Trump got his ass handed to him tonight.
It’s true the odds were against him. He was up against The Clinton Earpiece, and whatever superdrugs they’ve been pumping her full of for the last month. He was up against a debate format that favored succinct, prepared responses rather than a multi-layered, complex communication style. He was up against Clinton getting first crack at all but one of the topics, thus allowing her to set the frame and bait him into wasting 3/4 of his time refuting her bullshit instead of telling people what they really need to know about Donald Trump. He was up against her clearly being fed the questions in advance, even though that was not supposed to happen.
Beyond that, he was up against her derisive, condescending attitude, obviously designed to piss him off and get him to punch back hard, as he tends to do, thereby casting Clinton herself as the Poor Helpless Female™, under attack by a big, sexist male bully simply for telling “the truth.” Worst of all, he was up against the Clinton media lie machine, and a public prepped for months with a constant barrage of misinformation, misdirection, lies by omission and even outright falsehoods. Nobody can refute months worth of lies in two minutes, and anyone who tries is not going to get his real message across.
All of that is true. What’s more, surely Trump and his people knew to expect it going in. Trump is, after all, the person who coined the term Crooked Hillary. He’s been calling out the dishonest media for over a year, as well as pointing out, time and time again, how completely rigged the whole system is. The Trump team certainly expected that this debate would not be a level playing field by any stretch of the imagination.
What was not obvious tonight, though, was how in the world they thought they were going to deal with it. What Trump needed was a “Kobayashi Maru” maneuver, something to shatter the whole Clinton/media paradigm and enable him to own the game in one move. Unfortunately, coming up with that sort of thing is a tough call, and whatever plan they had tonight was clearly not up to the challenge. Trump’s performance tonight was simply not effective. It was unconvincing to anyone who wasn’t already a Trump supporter. Worse, Clinton’s performance, while a bit Mondale-esque at times, was basically the sort of thing that the proverbial swing voter is looking for. She was not only reassuring and “presidential,” but even a little humorous at times, and, worst of all, humorous at Trump’s expense. Her goal tonight was to reinforce the manufactured image of Trump as a blowhard and a buffoon, and it worked.
I’m relieved there are two more debates. Trump is going to need both of them to make up for tonight.
This all sounds incredibly pessimistic and defeatist, but wait. I’m not done yet. In spite of tonight, I am still optimistic that Trump can emerge as the overall winner of the debates. His performance at the next two will be substantially better than tonight.
How do I know this? Because I’ve seen him improve like that before. His ability to learn from his mistakes and improve was one of the very first things that impressed me about him, well over a year ago. It was a key factor in my decision to wholeheartedly support Trump, and since then, I’ve seen him do it again, several times. He’ll sit down with his people and they’ll go over all the mistakes and missed opportunities from tonight, and when the next debate comes on the 9th, we’ll see something much better than we saw tonight.
Moreover, Trump has another big advantage that Clinton doesn’t have: Tonight was Clinton’s be-all-you-can-be performance. It was everything she’s got, the very best her campaign and their media shills (not to mention her doctors) can come up with. She can’t improve any more than she already has. But Trump can. One of Trump’s greatest qualities is his ability to learn quickly, to make adjustments, and to improve. He’s going to need that now. We all are.