Last night’s marathon was either the saving of Donald Trump or his suicide. In any case, it wasn’t presidential, or pretty, or pertinent except in terms of character.
It was, nonetheless, Trump at his best. Or worst, your choice.
Although we’ll know more in the coming days, on balance (and on C-SPAN) the night was his.
Hillary’s crew made a mistake. Clearly they had decided to go “high” rather than “low” and to let the Donald implode however he chose. Which he did, but not before once more demonstrating that there was nothing anyone could do to stop him, top him, or even slow him down. Whenever a question was asked he chose to ignore, he did. Rather than talk about Aleppo, he side-tracked to Mosul, and soon the evening (or a fraction of it) was about Iraq (and Hillary’s mistakes) rather than Syria (and Hillary’s mistakes).
One has to admire Trump’s strategy, held over from the very beginning. He has not changed. He is not going to change. Why should he when he can do what he wants, say what he wants, virtually hijack any debate by simply leaping agilely from one topic to another, from one possible embarrassment to something that puts him in a golden light?
Martha Raddatz is a pro and she tried – God, how she tried – but Donald wouldn’t let her interrupt. Once he began to speak, the confrontation was over. He was armed completely. Every aspect of Mrs. Clinton’s career was in play.
From Donald’s “surprise” news conference with his bevy of Bill Clinton beauties to stalking Hillary wherever she walked on stage, to threatening her with imprisonment, Trump was faster than a speeding bullet, leaping tall tales in single bounds.
“Going high” limited Hillary’s responses. How often can one say “That’s a lie” and make an impression? And seeming to brush off Donald’s attacks like dandruff was equally ineffective. In time, and given the velocity of Donald’s ammunition, nothing Hillary tried – to dodge, to defend, to denigrate – worked. What Hillary ceded to her opponent was ninety minutes of conspiracy theory, ninety minutes of make-believe she was not given time to refute…again.
And that’s the word: “again.” Almost nothing of what Donald said was new. Almost nothing of what Hillary said was new. Viewers and listeners had only to nod to acknowledge that a particular charge was thrown on the table, again. One could almost time Donald’s sessions by rote, knowing that emails and private servers and hacking thereof, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, access to the State Department, the Iranian “deal,” would follow one another as the night the day.
Pundits and columnists (but not this one) seemed to agree that Donald picked up not one new voter. That he was playing “to his base” entirely, that this was only preaching to the choir.
That’s not what we think. If, as the “pros” have been telling us, America does not tune into the electoral process until after Labor Day, we think that the chances are very good indeed that thousands (if not millions) of earlier disinterested voters did tune in for the first time and get their first exposure to both candidates. What they heard was the best of Donald, the second best of Hillary. Undecided voters are exactly that: they have been listening to their friends and neighbors but have decided they do not yet have enough information on which to cast their own ballots. They do now.
Trump did not present himself as presidential, but what he allowed the audience to see and hear was a positive, confident, even moderately articulate candidate who didn’t seem like a dictator-in-training.
Conversely, Hillary for the first time was experienced as a weaker vessel, and for those who obsess about three a.m. emergency telephone calls, not quite as decisive or capable as we’ve heard before.
Their third debate will now be the killer. Those who lost their electoral virginity will tune back in to make sure what they thought last night was accurate. Who knows what they’ll decide….and here’s another difference between the “pros” and our own one man shop: this election is up for grabs.