Best. Debate. Ever
Eric Lendrum, 2016 Elections Contributor
I’ll say what needs to be said. This debate was the nastiest, ugliest, most personal debate perhaps in the last 100 years.
And it was awesome.
Don’t deny it. We, as human beings, love raw entertainment. From the gladiators in the Greek and Roman days, to the UFC and WWE today. We froth at the mouth for this stuff. And today we finally saw that equivalent in a debate between the top two candidates for the most powerful office in the world. I would pay good money for a DVD of this debate; and I’d throw in a bit extra for a deluxe edition complete with special features…perhaps a soundtrack?
But enough of the primal enjoyment – onto the intelligent analysis that you all came for.
I will admit, with the first 10 to 15 minutes of this debate, my heart was quite heavy as I was convinced that Donald Trump had lost the election. The first question might as well have been directly about the leaked tape (surprise of the year), and Trump’s answer was bad. First, you could hear in his voice that he hasn’t slept in days. He sounded dry and exhausted as he gave a half-hearted, mild answer. He claimed it was just “locker room talk” and then shifted his answer over to ISIS and other global issues. Hillary gave an even blander and more generic answer before him, but that equated to a knockout win for her because the ball was 1000% in Trump’s court at the start of this debate. So for the first 10 – 15 minutes, things didn’t look good in the slightest for Team Trump.
Then, finally, the moment we were all waiting for finally came. Almost out of nowhere, the pile of ashes turned into the roaring phoenix as Trump immediately brought up Hillary’s transgressions in this same area. With that eternal mantra of “actions speak louder than words,” he indicted Bill Clinton for his much longer and more notorious history of sexually abusing women (several of whom were in the front row of the live audience), and then similarly sentenced Hillary for her attacks against these women in defense of her husband. He then brought up her defense of a child rapist in the 70’s, when she went out of her way to discredit the child herself rather than defend her own client, and then laughed about the whole ordeal on audio tapes afterward. That young girl, now a grown woman, was also in the front row.
And from there, it never ever stopped.
Finally, over the course of these glorious 90+ minutes, Trump laid waste to Hillary Clinton on every single thing imaginable, in terms of her public life and her personal shortcomings.
Her defense of the child rapist. Her attacking Bill’s victims. Her rigging the primaries against Bernie Sanders. Her voting for the Iraq War. Her failure in Libya. Her determination to go to war in Syria. Her strengthening Iran and enabling them to get nuclear weapons. Her weakness on Russia. Her loyalty to Wall Street, corporations, bankers, and other elites. Her emails. Her war on coal and natural energy sources. Her failure on health care. Her raising taxes on average Americans and not her wealthy friends. Her poor record in the Senate. Her campaign starting the “birther” issue against Obama in 2008. Her “deplorables” comment.
Every. Single. Thing. The gloves were off, all cards were in play, and everything was on the table. He kept her on defense the entire time, and this visibly had an impact on her, as evident in their body language. While she started off rather comfortable in her opening remarks, and then letting the moderators attack Trump over the leaked tape, she quickly lost her cool once Trump went full pitbull. She appeared visibly shaken, eyes wide, with that same unusual contrast of angry eyes and a creepy smile, and even stammering on a number of answers while her voice pitch seemed to increase over time.
Contrast all of this with Trump – the dryness he had in the first 10 – 15 minutes immediately became his strength as, contrasted with Hillary’s panicking, it became a sense of calm and collected as he casually delivered each and every single attack, blistering broadside after each stunning stab. It was a combination of his performance from the first debate while also taking a page from Mike Pence’s playbook; he remained calm and presidential – but firm when necessary – and finally delivered all the attacks he needed to, while Hillary spun out of control into a frantic mess.
He did raise his voice throughout the debate, but only when it came to his clashes with the moderators. And indeed, there has never before been a more blatantly obvious, and downright frustrating, case of moderator bias as this debate. Both Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz were openly attacking Trump, throwing in their own lines of questioning instead of the viewers’ and attendees’ questions, and debating Trump instead of Hillary debating Trump. It was disgraceful, and perfectly summarized by Trump: “3 against 1.”
Also, on the subject of body language, Trump never sat down during the entire debate. Not once. While Hillary took every opportunity during his answers to sit down, Trump remained standing the entire time, often looming ominously behind Hillary while she answered. This provided the most powerful non-split-screen visual image out of any of the debates yet: He remained omnipresent throughout the debate, literally always on-screen, while she often retreated as the attacks increased. Very important to note.
