Last night’s presidential town hall debate couldn’t have come at a worse time for Donald Trump — no small wonder the scene at Trump Tower was reportedly grim this weekend. After avoiding condemnation for hateful comments on women, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, the LGBQT community, disabled people, Gold Star families, and nearly everyone else imaginable, his luck (and the tolerance of white American men) ran out when tape of him boasting about sexually assaulting women hit the news last Friday. A growing list of GOP luminaries are bailing on him in the midst of a public backlash that led the GOP to suspend contributions to its joint victory fund. Many are hoping this is the beginning of a brutal end for Trump (and some are calling for his resignation), with the election just four weeks away.
Last night, he had one job.
And he blew it.
How badly? Well, let us count the ways…
1. Lies, damned lies, and sex tapes
Comoderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump about his infamous 3 am sex tape tweet targeting former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who became Public Enemy Number One for Trump after the last debate. Cooper asked whether Trump thought it was reflective of a ‘good leader’ to encourage people to go check out a sex tape (which, for the record, did not exist).
Trump said: ‘No, there wasn’t check out a sex tape.’
Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2016
When Cooper pressed him on it, Trump pivoted to Benghazi. A candidate who repeatedly accuses his opponent of ‘lying’ and being ‘crooked’ flat-out denied a public statement that was readily available to anyone with an internet connection. Easiest fact check ever?
2. Secretary Clinton is the devil
Trump appeared oddly fixated on the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, perhaps in the hopes of wooing disaffected supporters — at multiple points during the debate, he made references to Sanders’ platform, campaign, and, at one point, his support of Secretary Clinton. He expressed surprise that Sanders would ‘sign on with the devil,’ clearly equating Secretary Clinton with the Prince of Darkness. It’s perhaps one of the more tame epithets he’s used to describe her, but it still didn’t play well.
We need a tax code that asks the wealthy, like Donald Trump, to pay their fair share and stop burdening the middle class.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 7, 2016
While some Sanders supporters have declared that they’re defecting to Trump, the numbers are pretty small. The events of the last week are unlikely to move that needle any further in Trump’s direction — when even hardline Republicans are endorsing Secretary Clinton because their candidate is so horrific, the former avid followers of a Democratic Socialist are unlikely to suddenly switch teams. Trump represents nearly everything that the senator has worked against throughout his political career and he has said so repeatedly in appearances asking his supporters to vote for Secretary Clinton.
3. ‘Can you please explain…’
After proudly proclaiming himself to be a ‘gentleman’ at the start of the debate, Trump spent much of the debate being the exact opposite, and it wasn’t just Secretary Clinton he ignored, ran over, and browbeat. It was also Martha Raddatz, the comoderator of the debate. At one point, she called him to task on the ‘Muslim ban,’ asking whether his opinion on the notion of banning Muslims from entering the United States had changed.
Donald says he'll be devoted to ALL Americans, so why does he trash immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, women, people with disabilities?
— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) October 10, 2016
Trump didn’t even bother responding — he charged directly into a nonsensical line of commentary about Captain Khan and ‘extreme vetting.’ Raddatz broke in to redirect him, asking that he answer the question, and he snapped ‘Why don’t you interrupt her,’ gesturing at Clinton in what would become a familiar performance of whining about the time allotted to speak. Raddatz pressed the question a final time and he dodged it again with a reference to ‘extreme vetting,’ referring to Muslims as ‘Trojan horses.’ Of note: Entering the country as a refugee is more laborious and time consuming than any other form of legal immigration — it’s not very efficient for terrorists, the bulk of whom are actually Christian Americans, not immigrants or refugees, let alone Muslims.
4. Anderson Cooper calls it like it is
The Trump tape was one of the first items to come up at the debate, and it was like watching a very slow and painful trainwreck as Trump desperately pivoted to anything he could get his hands on, including blaming Secretary Clinton for things President Bill Clinton allegedly did, as though she is somehow responsible for her husband’s activities.
The words are demeaning. Such behavior is an abuse of power. It’s not lewd. It’s sexual assault. –Joe
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 8, 2016
The shining moment, and the one that made Trump look particularly bad, was Anderson Cooper’s cool summation of the tape: ‘You described kissing women without consent and grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You brag that you sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?’ Trump denied it and returned to the subject of Daesh, but Cooper pressed his point, which Trump continued to dodge. It is patently absurd that one of the questions at a presidential debate has to be ‘do you understand that you are a rapist?’
5. The big diversion
It wasn’t just the audience who noticed that Trump was flailing for any excuse to avoid answering questions or talking substantive policy. As he sniffled and paced behind Secretary Clinton in a bid for attention, continuously rounding to personal attacks or rambling about Daesh, Secretary Clinton at times found herself at a loss. She could acknowledge that her debate opponent wasn’t actually debating in any traditional sense of the word, or she could plunge on to focus on communicating with the public about her policies and goals.
"She doesn't quit, she doesn't give up, she's a fighter" —Donald Trump on Hillary Clinton, tonight https://t.co/tXZuLLOouv
— Literally Trump (@literally_trump) October 10, 2016
At one point, clearly fed up, she commented that he was certainly adroit about avoiding questions or discussions about how his campaign was ‘exploding.’ It might not have been a Trump gaffe, but it certainly made him look preposterous, deeply buried in the ‘alternative reality’ Clinton later commented that he appears to live in.
6. Islamophobia is a ‘shame’
Gorba Hameed, an audience member who identified herself as a Muslim, asked: ‘How will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?’ An excellent question to be putting to Trump, who has spent the last 18 months whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment and making bombastic claims about suspending immigration from ‘certain‘ countries to defeat Daesh. Trump’s response was to call Islamophobia ‘a shame’ before going on a tirade about ‘raical Islamic terror.’
The vast majority of Muslim Americans want to help fight terrorism. We are not at war with Islam.
Trump is playing into terrorists' hands.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 10, 2016
He attempted to paint this as being tough on defense issues — he’s not ‘too PC’ to get the job done, and believes in calling things by their names, as apparently all Muslims are terrorists. The net effect, though, was to watch a Muslimah’s words about what she’s enduring vindicated right in front of her on a national stage.
7. ‘Because you’d be in jail’
One of Trump’s big campaign fixations has been the question of whether Secretary Clinton engaged in impropriety regarding the use of a private server for her email while at the Department of State. This is an issue the right has hammered on repeatedly, but multiple investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing, though the FBI did comment that it was ‘irresponsible‘ to handle secure information on a private server. Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that it was a mistake and not something she’d do again, but the issue just won’t die.
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 10, 2016
At multiple points during the debate, he threatened Secretary Clinton with a ‘special prosecutor,’ drawing upon the theme that she’s a criminal who should be locked up (a popular subject at his rallies). In a back and forth where Trump dodged responsibility for answering a question about his suitability to lead, Secretary Clinton commented that he doesn’t have the best temperament, saying it was good he’s not in charge of the law in the US; he proved her point by sniping ‘because you’d be in jail.’
What do you think: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be president?
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons