Opinion

Disgusting Debate Showed Donald Trump at His Ugliest

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9. Saul Loeb/Reuters

They did shake hands at the very end, but it was still such an upsetting evening that you kind of wish we could all be given a companion animal, a golden retriever to help deal with the trauma.

It was bad enough that we—a nation of 330 million–plus—had to spend the last 48 hours listening to a tape of Donald Trump discussing his sexual assault techniques, from grabbing genitals to forcing kisses to downing Tic Tacs. Trump has left America feeling disgusted and his campaign is in ruins. He hemorrhaged Republican support over the weekend, with senators such as John McCain and Kelly Ayotte saying they could no longer vote for him. Even Billy Bush’s career was left in shambles after the tape revealed the broadcaster had laughed along with Trump’s grotesqueries.

Trump needed to win big in the debate, but he didn’t. He wasn’t as bizarre as he was in the first debate, with less of the puffiness and bloat that Alec Baldwin has captured perfectly. But there was no real contrition for the grabbing sex tape. His bringing the women who accused Bill Clinton of lechery and assault back in Arkansas was surely appealing to the Clinton-hating base, but it wasn’t going to move the needle in the election. (Likewise, Clinton haters and Breitbart readers loved the references to Sidney Blumenthal, but most Americans must have shaken their heads at the mention of the Washington journalist. It was a debate for lifetime Clinton nemesis David Bossie but not for someone in Orlando or Oshkosh who is worried about car payments.)

In the end, Trump wisely didn't keep coming back to the charges against the former president. Hillary Clinton was even wiser not to take the bait on her husband, never mentioning or defending him on those charges. She leaned more toward the “everything he just said was wrong” approach—which was a good, low-key way to deal with the incendiary.

The town hall debate is, frankly, always overrated. Who on earth is still undecided at this point in an election? And many of them probably weren’t. If you’re asking about Islamophobia at this debate, you’re probably not on the fence. So the questions were OK but nothing special. And since the moderators can ask their own, you still wind up with the Washington-based questions, which is good and bad. Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper did a great job in terms of follow-ups. The Aleppo, Syria, question is not one you’re as likely to hear from the audience, but it showed a lot about Trump. First, he dodged the question. Then Trump used the catastrophic fall of the city to make the case for cheering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russians, as well as to piss on his running mate, Mike Pence, who had proposed a very aggressive response to the city’s near capitulation.

Maybe the most shocking moments came when Trump told Clinton “you’d be in jail” if he were president. He has called for a special prosecutor to stay on her if he’s elected president. Countries where electoral losers are jailed are pretty common in this world, and they’re not pretty. This was impossibly jarring, and it couldn’t reassure anyone about his temperament. Saying she had “tremendous hate in her heart” wasn’t the kind of line that would win Trump one additional vote. It was only salve for his base.

Trump’s facial mannerisms were more restrained this time. He was less prone to barking “Wrong!” But his walking the stage and sometimes looming behind Clinton, along with another bad case of the sniffles, didn’t convey “calm,” “measured” or “presidential.” Clinton’s steady, workmanlike making her case was all she needed to do. She kept taxes and temperament on center stage. She didn’t roam the stage. She remembered the questioners’ names. And she didn’t talk about grabbing men’s crotches—which is about the only way Clinton could lose at this point.

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