Donald Trump lost the first debate to Hillary Clinton, and this left him with two weeks to study hard and come back strong. That didn’t happen, but to be fair, he was pretty distracted by three scandals — of his own creation — that plagued him all the way up to the night of the second debate. He feuded with a former Miss Universe for a week. Then the leak of some of Trump’s tax documents sent his team into defensive mode, and he was nearly undone when the Washington Post released audio of his extremely lewd commentary about women. This last tidbit was the most effective October surprise Democrats could have hoped for the first major-party female candidate.
The days leading up to the debate were full of speculation. Folks wondered if he’d pull out Bill Clinton’s sex scandals (he did). And many wondered if Trump would continue to shoot from the hip (he did that too). What Trump truly did was wage a scorched-earth attack on Clinton, the kind of to-her-face attack that Clinton haters have fantasized about for years. He rode in with nothing to lose — desperately firing at any target he could muster up — and yet managed to sink even further down into the muck before the debate even began by rolling into St. Louis with multiple accusers of Bill Clinton.
The declaration of who technically “won” this debate (other than Ken Bone) will likely be subject to several unscientific Internet polls (at least we know Fox News won’t be spreading them again), but an official CNN/ORC poll found that 57% of debate watchers declared Clinton the winner. 34% said they believed Trump won and that he “exceeded expectations,” which is a statement open for interpretation. In this town-hall style event, Trump stalked through the whole debate, sometimes appearing like a clinging apparition. He threatened to toss his opponent in jail, threw his running mate under the bus, and slung random words into the ether. Early on he insisted, “I’m a gentleman,” but the audience reaction was a telling one.
From there, Trump and Clinton’s different debate tactics were evident. As he launched multiple attacks, she reacted calmly (and almost warmly) to every shot fired. Let’s run down some prominent examples of this contrast.
Trump Tried To Deflect From ‘Locker Room Talk’ With Bill Clinton’s Sex Scandals
Early on Anderson Cooper reminded Trump, “You described kissing women without consent and grabbing their genitals … You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?” In response, Trump oddly pivoted and expressed his desire to “knock the head off of ISIS.” Anderson Cooper continued to press him on the lewd footage, and Trump insisted he wasn’t proud of his “locker room talk,” and can’t we please discuss some real issues? Martha Raddatz followed up with another pass at Trump’s degrading comments towards women, and he brought up Bill Clinton: “There’s never been anyone in the history of politics in this nation who has been so abusive to women.” Trump commented, “But Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women.”
Trump saw this as his biggest weapon, and it largely backfired. Dragging in several of Bill’s accusers did nothing to prove his own fitness to lead the country, nor did it do anything to tarnish Hillary’s fitness to lead. Clinton prepared for the possibility that Trump would go there and didn’t take the bait. Further, nothing Bill has done with or against other women is relevant to a Hillary presidency. She shouldn’t have to answer for Bill’s actions, and any related accusations against her are yet unproven. This was a flailing move by a man who fears he’s losing the election and is desperate enough to try anything.
Trump Dug A Ditch While Ranting About Russia
Despite all of Trump and Vladimir Putin’s googly eyes (of respect!) at each other, Trump flat-out and hilariously claimed, “I don’t know Putin. I know nothing about Russia.” He then claimed it would be great to be close friends with Russia because then the two countries could team up and defeat ISIS. And then Trump bizarrely tried to defend Russia against DNC hacking claims by suggesting no systems were breached (though he encouraged it): “Maybe there is no hacking.”
Fact-checking Trump isn’t hard here. The Washington Post recently reported a 2008 statement from Donald Trump Jr.: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Here, Trump had no other recourse but to lie his pants off, and in this clip, Clinton’s non-reaction is telling. While Trump kept endlessly repeating falsehoods, she knew he was lying but didn’t devolve into an expression of scorn. She simply allowed Trump to take himself down.
