This was a very different debate from the first one, not just in format — the town hall style vs. standing at podiums — and it also had the added touch of Donald Trump threatening to jail Hillary Clinton without benefit of a trial. For a guy who claims he doesn’t even know Vladimir Putin, he sure knows how to emulate him.
Mr. Trump came better prepared this time. He was able to unload all the right-wing nutsery claims about Bill and Hillary Clinton that have been rattling around for the last twenty years — oh, wait, he left out Vince Foster — and threw them in there again and again. No matter what the question was, he came back with Hillary Clinton is a liar and a bad person. So yes, in that sense, he knew his stuff. Too bad for him that the only people who find it credible if not deplorable are the hard-core Trump voters who are already in his camp. I sincerely doubt that it attracted any new votes to him; in fact, it may have convinced some undecideds that he’s too far off the rails for them. Even for those who might not have seen him before had to have been put off by his whiny bluster and infantile petulance. And again with the constant sniffing. (I’m sure I could hear my mother yelling, “Get a Kleenex!”)
I suspect the fact-checkers are going to spend the next few days swatting down all of the lies that Mr. Trump put out there again, including the ones that were debunked after the last debate, but then again, it’s what he does.
The big question of the night, of course, was the video that was released on Friday with Mr. Trump casually talking about committing sexual assaults on a variety of women and conducting a tutoring session for Billy Bush on how to do it. At the debate he basically blew it off as “locker room talk” and even tried to deny that he had ever indulged in the acts he described. (After that performance I fully expected to see SVU detectives waiting off-stage to cuff him.) And to complete the bizarre explanation, he blamed it all on ISIS. I don’t know how you get from grabbing pussy to ISIS jihadist in one sentence, but then again, I am not privy to what goes through the fevered mind of this man.
I thought Hillary Clinton did what she had to do. She didn’t score any knockout punches and she flailed a bit when she dragged Abraham Lincoln into her reply about her private Wall Street speeches, but all in all she kept on message and answered the questions put to her with policy points rather than using them as launching points for rants. She held up remarkably well and didn’t seem fazed by Mr. Trump’s looming manner and constant pacing — the poor split-screen director must have been driven to distraction — and she came off as the grounded and sane candidate. Speaking of a low bar…
The one thing that this debate clarified for me apart from the differences between the two candidates on everything from health care to taxes to defense was that I got a very clear picture of what it must be like to be in the presence of someone who is adamant about being in control of other people and will brook no defiance or disobedience. In other words, someone who abuses people, mentally and emotionally if not physically, and expects to get his own way or else. Some people are into that kind of thing and frankly it’s none of my business if that’s what makes a relationship work. But when you’re talking about running a country and being the role model for the free world, this is not the kind of person you want in charge of anything at all. What truly scares me is that right now 40% of the voters in this country are willing to vote for him. That says a hell of a lot more about us than it does about him.