I love the presidential debates. Why, especially in a campaign that will go down in history as one of the nastiest? Because the debates uncover what the candidates want to cover. They ultimately show us the character of the candidates. And they tell us a great deal about how each person would rule, should they win the election.
This year was no different from any other.
For most of the campaign, the media reported that Donald Trump was unique and that he could say anything without exacting any penalty from the electorate. We were also told that Hillary Clinton was a flawed, unpopular, programmed candidate who could do nothing but damage herself in the debates because, surely, Trump and the moderators would pummel her with the emails and the foundation and Benghazi! It turned out that exactly the opposite was true.
Hillary Clinton’s performance in the three debates will become mandatory viewing for anyone who aspires to national office. She utterly defeated, deflated and defanged Donald Trump with clinical efficiency and cool professional effectiveness. She turned questions about her weaknesses into attacks on Trump, and was able to deflect the more damaging accusations into her past with a smile. Of course, we all want candidates to answer for their sins, but part of being a great debater is knowing how to parry and evade. Clinton did that; Trump did not. By the end of the third debate, it was crystal clear that Trump did not prepare or have any strategy other than to bully, interrupt, cite questionable evidence or hurl accusations.
And this is where the debates were so instructive. They really did show us that the Trump campaign is a Potemkin operation, built on personality and the teachings of Chairman Breitbart, with the GOP’s greatest conspiratorial hits from the 1990s thrown in. They also showed that Trump is not suited for the presidency. Given the biggest stage of the campaign, he didn’t prepare, and it showed. His answers were short and scattered, he didn’t press advantages that he did have, and his behavior was abominable. For someone who was supposed to be able to use his television experience, his body language showed him to be too aggressive, and his constant interruptions came off as ill-mannered. He went for every piece of chum that Hillary threw at him and he got angry, which rarely plays well on the tube (contrast Trump with Reagan’s “I paid for that microphone” line to see the difference between power and tantrum).
Clinton was not perfect, but she was close. Trump helped by letting her off the hook on many occasions and by reacting too emotionally when she brought up things that he didn’t expect, which is part of debate preparation. She interrupted him at times despite her promise to “go high,” but she understood that she had to seem even more in control because she’s a woman, so she couldn’t back down. At the third debate, where she essentially closed the deal on the election, Clinton spoke forcefully and in command of the issues. She’s clearly thought a great deal about them over the course of her adulthood and she enunciated them impeccably last week. Trump played along for a while, but his lack of preparation, personal control, and content sunk him.
In the end, we learned a great deal about each candidate. Clinton did her due diligence, Trump did not. She displayed a command of events and issues and explained them in cogent, factual terms. Trump was able to do that on occasion, but he then got caught in rhetorical whirlpools which led to what unfortunately became signature moments that didn’t help his campaign. She was able to put him on the defensive and keep him there; he tried, but didn’t have the intellectual stamina to press his points. He called her names and accused Clinton of conspiracies and plots that the right has manufactured for almost 30 years. He also, fatally, said he would not accept defeat.
As for Trump being able to say anything he wanted and get away with it, those days ended for good with the groping tape. Trump had always been penalized for what he said, rarely polling over 42% nationwide and never leading in the electoral college count, but the media couldn’t fold up its tent in July, so they continued to feed us the story that this campaign was different and that political correctness was on the run. Yes, there is a sizable group of people in this country who support Trump and what he says, but there are far more who finally saw through his tactics and are abandoning him with impressive speed.
The record low for a major party candidate in a presidential election is a popular vote of 39%. I predict that Trump will poll lower on election day. He’ll cry fraud, but he’s the only fraud in the race. Clinton beat him fair and square in three debates because she’s the most qualified of the two, and of many more, to be president.0