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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Did you know that Clinton has done dozens of townhalls all over the world?

by digby

I didn't. But apparently, this was one of her big things when she was Secretary of State:
The serious challenge Trump faces Sunday is that few candidates have ever been better prepared for this format than Hillary Clinton. Her secret weapon is that she revels in town halls—and she has practiced for them far more than people realize.

All told, Clinton held 60 town halls around the world in her four years as secretary of state, an average of more than one a month, and got a lot of practice answering tough questions, especially about women’s issues (a topic certain to be front and center Sunday night after Trump boasted in a video about groping women’s genitals). As a diplomatic correspondent who traveled with her, I was there for many of them, including her first and last town halls abroad, in Japan and Latvia. Clinton may have challenges seeming “relatable” to ordinary people, as comedian Kate McKinnon has mined for laughs on “Saturday Night Live” and as Clinton’s newly disclosed Goldman Sachs speech transcripts may suggest (or at least as some Republicans are contending). She also may not be the greatest public speaker or political talent of her time, especially compared with Barack Obama and her husband, Bill Clinton. But if you thought she was well prepared for the first debate with Trump, that’s nothing compared to the hundreds of hours she’s spent in town halls.

Clinton’s town halls—dubbed “townterviews” by her canny media adviser Philippe Reines—were a unique and distinctive feature of her tenure as secretary of state, a chance for her to engage with ordinary people around the world and State Department employees back home. Other secretaries have taken questions from foreign audiences, but Clinton embraced town halls like no one in that job has before or since, making them her signature form of “public diplomacy.”

From Nairobi to Moscow to Kuala Lumpur, she practiced the art of the town hall—attentive listening, empathizing with people’s problems and offering policy prescriptions. Speaking without notes or a teleprompter, she parried unscripted questions that were often surprising, usually policy-oriented, sometimes hostile, and occasionally quite personal. In this particular format, she has an edge on reality TV star Trump, whose role on “The Apprentice” was at least partly scripted, and whose trademark campaign event is a stream-of-consciousness arena speech—not a nitty-gritty Q&A with skeptical voters.

It is true, of course, that a town hall of undecided American voters is not a perfect analogue to an audience of foreigners hosting a visiting dignitary. By her own admission, Clinton is far more in her element when she’s serving in public office than when she’s running for it. Having covered her presidential campaigns as well as her time as secretary, I can safely conclude that Clinton seems palpably more comfortable in her own skin when she’s doing a job than when Americans who’ve scrutinized her public and private decisions for a quarter-century question her judgment and fitness for office.

And as challenging as town halls could be when she was secretary, crowds overseas treated her respectfully, and questions were generally about U.S. policies or her experience as a woman in politics. She never faced affronts to her character or challenges about paid speeches on Wall Street or her husband’s infidelities—issues that may come in the next debate.

Still, Trump should beware: Clinton is fully primed for the inevitable questions about the treatment of women. At nearly every event, women in the audiences, both in first-world and developing countries, asked Clinton about obstacles faced by her and women in general, and about issues ranging from work-life balance and workplace bias to barriers to girls’ education, honor killings and sex trafficking. The sexism highlighted by Trump’s crude comments is something she has heard and talked about a lot with ordinary men and women in town halls around the world.

At a girls’ school in Kolkata, India, she talked about a powerful meeting the day before with girls who had been rescued from the sex trade, and was asked numerous times about additional scrutiny and double-standards faced by women in politics in the U.S. and India, not to mention misogyny and gender-based attacks.

“It’s true globally; it’s not limited to any one country,” Clinton replied. “Violence against women, unfortunately, is still a problem everywhere. … We do have a big agenda ahead of us, and it’s very important that both men and women be invested in changing the underlying attitudes that lead to these discriminatory practices.” A lot of heads were nodding at that moment, among both women and men in the audience.
Maybe Trump will show the discipline to try to win back some of the officials who've been deserting the sinking ship by showing contrition and humility. But if not, it seems likely that Clinton is prepared to meet the challenge.