprecedented among modern presidential candidates. When pushed by moderator Chris Wallace on his erroneous statement that Aleppo had fallen, for example, he doubled down, defaulting to his catch-all that Aleppo was “a disaster.”

In contrast, Clinton speaks in case notes and outlined arguments, supported by evidence and punctuated by recognized authorities. Applying oneself rigorously to learn a subject, analyze it and come to a reasoned understanding seems almost old fashioned in a time of instant info. Yet, that focus and discipline is essential to assess the diverse set of issues a president faces.

It is the lesson that every current and aspiring women candidate undoubtedly took away from the debate and one I hope close the gap CA recruits absorb: there is no substitute for knowing what you are talking about. Focus and discipline will get you there.

Moderator Chris Wallace surprised the candidates by requesting a one-minute close. Secretary Clinton reiterated her motivation and experience, expressed her hope that voters would support her. As she said her last word, I looked up at the timekeeper’s clock. It clicked to 00.00.

She landed perfectly, just like she practiced.

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