Hillary Clinton had a decent enough answer when asked, at the very end of her second debate against Donald Trump, to name one thing she respected about the Republican nominee for US president.
“Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that. And I think that is something that as a mother and a grandmother is very important to me.”
It was a very diplomatic response, and perhaps even brave, considering that she went first. But her answer probably didn’t win her any points from voters in Trump’s column, and it probably didn’t get her any votes from the undecideds either.
What she ought to have said is something like this: “Look, I respect Donald’s accomplishments in connecting with a slice of America that has been hurting economically. In particular, he has given voice to millions of white, working-class men, whose concerns about the direction of our country are as real and as valid as anyone else’s. This is a group I fought for, and won the trust of, as a senator from New York, and I will fight for you again as your president.”
That would have been a powerful way to connect with voters—if not the ones who already are in Trump’s camp, then at least the ones who are sympathetic to their reasons for being there.
Meanwhile, here’s how Trump described what he respects about his Democratic opponent:
“I will say this about Hillary—she doesn’t quit, she doesn’t give up. I respect that she’s a fighter. I disagree with much of what she’s fighting for. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases. But she does fight hard, and she doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up, and I consider that to be a very good trait.”
It was a rare bit of graciousness shown by Trump that evening, it contained nothing but truth, and it arguably helped diffuse the notion that he is incapable of respecting women. In short, he could not have fielded the question any better than he did.