Donald Trump went into the second 2016 US presidential televised debate the underdog, and while underdogs sometimes earn sympathy, Trump proved himself only the rabid variety.
Disavowed by a growing list of senior members of the Republican party that nominated him, scorched by the “hot mic” misogyny tape, Trump needed to score – not in the “locker room talk” sense he may think of – in the October 9 debate at Washington University. Instead, he behaved like a loser, and lost.
He threatened Hillary Clinton that should he become president – a prospect that with less than a month to the election, seems decreasingly possible – he would appoint a special prosecutor to pursue her and “you’d be in jail”. Saying that, he took the “lock her up” mob chant from his rallies to what was meant to be a debate about policies.
Trump laid out a smorgasbord of lies, some so apparent as to hardly need consulting online to fact-check. One obvious example, in relation to Alicia Machado, the woman that Clinton raised as having been direly insulted by Trump – he denied having said “check out the sex tape”. On September 30, his tweet included the words: “check out the sex tape”.
An indication of his desperation was his repeated attempts to invoke Bernie Sanders, saying that Clinton had bad judgment. Apparently unmindful of the convention in American politics that former foes will go on the stump for nominated candidates, and for that matter even serve as their vice-presidents (the list is long, but Biden currently is an example), Trump’s bid for the Bern and his voters came across as grasping – and missing.
As he did in the first debate, Trump tried to make the private server issue stick, but had no telling points on a Clinton vulnerability that has emerged as recently as his own hot mic problem (the mic that worked, unlike – in the view of Trump – the one in the first debate that supposedly didn’t), the leaks about Clinton’s Wall Street speeches.
In turn, Clinton, who appeared almost frustrated during the 90-minute slugfest and hardly has a cotton candy personality herself, landed a blow on Trump when she said: “I know you’re into big diversion tonight. Anything to avoid talking about your campaign and its explosion and how Republicans are leaving it”.
Diversion indeed was the word, as some of Trump’s dives dumped into clumsiness. Asked about the hot mic, he segued into saying, “I will take care of ISIS”.
Clinton abandoned subtlety in her finger-pointing at Russia, and not only for its conduct in Syria: “Russia has decided that it’s all in Syria, and they’ve also decided who they want to become president and it’s not me”.
She sought to turn around a question about her description of half of Trump’s electorate being “deplorables”, as she said that her argument was not with Trump’s supporters, “it’s with him” and the “hateful and divisive” campaign he has run.
Throughout the debate, the charge that Trump laid against Clinton, “she has tremendous hate in her heart”, seemed more appropriate to him, as his demeanour – and for that matter, the choice of words such as those – made the Republican candidate seem an undignified, spiteful hick politician graceless in the face of the spectre of defeat.
In this fractious debate, Clinton was not mincing her words either, accusing the US senate of “dereliction of duty” in refusing to proceed with President Obama’s nomination of a US supreme court judge, accusing Trump of buying steel that China was dumping on US markets.
At the end of a debate that started with the candidates not shaking hands, the two were asked to say one positive thing that they respected in each other.
Clinton finessed by praising Trump’s children, going on to refer to this in the context of an election she described as “conflictorial” – not precisely a neologism of her own making in the English language, but not a word frequently used either; nor one that may be an unword, such as Trump’s own “bigly”.
Trump said of Clinton: “She doesn’t quit, she doesn’t give up…I consider that to be a very good trait”. Not a convenient choice for the Republican candidate who has repeatedly accused Clinton of a lack of stamina, nay, practically accused her of being at death’s door and thus unfit for a coming four-year term.
But unless the poll trends are wrong, the lie factor is considerable, and something happens to politically terminate the electoral chances of the Democratic candidate who in any case has obvious vulnerabilities, Trump’s misstep in this answer and others would merely be recorded as another attempt by a drowning man, trying to swim a stroke to shore.