Hillary Clinton was solid but not spectacular in the second presidential
brawl debate, while Donald Trump improbably managed to keep his head from exploding — despite calling his rival “the devil,” claiming she has “hatred in her heart” and suggesting that as president he’d put her jail, like the banana Republican that he is.
As a practical matter, however, Clinton doubtlessly won decisively with the one, crucial group of voters in play – suburban women.
Trump, stuck in a political tar pit produced by his pornographic boasts of being a world class “pussy” grabber, captured on a leaked videotape, dismissed his bombshell comments as mere “locker room talk” and then immediately pivoted to a wild attack on Bill Clinton’s outrageous but long-ago sexual misconduct; in a smart tactical move, Clinton did not pile on Trump about the tape, choosing to let him continue his singular spectacle of flailing over it, and swatted away Trump’s Bubba bashing by saying she would “go high” while he went low.
She did offer a few slicing comments, however: “I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it,” she said at one point. “It represents exactly who he is.”
More importantly and substantively, she also focused her appeal to women by promising to appoint Supreme Court justices who would protect a women’s right to choose by supporting the court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
Trump by contrast underscored his willingness to allow the Supreme Court to outlaw abortion, by saying he’d appoint justices like the late Antonin Scalia, a fierce Roe foe.
As CNN big foot John King noted, “Suburban women are a huge force in presidential elections, and Hillary Clinton has them now.”
Hillary highs and lows. Clinton’s most stinging dig at Trump came in pointing to his volatile temperament and undercutting his fundamental qualifications for the Oval Office: “You know, with prior Republican nominees for president, I disagreed with them on politics, policies and principals, but I never questioned their fitness to serve,” she said. “Donald Trump is different,” adding later that Trump “lives in an alternate reality.”
Clinton’s worst moments, however, when she tried to defend her lucrative private Wall Street speeches, one of which included her candid admission that she had different “public and private” positions on financial issues. Her explanation: she was referring to what Abraham Lincoln said in the hit movie “Lincoln,” produced by Steven Spielberg.
“I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do and you have to keep working on it,” she said.
“She lied, and now she’s blaming the lie on the late great Abraham Lincoln,” Trump replied. “Honest Abe never lied. That’s the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you.”
It was, as one commentator observed, the second worst thing that ever happened to Abe Lincoln.
Trump’s tirade. The sharpest exchange of the night came when Trump brought up (and misrepresented) Clinton’s deleted emails. Trump (who apparently has forgotten about Watergate and Iran-Contra) said “I hate to say it, but if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception, there has never been anything like it and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”
Clinton responded by saying that Trump’s words simply were “not true” and urging voters to check out her campaign website for a fact check: “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
“Because you would be in jail,” Trump snapped.
Turning to the explosive issue that has consumed his campaign for the past three days, Trump defended his “locker room talk” with Access
America Hollywood – in which he bragged of he sexually assaults women — by vowing to…”knock out ISIS.”
So there’s that.
Style and substance. Throughout the town hall-style affair, Clinton was respectful, conversational and dignified, and demonstrated her wonky knowledge about policy. Sound-off listeners saw Clinton sit calmly, smile or speak directly to questioners, while Trump acted like the audience wasn’t there in answering their questions. He alternately glowered, scowled and paced the stage, menacingly lurking behind Clinton from behind; he delivered occasionally coherent answers that often devolved into word salad:
But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know — I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.
I have a very, very great balance sheet, so great that when I did the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, the United States government, because of my balance sheet, which they actually know very well, chose me to do the Old Post Office, between the White House and Congress, chose me to do the Old Post Office. One of the primary area things, in fact, perhaps the primary thing was balance sheet. But I have no loans with Russia. You could go to the United States government, and they would probably tell you that, because they know my sheet very well in order to get that development I had to have.
All righty then.
A compendium of newsworthy Trump takeaways. The Donald variously:
— said “no one has more respect for women than me” — a Kafkaesque assertion given his “grab ’em by the pussy” comment
— attacked the moderators for ganging up on him, always a weak move.
— confirmed the big tax story, by admitting he used a $916 million loss on his 1995 taxes to avoid paying income taxes, comparing himself to Warren Buffett and George Soros, neither of whom is running for president last we checked.
— said he hasn’t talked to his running mate Mike Pence recently, but disagrees with him on using military force to stop the slaughter in Aleppo. (!!)
Notes from here and there. Politico did a nice job of pulling out the seven nastiest attack lines from the debate, which you can read here.
Clinton won the debate in CNN’s instant poll of debate watchers (a slightly Democratic-leaning sample) 57-37% but 63% said Trump did better than they expected he would.
Trump is likely to suffer in the next few days from fact checkers who will note that he was wrong and/or untruthful about many of his most contentious arguments. When these are clipped together, it won’t look pretty.
Excellent Times piece on reactions of women across the country to the debate:
It was a striking and singular tableau: a male candidate for president being asked, by the first woman to share such a stage, to defend crude comments in which he had seemed to reduce her gender to its anatomy.
Bottom line. So while Trump didn’t self-immolate as he did in the first debate, he did nothing to expand his base; Clinton did nothing to undermine her own growing lead in national polls and in battleground states – especially where suburban women will play a key role.
The Calbuzz National Affairs Desk hit the road to watch the debate with a one-person focus group in Portland, Ore. Brooklyn Guron,
12, 11 years and 11 months, one of the few children in the nation allowed to watch the sometimes X-rated affair, synopsized nicely on behalf of America’s Youth: “Trump kept talking about the past and Hillary Clinton talked about the future, which is what matters.”
As he often does, Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker summed up the debate as well as anyone in a piece headlined “Trump Vows to Defeat Bill Clinton.”