I haven’t followed boxing for years, but early in last night’s debate, Hillary Clinton caused me to start scoring it as if it were a boxing match. If memory serves, there is a “10-point must system” for scoring rounds. The winner of each round must get 10 points and the loser a lesser amount. I gave Clinton 10 points for each round.
I think it was the comment on Donald Trump’s father providing him with $14 million to start his own business that caused me to start thinking this way. Clinton had wasted no time in getting under Trump’s notoriously thin skin, and he promptly responded defensively.
As someone who will be voting for Clinton as soon as my ballot arrives, I was worried that her debate performance would demonstrate her worst qualities as a candidate – overly wonky, evasive, defensive, etc. It has been clear to me for some time that the way to go after Trump – apart from his ignorance, bigotry and manifest unfitness for the office – was to zing him with attacks on his self-perceived strengths, since he never fails to rise to the bait.
There was, of course, his discussion of the size of his penis in one of the Republican primary debates. This was occasioned by Marco Rubio’s throwaway line about Trump’s small hands. It would have been dismissed as a somewhat tasteless remark – if anyone even noticed it – had Trump not elevated it in a national forum. Then we had the remarkable Trump speech following a primary victory in which the stage was surrounded by Trump steaks, Trump water and other branded merchandise. All because Mitt Romney had criticized his unsuccessful business ventures.
Clinton kept it up. At one point she speculated that Trump did not disclose his tax returns because he did not pay federal taxes. Trump responded that makes him smart – I am sure much to the delight of those tax-paying low wage workers for whom he claims to be concerned.
Near the debate’s end, Clinton raised some of the numerous Trump comments derogating the physical appearance of women. After saying that Trump “loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them,” she noted that he referred to Alicia Machado, a winner of the Miss Universe contest, as “Ms. Piggy” and “Ms. Housekeeping,” an apparent comment on her Latina heritage. Once again, Trump demonstrated his inability to pass the baited hook and proceeded to discuss his negative comments about Rosie O”Donnell: “I said very tough things to her and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it.” Yes, this is a statement by the nominee of a major political party in a debate about the future of our country.
While one might think that any sensible person would treat this as an embarrassing exchange akin to obnoxious drunken comments at an office party, Trump instead doubled down on his remarks on his personal news outlet, “Fox and Friends.” In what Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has called the “full Khan,” referring to Trump’s attacks on a Gold Star mother, Trump continued to deride Machado for putting on weight after winning the Miss Universe contest.
So Trump was his usual boorish and ignorant self, which should be no surprise to anyone who has observed his behavior since he announced his candidacy. The surprise, to me, was the performance of the Democratic nominee.
I have often said that one of the maddening things about Clinton was that she does not come across in public settings as the person she is in smaller events. I have found her to be knowledgeable, witty and personable. I thought she was all of that last night, although the knowledgeable component was never in doubt.
The highlight for me came after Trump unleashed an unhinged rant in which he continued to perpetuate the demonstrable lie that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. He supported it on the Howard Stern show, but now wanted people to call the trustworthy Sean Hannity to confirm that he was opposed to it despite the recorded proof. Once he concluded his tirade, the moderator turned to Clinton for a response. She laughed, said “Whoo,” and did what has become an internet GIF of “The Shoulder Wiggle.” Kind of like “The Drive” or “The Fumble” of lore in the National Football League.
In the first Presidential debate in 2012, Mitt Romney did a number on Barack Obama. The punditocracy concluded Obama was finished. I do not recall reading anything in which Obama sought to blame anyone else or anything for his dismal performance.
Donald Trump, however, is never at fault. So far, he has blamed a defective microphone, although I did not notice any problem in understanding what came out of his mouth. He also thought moderator Lester Holt asked “unfair” and “hostile” questions. This from the tough guy who is a great negotiator and will “Make America Great Again” by virtue of his powerful and commanding personality.
There was a compelling – and yes, Presidential – person on the stage last night, and it was not Donald J. Trump.