There is certainly disagreement about who won the debate tonight, but I feel, both on the issues and on style, Clinton won hands down (see/read highlights here: NYT, CNN, IBT, WP). Trump played fast and loose with the truth, interrupted Clinton consistently (at least in the first half of the debate) and rambled on almost incoherently from one topic to the next, often failing to even engage with the question asked. Rather than addressing most of the charges leveled against him, he instead turned each one onto Clinton, whether that ad hominem was relevant or not. At one point, Clinton said that by the end of the debate she expected Trump to blame her for every problem in America, to which he replied “why not?”
Among his most outlandish comments, a few stuck out to me: 1) He essentially admitted he doesn’t pay some of his employees after they do work, as that is “allowed by the law,” 2) He claimed the Democrats have controlled the black vote for over a 100 years, 3) He sidestepped questions about his taxes, turning it onto the non-story of the email imbroglia, 4) He continues to push Reaganomics, even as that economic policy has been shown to be an abject failure, 5) Continued to claim Clinton helped form ISIS (long before it even existed), 6) Again said we should have broken international law and “taken the oil” from Iraq (ignoring the prohibitive costs and time it would have taken to accomplish), 7) Continued to lie about his support for the Iraq War, even as anyone can easily find the Howard Stern clip (claiming that Sean Hannity can attest to this through private conversations they had), and 8) Consistently told half-truths and outright lies as if they were incontrovertibly true (see the Fact Check from New York Times here).
The extraordinary reality is many Americans don’t seem to care that Trump lies consistently, acts like a child, is cavalier about international relations and most other important issues in the country, is barely articulate at times and seems to have little knowledge of issues that should be de rigeur for a Presidential candidate. He seemed like a petulant child with a bad haircut tonight, lying, chiming in with questionable claims backed by absurdly simplistic rhetorical strategies (“believe me”) unrelated to reality and using school yard retorts rather than answering questions.
Clinton looked Presidential, if occasionally robotic, failing to fall prey to Trump’s erratic behavior, bullying and overall disrespectful attitude, clearly winning the debate. The problem is that his supporters fundamentally disagree with me and it is unclear what the 20 or so percent of the voting public who are undecided will take away from the debate. It did appear he was coding a masculine mien meant to feed on male discomfort with the thought of a female president, but how far that strategy will go is unclear – particularly after the racist campaign of McCain and Romney failed to stop President Obama’s two victories. It will be interesting to see what the polls tell us tomorrow, but I am mildly optimistic this might turn the tide back toward Clinton …