In about two weeks, this debate won’t matter except for that short-term ceasing of the leaking of her polling lead, not an unimportant development.
Why? Maybe because Trump will, as his pal Rudy Giuliani already is suggesting, will pull out of the final two debates. Maybe because Trump now will unleash his threatened attacks on the Clinton family, i.e. using President Clinton’s marital infidelities more publicly (which only will open Trump to the same criticisms and, I doubt, gain him any votes. But left on his own, he just can't help himself). Maybe Trump will develop some policy proposals that make sense. Maybe Hillary will make another dumb "deplorables" type comment.
But, back to the debate itself. The only policy idea Trump mentioned all night was his theft of Ronald Reagan’s policy: cut taxes. Trump believes if we do that, the wealthy “will create jobs.” Otherwise he had no policy suggestions that I heard but he had a lot of criticisms of the government, Hillary and the country.
He’s still pushing that he alone is the one who can lead the working man and woman back to being full participants in the economic recovery. This from the man who wants to cut taxes on the wealthy. This from the man who proudly last night said that his taking advantage of contractors and working people was good business and that his corporate bankruptcies were him showing how smart he was to take advantage of the laws in place and that his not paying taxes (which he came awfully close to admitting) again shows how smart he is.
In short, he’s a rich guy who gets richer by using the laws created to help businesses, not individuals, and by using accounting gimmicks and gaming the laws so as not to pay his taxes and contribute to maintaining a social safety net and a military capability for our country. And by screwing the little guy. This is the man claiming to be leading a populist movement.
Trump last night reminded me a lot of Al Gore, whose deep breaths of exasperation did him in during one of his debates. Trump sighed, gasped, interrupted throughout the night.
On Mrs. Clinton’s side, she was not immune from stretching the truth in her comments (TPP is one example. She was a strong supporter when it was created but that support faded, not because of Trump, as he claimed, but because of the politics of the issue); she does have an email problem (at least she admits it though). She was not called to task by Trump or the moderator on her “deplorables” comment or other comments she’s made – fault Mr. Trump for not finding ways of working those in to his answers. (Snarky but true tangent: It’s hard to work in that kind of thing when he’s so focused on talking about himself or Rosie O’Donnell. The election is supposed to be about us, not him.)
She did look more presidential than he did, again a low bar but she looked like the adult on the stage last night.
What she did prove is that preparation matters. Trump, if we’re to believe him and his camp – and we are constantly admonished by Mr. Trump to “believe me” – did not prepare. He thought he was back on the GOP primary stage with multiple other candidates where he could hide for long periods of time, and then pop in with a put down or a coarse nickname and steal the headline. Not a smart one-on-one strategy, though.
Last night, Trump was out of his league on the debate stage. She was prepared, he was not. She did show a “friendlier” side of her personality and was unflappable. She had a strategy and wasn’t knocked off of it. If he had a strategy, I can’t tell you what it was.
Unlike others “punditting” on the debate, I thought Trump was never strong, not even in those first 10 minutes others are crediting him with strength. During those 10 minutes he was more understated, he called her “Secretary” Clinton instead of “crooked” Hillary, and that for him I guess is considered a sign of maturity and he wasn’t out of control. Yes, the measurement of an acceptable presidential candidate has changed.
The split-screen presentation was a very smart way to produce the debate so we could watch their reactions in real time. I found myself focused on whoever wasn’t talking at the moment to catch their reactions. And Lester Holt did fine. He asked questions, and let them have at it. Did he have full control of the show? No, he didn’t, but I’ve yet to see a moderator in a presidential debate have full control, it’s not what we want from debates. We want some give and take and free form. We want to see who these people really are.
But this is just the first of three scheduled presidential debates. We’ve seen others lose the first debate (hello Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan) and come back to win the next debate and the election. Oh, and the election after that, too.
The question is, can Donald Trump learn from his mistakes. Oh, wait, he doesn’t admit to making mistakes so I’m guessing not.