In Sunday night’s debate, Donald Trump entered as a universally recognized dead candidate. How could anyone survive such self-inflicted wounds? He was coming off of a terrible debate performance focused more on defending how wealthy he really was rather than expounding on pressing issues. His performance featured a gratuitously stupid challenge to a former Miss Universe. And days ago a lewd tape and conversation with Howard Stern that begs the question of why a 59 year old is in the “locker room” in the first place – let alone the criminal things he said about his thoughts and actions toward women.
A more serious Trump dealt with the issue head on and he said he was not proud of himself. The public will ultimately judge whether he was credible or not. Probably not. But then Trump went on the attack. He pounded former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton for their actions toward women who were alleged and real victims of Bill Clinton’s actions. He charged that Hillary Clinton’s career has been more one of words not accomplishments. Just look at the jobs she promised to Upstate New York, for inner cities, and for African Americans, he said. He promised to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate Clinton for her private emails, related how many FBI workers are furious because she has not been prosecuted, and how she voted for the war in Iraq. According to Trump, she suffers from habitually poor judgement. He also hammered home the point that she ran an unfair campaign against Bernie Sanders, an obvious pitch to Millennials who supported the Vermont Senator and are unsure they can support her.
For her part, Clinton reminded the audience that children are watching some horrible things unfold during the campaign, that she is inclusive not divisive, that she has worked hard and accomplished much – “that’s why I was re-elected to the Senate with 67% of the vote. She was clear that Trump is not fit to be President, lacks the temperament and the morals to lead the nation. As to the famous video about assaulting women, Clinton made clear that “this is who Donald Trump really is.”
Make no mistake about it, Clinton was smooth, prepared, and calming. She did not gloat. But Trump reminded me of the number one hit of 1968 – Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA”. In that song, the narrator told the story of her single mother was charged with being unfit but appeared before the nasty school board and charged them with being hypocrites. “That’s the night my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA”.
Win or lose, stay or leave this campaign, Trump showed up as Riley’s mama Sunday night. He may go down in flames, but he will do it his way.
The bottom line is that neither of these candidates is very popular and neither scored a knockout punch. Clinton tried to explain her idea of having “public and private positions” by comparing herself to Abraham Lincoln. That just did not fly, and Trump jumped all over it.
I actually think Trump won this round because he came out fighting and has revived, at least for the moment, a candidacy that could have been moribund. The voters will tell us for certain, but Clinton did not seem to score any points tonight.
We will have to see if there are any more major GOP defections on Monday. But Trump has made clear that he is running as much against the elite in the GOP as much as he is running against the Democrats. He made good on his promise tonight.