Before the second presidential debate began, Donald Trump let it be known that he was going to go “nuclear” on Hillary Clinton.
I think he’s going to need bigger nukes next time.
And shovels. A lot of shovels. To dig himself out of all the holes he dug himself into.
It’s not that the questions were bad or the issues unimportant. It’s just that Trump kept being Trump. Which is to say ill-informed, unprepared and often preposterous.
And this was a very, very important debate to Trump. It’s always important when there is a videotape of a candidate acting like a serial sexual predator.
So Trump needed a strategy and the ability to carry it out.
Instead, he fell back on a shopworn tactic: lie, change the subject and then lie some more.
The trouble is, Trump’s behavior had been captured ON TAPE.
Did his highly paid campaign team forget about that? Or did Donald wish it away into the misty reaches of his memory?
The tape is like Bill Clinton and Monica’s little blue dress. Bill Clinton could lie about Monica Lewinsky all he wanted to. Until the results came back from the FBI lab.
And this is how it went for Trump on Sunday night under questioning from Anderson Cooper:
AC: You called what you said locker room banter — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women.
DT: I don’t think you understood. This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But certainly this is locker room talk. When we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have frankly drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over, where you have so many bad things happening … ”
AC: So, Mr. Trump —
DT: Get on to much more important things and much bigger things.
AC: Just for the record, though, are you saying what you said on the bus 11 years ago that you did not kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?
DT: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.
AC: So, for the record, you’re saying you never did that.
DT: I said things that frankly, you hear these things. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.
AC: Have you ever done those things?
DT: No, I have not.
Which is a lie. No matter what ISIS chops off and the terrible things it does with those steel cages, there is still a videotape of Trump admitting to being a sexual predator.
And what the religious right of Trump’s party — which includes his running mate Mike Pence — wants is genuine contrition from Trump.
In his statement Saturday night, Pence said he and the American people “look forward to the opportunity [Trump] has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.”
Pence’s choice of words is important. He said Trump had to show America “what is in his heart.” This is called showing “contrition,” and to a religious conservative it is a very, very important thing.
But did Trump show contrition? Naw. He didn’t even bother to apologize to the women he groped. In fact, he didn’t even admit to groping them.
And speaking of Pence, Trump threw Pence under the missile launcher during the debate.
Trump was asked if he agreed with Pence that U.S. military force should be used against the military forces of Syria if necessary.
Trump was not only asked this, but was reminded that his running mate favored the use of force.
“OK,” Trump said casually, “he and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.”
They haven’t spoken? Was Trump too busy dismantling his campaign to speak to his running mate?
When it came to foreign policy in general, Trump was very weak. Hillary had blamed Russia for the hacking of American accounts and Trump was asked if he agreed.
“She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking; maybe there is no hacking,” he said. “But they always blame Russia and the reason they blame Russia because they think they are trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know, I know about Russia but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia.”
Not knowing anything about the inner workings of one of America’s most powerful adversaries is usually not considered a qualification for the presidency. But Trump may be writing a new book: “The Art of Not Knowing About Foreign Policy When Running Against a Former Secretary of State.”
Then Trump was asked about his income tax returns that he has refused to make public.
“You have not answered, though, a simple question,” Cooper said. “Did you use that $916 [million] loss to avoid paying federal income taxes?”
“Of course I do,” Trump replied gleefully. “Of course I do.”
Hillary had complained about “people like Donald who paid zero in taxes, zero for our vets, zero for our military, zero for health and education — that is wrong.”
“See?” Trump countered. “I understand the tax code better than anybody that’s ever run for president!”
And maybe he does. It’s just the art of debating that he doesn’t get.
Roger Simon is POLITICO’s chief political columnist.