For many months, since Donald Trump got the nomination at the RNC, I have been writing that the presidential debates would likely be the most significant thing in the race because they would not only show that Hillary Clinton has a breadth of knowledge and experience, but also that Donald Trump literally does not know anything about a great many issues. I've said too, repeatedly, that Hillary Clinton would use the debates to relentlessly tell Donald Trump he was wrong, because Trump is insecure and can't take criticism (especially from a woman), and she would try to make his head explode. I noted, as well, that when he participated in the GOP primaries, those were really more like circus melees than actual debates, and he faced almost no criticism in them because he was saying what the GOP base believed, which meant he wasn't used to being in a real debate and being refuted.
And second, on Monday afternoon, right before the debate, I wrote the following to a friend -- "I think he’ll start out fairly strong for a half hour, maybe even an hour. But then her pounding on him will start to have an impact. I don’t think he’ll necessarily go haywire. But I do think it’s FAR, FAR, FAR more likely that he will than she will. I don’t expect him to say anything that baits her. She’s been attacked for 30 years, there’s nothing he can say that she hasn’t heard. And she went through 11 hours of being attacked by House Republicans. The question is if she will come across as so serious to the degree of becoming distant, or be more involving. I suspect she knows really well all about who she’s debating, so she’ll come across well, but we’ll see. But he absolutely can be baited. And she will be doing it ALL night."
Hey, I tries not to steers ya wrong...
CNN did a poll of people who watched the full debate. The participants skewed Democratic by 15 points. But the results were heavily in Clinton’s favor, by a far greater margin than the "skew." Almost double, in fact. Respondents said that Hillary Clinton won the debate 62-27%.
I do think that Donald Trump started out reasonable well. Not to the degree of running away with the debate or necessarily "winning," but he presented himself well and forcefully. He interrupted too much, but if something like that is done well, it can show an aspect of strength. Here though it was done a bit ham-fistedly. As were many of his asides, which he insisted on chiming in.
One of the best examples (or worst, depending on your point-of-view) came when Ms. Clinton pointed out that many sub-contractors and employees of Trump companies had been stiffed and not paid. To which, Donald Trump replied, for some unknown bizarre reason, "That was good business."
So much for the "Donald Trump cares for people like me" mantra...
This unfortunate aside was just as bad as later when Hillary Clinton talked about the assumption from past records that Donald Trump hasn't paid any taxes in recent years. (Wonderfully giving a litany of very personal reasons why not...) And rather than saying, "That's not true, I've paid a lot of taxes," Trump instead answered, for some unknown bizarre reason, "That makes me smart."
Forget all of the policy problems for Trump -- which were many, like rambling answers on nuclear bombs and something about Japan -- these two, unnecessary, clueless asides about purely personal matters showed precisely what I was talking about, that Donald Trump can't take personal criticism and would always have to chime in, always, always, no matter how unfocused it may be. Or how problematic for him. If it's about Donald Trump, he has to talk about himself. And that's why and how she kept baiting him all night.
It didn't help either when about halfway through the night, it all went kablooey. Whether Donald Trump didn't have the stamina he's been trying to chide Hillary Clinton about, or had no answers left in the tank, or couldn't muster up the interest, or got what actors call "flop sweat," his actions onstage and disjointedness got so bad that social media and some analysts wondered if he was on drugs, whether legally medicinal or cocaine. Personally, I just think that's Donald Trump, especially when challenged and criticized (and by a woman, no less). But whatever the cause, it wasn't pretty.
On MSNBC, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt called Donald Trump "incoherent" and "babbling." And "off the rails." Even Republican strategist Nicole Wallace described Trump's "complete incoherence on foreign policy." On "Fox News," even they acknowledged the debate didn't go well for Trump.
There was one thing Donald Trump had to do on Monday night. One. It was what Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan did in their first debates -- just show voters that he could be seen as president. If a candidate can do that, it can turn an election around. Donald Trump not only did not do that, he probably caused a lot of concern for many people.
And that's the point. As I said yesterday morning, what I thought about how the candidates did doesn't matter, nor does it matter what Clinton or Trump supporters thought. Those votes are settled. The only thing that mattered was what undecided voters thought -- and what moderate Republicans who were uncomfortable with being identified with Trump thought and were looking for a very public reason they could use to justify not voting for him. And I tried to watch the debate from that perspective as much as possible. And from that perspective, I think Donald Trump was not able to do the one thing he had to do. Be seen as someone who can be president. And as a result, that's a very big problem when you're someone who's running for president.
The race is not over. Nor close to being over. Polls are still tight, although Secretary Clinton is generally ahead by 3-5 points. And there are two more presidential debates to recover from (though I think the problem there will continue to hold for all the reasons I've been writing for months. Donald Trump will not pivot to become presidential because Donald Trump doesn't have it in him to be other than who he is, which is not presidential, but a racist, misogynist, sociopathic, egomaniacal, hate-filled bullying con man. Who literally does not know anything about a great many issues. And isn't going to become a world expert in three week, nor does he have it in him to especially try. Worse, he'll probably come out knowing he has to show he's better than last time when he got pummeled, so he may likely go into attack mode, which is about as non-presidential as Donald Trump gets, ignoring the one thing he as to accomplish with the debates. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if in the next debate he actually pulls out of some orifice what he afterwards said he was a gentleman about for not bringing up this time, the affairs by Hillary Clinton's husband -- something that not only would completely turn off undecided voters, but which Secretary Clinton will now be even more prepared for, since he just gave away some of his strategy...something Donald Trump has always said a good negotiator should never do...) But there still is more of the election to come, and six weeks to steady the ship, and be stronger at the next debates. However this was a big, new hurdle Trump built for himself. A problem when you're behind and don't need even little hurdles.
After the debate, MSNBC showed a soundless argument in the Trump camp as they were leaving the facility. It was later reported to be that Donald Trump was complaining there had supposedly been a "problem" with his microphone. And he wondering if it was done on purpose.
No, really. Forgetting that I doubt if any viewer in the world heard anything close to a "problem" with Donald Trump's microphone, when that is a candidate's take-away after a presidential debate, it is not A Good Thing.
There's so much to comment on and dissect about the debate -- like Trump's mythical "400 pound" guy on his bed who supposedly might possibly have hacked into the DNC headquarters, or Trump chiding Ms. Clinton for actually preparing for the debate, while his own lack of preparation was the foundation of his deeply-problematic night, or him stumbling around trying to explain what he meant about Hillary Clinton not looking presidential, or his almost literally stumbling around and fidgeting and sniffling and guzzling water (boy, howdy, I'll bet "Little Marco" Rubio got a chuckle out of that one, and more. But as the bottomline look at the event, is a pretty core sense of what went on during the debate.
And for Donald Trump it most decidedly wasn't pretty. Because, more than perhaps most anything, he didn't look presidential.