Trump Lashed Out At Moderators And Back-talked Clinton
Trump behaved petulantly at several moments, including a segment where he hounded Clinton about her emails after she fielded questions from the moderators. Trump interjected, “What, you didn’t delete ’em? You didn’t delete ’em?” He scoffed and sarcastically popped off: “Ohhh, 33,000? Ohhhh yeah.” Anderson Cooper asked him to stop interrupting his opponent because Clinton didn’t interrupt him. She grinned widely and agreed, while Trump simply muttered, “That’s because you have nothing to say.” He continued to mouth off at her suggestion that she wants to answer the audience’s questions while taking another swipe: “And get off this question.”
If he was trying to provoke Clinton into snapping at him, his tactics didn’t work. Instead, Clinton coolly suggested that Trump was into “diversion” for the evening because his “campaign is exploding,” and this further set off Trump’s defensiveness. When Cooper tried to move onto health care, Trump stopped him: “I’d like to know, Anderson, why aren’t you bringing up the emails?” Never mind that Cooper pointed out how Clinton had just answered a question on the subject, for Trump said, “No, it hasn’t, and it hasn’t been finished at all.” Cooper continued, and Trump accused the moderators of favoritism: “Oh, it’s nice to … one on three.”
Trump Grew Irritated (Again) Over His Iraq War Claims
Much has been made about Trump’s continued denial that he once supported the invasion of Iraq. Feel free to call Sean Hannity for a refresher, but essentially, Trump doesn’t care that observant voters already heard him deny his previous stance despite the disproven nature of these claims. There’s even audio of a Howard Stern interview where Trump can be heard ambivalently agreeing with the invasion.
Clinton pointed at how Trump has clung to false claims, to which Trump absurdly insisted that nothing had been debunked. This was a losing tactic. If he’d only own up to having tweaked or evolved his own position, much of the heat on this subject would disappear. Yet he stubbornly held onto this claim as a means of insisting Clinton and Obama are responsible for the Iraq War, which is another failed scorched-earth tactic that illustrates how he’s randomly firing at targets without digging into worthy ways to attack Clinton’s policy-based actions.
Trump Actually Threatened To Jail His Opponent
Trump did something extraordinary while tripping madly over his need to tackle his opponent. He pointedly told Clinton that he would do everything in his power to arrest her as soon as he takes office: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. There has never been so many lies, so much deception.” Clinton simply smiled. She let him ramble for awhile, and then she nonchalantly shot back, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Trump practically stuck his tongue out like a child: “Because you’d be in jail.”
Trump’s desire to reopen the investigation into his rival certainly makes him look like he’s dwelling in the past and will continue to do so. His disregard of how the FBI and Department of Justice have both closed the book on Clinton’s private server proves Trump’s fixation on the past when it’s convenient for him (yet he asks for people to drop his own scandals and allow him to prove himself in the future).
Perhaps Fatally, Trump Tossed Mike Pence Under The Bus
Finally, Trump may have angered the one person who’s keeping his campaign together by a gold-plated thread. Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, may be a gaslighter extraordinaire, but he’s very respected by the Republican establishment. If he drops out of the race — and there are plenty of rumors to that effect — Trump’s campaign really will be over. But for some reason, Trump dissed his VP pick on the subject of Syria: “He and I have not spoken and I disagree.”
Yeah, Trump just admitted that he and Pence don’t consult each other on critical policy points on a global scale. Pence’s point of view was that the U.S. should be prepared to intervene with military force against the Assad regime if Russia continues launching airstrikes at civilian and humanitarian targets. Trump’s position was that Aleppo “basically has fallen, okay?” Trump got it wrong because Aleppo hasn’t fallen, but beyond this issue, there’s the very important matter of Trump eschewing his running mate. This could be ill-conceived payback for Pence’s unwillingness to defend Trump over his lewd comments. Treating Pence as a rival could be the last bit of scorched earth that Trump sees before his campaign falls apart. Completely.