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by Marc Jampole
I BEGAN NOTICING Donald Trump sniffing about a third of the way through the debate. He would pause several times in the middle of a run-on sentence and sniff loudly, kind of like a 7-year-old explaining that the dog ate his homework or a kid who has just lost a schoolyard fight. The pace of the sniffing accelerated at about the same rate as did the deterioration in the logic of his remarks and the frequency with which he tried to interrupt Hillary, which means it was progressively more rapid as the debate went on. Others noticed, too, as thousands of Twitterers wondered whether Trumpty-Dumpty was sick. Others wondered where the nervous tic came from.
But it was neither illness nor a newly emerging nervous tic. No, Donald Trump’s constant sniffing was the primal whimper of the bully backing down, as bullies always back down when their false bravado confronts someone who emanates true strength.
The sniffing is only the most obvious manifestation of the beating that Trump took in the first debate between the major party candidates for President of the United States. Here are some early results:
- The first CNN poll had Hillary winning the debate 62% to 27%, although the CNN pollster did observe that only debate watchers voted and they tend to skew Democratic.
- An early Public Policy Polling survey found 51% of viewers thought Clinton won, while 40% preferred Trump’s performance.
- The MSNBC focus group had Hillary winning 16-4, while the vote of the CNN focus group was 18-2 in Hillary’s favor.
The consensus of the pundits was that Hillary won the entirety of the debate. All the commentators I saw, except the reality-challenged Hugh Hewitt, said that the first third was either a draw or a win for Hillary; Hewitt said Trump won the first third. But virtually every pundit except those identified as currently working for the Trump campaign concluded that Hillary wiped the floor with Trump during the last two-thirds of the debate. I share the view of Chris Matthews — that if it were a baseball game, Hillary hit five homers and shut out Trump.
Matthews was referring to the Clinton zingers, of which there were several. Her best was when Trump mentioned that he had recently visited Chicago and Detroit and contrasted it with Clinton not traveling much this past week. Clinton said, “I prepared for the debate,” paused a bit, then continued, “and I prepared for the presidency.” The contrast with Trump’s off-the-cuff incoherence was devastating.
I THOUGHT Hillary’s finest moment was when she responded to Trump’s bragging comment that he was smart not to pay any income tax with: “So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health.” Hillary then had the good taste to refrain from mentioning that her family had paid 30 percent of their income in income taxes.
As an example of what I am calling Trump’s incoherence is his answer to Lester Holt’s simple question whether he believes in the current U.S. nuclear weapons policy not to launch a first strike:
“Well, I have to say that, you know, for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their — they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. I looked the other night. I was seeing B-52s, they’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not — we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike. I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea. And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal. Iran is one of their biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea. And when they made that horrible deal with Iran, they should have included the fact that they do something with respect to North Korea. And they should have done something with respect to Yemen and all these other places. And when asked to Secretary Kerry, why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you add other things into the deal? One of the great giveaways of all time, of all time, including $400 million in cash. Nobody’s ever seen that before. That turned out to be wrong. It was actually $1.7 billion in cash, obviously, I guess for the hostages. It certainly looks that way. So you say to yourself, why didn’t they make the right deal? This is one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history. The deal with Iran will lead to nuclear problems. All they have to do is sit back 10 years, and they don’t have to do much.”
I counted four major lies and about twenty sniffs in that ramble through ignorance, but could detect no logic in his answer, unless you think it’s logical to have expected Iran to do something to stop North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons or that we should support a Chinese invasion of North Korea. Many people may not know that Russia does not have a newer nuclear capability than we do or that the money we paid Iran was their money all along that we have kept in frozen accounts for more than thirty years. But I feel most people watching saw what a disorganized loony Trump really is.
THE BATTLE was mostly fought on Trump’s territory, as he had constantly to defend his business, his lack of experience and his past statements. There was only one moment when Hillary was on the defensive — when she quickly admitted she made a mistake by having a private email server and then moved on to other matters. Trumpty-Dumpty tried a few other snipes, which Hillary ignored. The best example, again, was her comment about birtherism. She did not defend herself from Trump’s obvious and odious lie, but instead defended President Obama.
Trump tried to interrupt Hillary several times, but she just kept talking without raising her voice to shout over him, which this viewer thought was an elegant and classy way to handle the rude Donald. The longer the debate went, the more he interrupted, usually with short ejaculations, such as “it’s a lie” when Hillary was factually relating idiocies Trump has uttered in the past such as his theory that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. Clinton, by contrast, waited respectfully while the Donald spewed forth his incoherent stew of half-baked ideas and lies before speaking her piece.
The only thing that Trumpty-Dumpty won was the lying contest, and that was also a wipeout. Unfortunately for the GOP, it’s a bad thing, like leading your opponent in turnovers, errors or penalties. For example, both the National Public Radio and the New York Times fact-checkers found a few minor quibbles with Hillary’s statements, but major problems with a large number of Trump assertions. The biggest two lies were Trumpty-Dumpty’s birther fantasy and his widely discredited assertion that he was always against the war in Iraq. But he also lied about the size of the deficit, the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement on jobs, Ford moving jobs abroad, the Iran nuclear agreement and Hillary’s role in creating ISIS, among many other fibs.
BTW, Lester Holt was fine. He wouldn’t let Trump tell either of his two big lies about birtherism and his opposition to Iraq. He reminded the audience that “stop and frisk,” a police technique Trump admires, has been declared unconstitutional. He made sure that both candidates had enough time to answer his questions, which were all cogent and appropriate. He made it clear that no matter what anyone else had in mind, he was going to hold both candidates to the same debating standards.
A big win for Hillary in every way.
The big question is whether her debate performance — and that of Trumpty Dumpty — will translate into Hillary attracting the votes of Republicans who recognize Trump’s lack of qualifications, gaining support from the undecided and poaching the votes of those tentatively committed to one of the two minor party candidates. We’ll know the answer when the next round of polls come out. After the contrast between the bright, warm, knowledgeable and honest Hillary and Trump’s mendacious incoherence, if it turns out that American voters prefer Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton, then the country deserves all the bad economic times and foreign policy difficulties that will result from his election.
Marc Jampole, a member of our editorial board, is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.