A Recap Of Tonight’s Presidential Debate

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Hopefully, this will be the only analysis of tonight’s debate that you’ll absolutely need.

Hillary prepared for the debate. She seemed delighted by the opportunity to attack Trump, and unperturbed by his lies and accusations, and genuinely concerned for the future of the country. Her smile was genuine.

Trump prepared, too, but it didn’t show. He seemed confused and amateurish, very much the privileged brat who doesn’t know when he’s beaten. He frequently nodded along when Hillary spoke, which looked terrible, because he was also in the habit of agreeing with her verbally — Trump let Hillary decide the tone, and the terms, on one subject after another.

The moderator constantly got in Trump’s way. Trump wasn’t allowed to run roughshod over his time limits. He wasn’t allowed to change the subject or duck hard questions. Trump’s habit of constantly asking for a chance to reply, when that was already built into the debate format, made him sound petulant. Hillary, on the other hand, was composed and patient. She just smiled at his tantrums.

Hillary tried out various catchphrases, none of which worked. “Trumped-up trickle down” was both lame and obscure. “I’ve prepared for the Presidency” was a nice rejoinder, but she over-delivered it. Taglines are Trump’s strength, not hers. But where was the barnstorming Trump we all remember from his primary debates? Instead of that Trump, we got almost the opposite: a guy creating negative catchphrases that made him look stupid. He said, referring Hillary’s negative campaign ads, “that’s not nice.” It was weak and whiny. Trump muttered non-words like “bigly” and “braggadocious.” He misspoke constantly, and it cost him, because he eventually said that Hillary didn’t “look” Presidential. It was an obviously sexist remark, and Hillary clinched the debate with her response. Nobody will ever forget that Trump thinks women are “pigs” and “dogs.”

The substance of the policy statements was very weak on both sides. Trump sounded ridiculous when he started stuttering about taking guns away from “bad men.” He claimed to have influenced NATO policy, which wasn’t believable. He seemed fixated on the issue of international trade, as if nothing else mattered (and Hillary called him on it). He sounded uninformed about cyberterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the Middle East. (“Did Russia hack the DLC?” Not a rhetorical question — he didn’t have a clue.) All he could remember were a handful of talking points: the “Iran deal” and the bogeyman ISIS. Trump played fast and loose with numbers — for example, remember when he magically turned $2.5 billion into $5 billion? He constantly seemed to be thinking out loud, and making up promising new lies on the spot, as if we weren’t there.

Hillary kept referring us to her published material, which is boring and a cop-out. Her plans for an “intelligence surge,” combined with “vacuuming up” foreign intelligence, was either empty rhetoric or else a little scary. Her confidence that America can win the future by, um, building millions of solar panels…is just unfounded, and unfortunately reminded everyone of Obama’s less successful alt-energy ventures. Her plans for defeating ISIS were nothing special. Hillary kept insisting that independent analyses of herself and Trump showed that she had the better plan for our economy…and Trump should have mocked these nameless “independent” endorsements. Instead, he jumped into the trap. If you want to give the wealthy a tax cut, vote Trump. If you want to create jobs for working-class Americans, vote Hillary. That was how it looked when the dust settled.

Hillary did make a couple of well-rehearsed promises. She’ll raise the minimum wage, push for paid family leave, re-train the police, and work in partnership with other nations. Trump, meanwhile, couldn’t keep a single policy platform afloat. “Stop and frisk” got destroyed when the moderator and Hillary ganged up on Trump (with facts). Trump’s point about ISIS and the Internet never went anywhere, probably because he was scared to promise something he can’t possibly deliver: namely, that ISIS will be somehow “kicked off” the Internet. Trump complaining that millionaires and billionaires can’t move their Cayman Island bank accounts back onshore, because of “red tape,” was just laughable.

Hillary talked about Americans. Trump talked about himself. Hillary invoked her professional experience as Secretary of State, and her husband’s record as President, when it made sense to do so. Trump dragged us down Memory Lane for discussions of his father, his club in Palm Beach, and his IRS audits…and it was terribly, terribly dull, every time. Who is Ed Blumethal? More importantly, who cares? Why was Trump objecting to NAFTA, which went into effect 22 years ago? Are we interested in what Trump (circa 1996) would think of Trump now? No, we’re not. Hillary was positively glowing with the knowledge she was winning.

Trump couldn’t weasel out of questions about his (still undisclosed) tax returns. When Hillary brought up his ugly record of actually not paying laborers and craftsmen, Trump said “Well, maybe I was unsatisfied,” as if that explained everything. He had nothing at all to say when Hillary mocked him for declaring bankruptcy six times. When she added, in a pleasantly arch way, “some business owners haven’t declared bankruptcy even once,” it really seemed like Trump needed the reminder.

Trump tried to re-spin, again, his recent debacles “courting” African-Americans. He got shown up when Hillary praised, earnestly, the success stories in our black communities. “I say nothing [about race],” Trump kept repeating. It was a sign of panic, and his claim that street gangs are full of illegal immigrants was a desperate move. A shout-out to his racist constituency wasn’t compatible with this “reasonable,” moderate, fact-checking (!) version of Trump. His stuff about gangs needed to at least sound like a fact, and it didn’t. How many people were murdered in Chicago, Donald? 4,000? 3,000? We listened to him and silently wondered if he knew any statistics about any city other than Chicago. In reply, Hillary cited national crime statistics from memory — not because she’d memorized them specifically for the debate, but because she is educated, experienced, informed.

Hillary didn’t always sound the right note. Some of her sentences weren’t sentences. Midway through the debate, she seemed angry and smug, and it took her a while to relax again. Trump did a good job interrupting her attacks by saying “WRONG,” but that wasn’t nearly enough. When Trump started getting personal he had no credibility left. He abandoned the issues to talk about “stamina” and “temperament,” and he sounded like an insecure man afraid to see a woman become President. Hillary didn’t need to be especially witty or nimble when she replied. She only needed to seem unruffled, and she did much better than that. She seemed like a deadly lawyer who had just been handed an unexpectedly easy win.

I want somebody that fearless and capable on my side. So does the rest of America. It is over. Trump has lost.

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