By Mark Green
The first debate not a knockdown but a wipeout, Bob Shrum & Ron Christie agree. On tax returns, birther-ism. interruptions & Machado, says Shrum, "Hillary killed him and Trump committed suicide." Can Trump now prepare better and stop obsessing about the weight of a beauty queen? Fat chance.
Economics in Debate. According to Bob Shrum, who's coached numerous Democratic nominees for presidential debates, "that was the worst presidential debate performance in my lifetime. She baited him at the beginning and end [on a $14 million loan from father and on Miss Universe winner] and he took it each time." Although Trump did well enough during the 20 minutes on trade, "overall she won the economic exchange because he offered a disjointed defense of how tax cuts create jobs and had no feel for a narrative that moves voters."
#NeverTrump Ron Christie scoffs at Donald's mockery of Hillary's stamina since "he couldn't stand there for 90 minutes without running out of intellectual and physical steam." We concur that he scored by accurately saying that she did once call Trans Pacific Partnership "the gold standard" but she scored by calling his tax cuts for the rich "trumped-up trickle down" and noting that she had "prepared for this debate...and to be president."
Speaking of preparation, both Bob and Ron are amazed both that he wasn't prepared with a good answer on his tax returns and that he self-sabotaged by interrupting that he'd be "smart" if he avoided paying all taxes [which the NYTimes confirmed six days later]. His linking of releasing his tax returns if she released undisclosed emails, says the Host, is too clever by half "since it makes clear that the audit needn't stop him from releasing them."
Birther and Beauty Queen. The panel agrees that when moderator Lester Holt asked why he had continued prosecuting his claim even after Obama's birth certificate was released, Trump gave a long-meandering response about publicly unknown people in the Clinton camp who allegedly started it, though that had been debunked by all fact-checkers. Worse, concludes Ron, is when he twice said "I have nothing to say" to black viewers about asking the first black president for his papers.
True, Clinton planted a political IED with her insertion of beauty contestant Alicia Machado's story into the conversation...but, with his eyes open, Trump stepped on it by implying that he hardly knew who she was and, adds Bob, later "turned a one day story into a five day one with his insane 3am tweets." Host: Along with his attacks on Judge Curiel and the Khan gold star family, his manic screed against this Latina woman -- an understandably story combining sexism, racism and nativism into one understandable story -- is something no Hillary admirer could have even dreamed up. Along with his end-of-week rant that Secretary Clinton wasn't faithful to her husband and zero payment of taxes, he has likely begun a descent from which he cannot escape.
Unlike Romney and Kerry who Ron and Bob respectively briefed for their debates, Trump didn't want to hear how he could improve his answers. "He's undisciplined, he's losing," concludes Shrum, "and doesn't want anyone around him telling him when he's said something stupid, As JFK once told Teddy, a president should reward that kind of staff behavior, not punish it."
For example, in an lesson from Debate 101, the Host emphasizes that when you are asked a question about a real vulnerability, as Clinton was about her "super predator" remark and her emails, "she knew to brush it aside and not wrestle with a tar baby." Not Trump, notes Bob. "His problem is that he's a classic bully who knows how to run over people but becomes a cry-baby when someone hits him back."
What should each do in the next debate on October 9th, in a town hall setting? Shrum argues that there's not much Clinton should do differently. "Trump's failures shouldn't distract from how good Clinton was in the first debate -- loose, knowledgeable, even humorous."
Will Trump be even "tougher" on her, as he warns, implying that he'd discuss her husband's affairs as he almost did this last time? Ron thinks that'd be insane since reminding everyone that Hillary was the victim boosted her prospects in the late '90s after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Host agrees: "It would like when Cleavon Little, the black sheriff in Blazing Saddles, put a gun to his head and told menacing townspeople, "drop your guns orthe Nigra gets it!" My guess: since he and surrogates have already inserted the issue into the political conversation, he need not and won't do that, especially in a town hall debate with citizen questioners. Perhaps this is hopelessly naive but even this strutting loudmouth doesn't want this to be the biggest memory of his presidential candidacy.
After the debate and post-debate, Clinton was chided for telling a labor audience, "why am I not ahead by 50 points?" In my interpretation, she was implying a gender-based double standard. That right?
Well let's imagine where she'd be in the race if she had 5 children in 3 marriage and was an admitted serial adulterer, washed money through a charity, violated the Cuban embargo and hugged Putin, coaxed support from the "alt-left", was rated the campaign's biggest liar by fact-checkers, implied her opponent should be shot, didn't know what the nuclear triad was, and interrupted her rival 50 times? Probably not the front-runner. Yet it's Trump who complains about Holt, a mic, a rigged system while Clinton, to the best of my memory, hasn't publicly complained about anything in the campaign so far.
Remember all the fuss in 2008 about a (non-existent) video of Michelle Obama taunting white people, as if that alone would end her husband's candidacy? Trump's done 25 things like that...and we have five weeks to go.