This is amazing. A couple of college professors did an experiment where they recreated the 2016 debates with actors replicating the exact words and gestures of the candidates. But there was one twist: Trump was played by a woman and Clinton by a man. They wanted to see how sexism played into our perception of the debates.
Yeah, it’s not how you’re thinking:
We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.
This reflects something I heard from a lot of my friends and family who supported Trump. All the pundits (including me) concluded that Trump’s debate performances were disastrous. And certainly there were times when he flailed badly. His grasp of facts was non-existent. Had this been a high-school debate team match, he would have lost.
But this wasn’t a high-school debate. This was two highly unlikable candidates trying to win our trust. And for all of Trump’s bumbling, he was straight-forward and had a clear message. Clinton had reams of policy details but no real message other than, as Dave Barry noted, “I’m a woman and I will fight for families or something”.
Here is a clip.
I always disliked Clinton and found her debate performances to be poor. I couldn’t understand how the media proclaimed her to be such a great politician and the clear winner of each debate. Having a male actor play her enhances my perception, driving home why I dislike her performance. She was smug, entitled and disconnected from ordinary concerns. It jumps a little more strongly when the opponent isn’t an asshole as well.
But what surprises me is how much this changes my perception of Trump. With his personal baggage removed, his message becomes much clearer. I still disagree with it but I can understand why it appealed to people and why many could overlook his personal/political/financial shortcomings.
There are caveats here: it’s only one experiment and could be entirely a result of the actor and actress chosen for the roles. Perhaps, with different actors, we would perceive it differently. But even with those caveats, I think it’s an astonishing result. It shows just how thick the liberal bubble was and just how much their perception of Clinton was shaded by their hatred of Trump and their heartfelt desire to see a woman become President. It really illustrates a point one Trump supporter made to me right before the election: if you took away Clinton’s gender, what was left? An ethically-dubious philosophically-muddled long-time political insider who couldn’t understand why the country was so angry.