When Donald Trump was hovering behind Hillary Clinton while she spoke in the second debate between the two major party candidates for president, what was he thinking? What did he want to do?
Did he want to grab her crotch? Back her into a corner and plant an open-mouth kiss on her lips?
Or tell her she’s fired?
Or did he want to scream at Hillary as loud and as long as it took to turn her into a puddle of tears.
We knew that wasn’t going to happen.
To me, he was walking the desperate wamble of a panicked narcissist temporarily out of the spotlight and searching for the camera.
After all, Trump’s craven whimper of a fallen bully punctuated his every sentence form the beginning of the debate, louder and more pronounced than last time Donald faced off against Hillary. Why can’t anyone find this guy a decent microphone? A very few speculate that Trumpty-Dumpty sniffs because he gets coked up. Others wonder if the healthiest man alive has a cold. Even dismissing it as a nervous tic damages the Trump brand, as a great negotiator is supposed to have nerves of steel. In black-and-white society movies of the 1930s and 1940s the rich would often sniff at their inferiors. Lots of possible explanations, yet I’m still convinced that Trump’s sniffs manifest the pathetic low whine of a bully who has backed down or been beaten down.
Thus, no matter how what either candidate said, Trump lost the debate in his body language, demeanor and sound.
Body language dominated Hillary’s performance, too. In the past, she won or drew every single one of her previous debates primarily with the strategy of presenting the issues and facts clearly and succinctly. In the last debate, her strategy was to throw out live bait, knowing her undisciplined opponent would take aim and shoot himself in the foot with deranged comments and overtly disgusting remarks.
This time, Hillary’s strategy was to be presidential. And there is no doubt she succeeded. She “went high” and did not take any bait from Trump to unburden about her personal affairs. She did not interrupt, even though Trump constantly interrupted her. She spoke and walked with confidence and warmth. Her comments directed at Trump were stern without being mean or cruel. She sincerely interacted with audience members and paid attention to the requests of the moderators. By contrast, Trump never seemed to connect with anyone; he could have been talking to the clouds.
Unlike Trump, who pivoted to whatever lies he wanted to make at the given moment, Hillary answered every question directly. When Hillary attacked Trump, she did it with his own words and actions. Trump by contrast only made accusations against Hillary and did not substantiate even one of them, probably because none have any basis in fact. Her apology for using a private server was direct and an explicit statement she made a mistake. His apology—only for the remarks he made about groping women, minimized his bragging about committing sexual assaults to locker room talk.
In short, Hillary looked and acted presidential and Donald did not. And it was all in their facial expressions, movements on stage, eye contact and the tone and cadences of their voices.
Hillary won the words, too, but because Trump was able to articulate his messages on a number of topics, using his usual stew of lies, ignorance and braggadocio, he did do better than his complete meltdown in the first debate.
The avoidance of meltdown is a low bar, but because he cleared it the immediate consensus of the non-partisan media was that the debate was a tie. But Chris Matthews must have been chilling with Gary Johnson, because he said that Trump won big. How could one man be so right about the first debate and so wrong about the second?
The public was having none of the news media’s equivocation. They aren’t scoring points or grading on a curve. They want someone who looks like a president and acts like a president. That’s why Hillary won the CNN poll, the only statistically valid poll to come out so far. Her margin of victory when asked which candidate won the debate was a 57% to 34%, a very robust 23% lead! The public did notice Trump’s improvement; 63% thought he did better. But not good enough to win. And probably not good enough to sway many undecided voters.
Certainly Trump did well enough to convince him and his core supporters that he not only won, but “shlonged” Hillary. He will no doubt brag about his big win for weeks. The question is: did Trump do well enough to staunch the flow of red-blooded Republican elected officials fleeing his candidacy?
Above all else, the second debate was a painful reminder that debate moderators should have their staffs do instant fact-checking and tell the audience and viewers when a candidate has told a lie. The after-the-fact fact checkers demonstrated that in the truth department, Hillary won in another landslide. For example CNN checked 15 Trump statements and seven Hillary statements.
Trumpty-Dumpty gave false information in 11 of the 15 instances, whereas Hillary was 7-0; all seven checked statements turned out to be true. Those who will assert that checking twice as many Trump statements shows the inherent media bias against the Republican candidate didn’t watch the debate and haven’t been paying attention to the past 15 months. You can’t check the accuracy of every sentence a candidate says, so most fact-checkers limit themselves to investigating the big issues, the statements that seem wacky or the low-hanging fruit, which in this case, means the statements like Trump’s birther remarks that everyone already knows are fabrications. Since much of what Trump says is either outrageous or a known lie, it makes sense that more of his statements undergo fact-checking scrutiny. Hillary, by contrast, has come in first place in honesty every time someone has compiled the fact-checked statements of every candidate in the 2016 election.