Lastly, I will say that this was by far the most quotable debate ever. Trump had so many zingers and mic-dropping lines, and they all felt perfectly natural. Just to name a few (roughly paraphrased from memory, not exact): “I’m a gentleman, you go ahead.” “Like Iraq and Libya? Great job.” “Sidney Blumenthal, that’s a real gem you’ve got there.” “That’s the real difference between you and Abe Lincoln; he was honest, you’re a liar.”
And, of course…the line that literally everyone will be quoting. In response to her saying she hoped someone with his “temperament” would never be elected, his smooth and cold response: “Because you’d be in jail.” Look no further than the live studio audience’s reaction to that line. Once again, just like the first debate, the first line that caused applause and cheers to ring out was that line. Come to think of it, I think just about every single time the audience burst out into applause was for a line by Trump – hence why the moderators got progressively angrier as they ordered the audience to shush. This, of course, helped to further display their bias and unprofessionalism, while also unnerving them and making them weaker enemies for Trump to easily demolish as the debate went on.
Having covered all the broader aspects of the debate, I now want to cover the three biggest failures of Hillary’s performance, and Trump’s subsequent rebuttals, in order from least humiliating to most devastatingly stupid.
First, once again like the first debate, Hillary just couldn’t resist plugging her own website and screaming for fact-checkers to rush to her aid. I actually failed to mention this in my first debate review when it was actually something I Tweeted about very vigorously that night: Her constant plugging of her own website, and even her book, came across as extraordinarily elitist and out-of-place, to the point where Trump even called her out on it. She did so again this time, and he once again pointed out just how ridiculous this was: Who, in their right mind, would trust “fact-checking” from the website of one of the candidates?
Second, she once again tried to use the tired and failed attack of “Russia” against Trump. Like a roulette, Trump effortlessly spun this rocket-launcher right back around at her just before it went off, thus firing right back on her. Although he didn’t bring up the 20% uranium debacle (how much longer will this one keep getting away?), he did effortlessly deliver the most obvious rebuttal: Why should we be demonizing Russia, or Vladimir Putin, as an enemy in the first place? Shouldn’t we be striving for peaceful cooperation rather than demonizing one of the most powerful nations in the world? He brought up an especially powerful point by pointing out how Russia is also an enemy with ISIS, and this common ground we share should be enough for us to team up with Russia for the purpose of eliminating this great threat from the region. This entire rebuttal was delivered calmly and intelligently, but was especially effective because it was introduced in such a casual way that it almost came across as “Come on. Seriously?” This was evident in Trump’s almost exasperated tone as he said: “Shouldn’t we try to work with Putin?” He made Hillary sound like an idiot for even forcing him to ask this question in the first place. Socrates would be proud.
And last, if I had to point out the second most-quotable moment of the night, it would definitely have to be Abe Lincoln. Keep in mind, this abortion of an answer came off of perhaps the single most powerful question directed at Hillary, on the subject of her recently-leaked speeches to Wall Street donors, and the particularly infamous quote on how she believes you have to have a “public and private” opinion on most issues. Her response, which totally didn’t answer the question at all, was to say that she said that because…she had just watched…the movie Lincoln? Good God, it made absolutely zero sense. She didn’t even correlate the two, much less answer the question. She didn’t even try to evoke a comparison between herself and Abe, which is usually why candidates bring up a past President’s name. It was just a dramatic pivot that made no sense and almost felt like a 2-year-old wrote it. As if it wasn’t bad enough, it all too easily set up Trump’s amazing counter-punch where he declared that she wasn’t even in the same universe as Abraham Lincoln, in what will undoubtedly be the second quote that is most on everyone’s minds (after “You’d be in jail,” of course).
So, in conclusion, Trump did just about every single thing he could have done right. Almost. Again, those first 10 – 15 minutes were rather bad, and I thought he was done for as far as the entire election went. And keep in mind, his initial deflection on the tape was still a rather subpar response; I was personally hoping for a sincere and heartfelt apology that would be so humble it would show a new side of Trump like you’ve never seen before. But while his initial answer on it was a flop indeed, he pivoted quickly enough to the other major path he could’ve taken with it: He used it to pivot to Hillary’s own transgressions against women who have been sexually assaulted. And that was the catalyst for the entire debate being one massive referendum on her entire career.
For the first time ever, the second debate actually mattered – perhaps even moreso than the first. This debate has changed the race. Trump still has a lot of work to do, but he is definitely back in the race, while Hillary is back on defense. Anything can happen.
I grade Trump a solid A. Hillary gets a C-.
Follow this author on Twitter at: @EricLendrum26