OPINION: Donald Trump, A Failed Bully (A Must Read)
Donald Trump, a Failed Bully in His Debate with Clinton
By Amy Davidson
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of ONNLive, MSN or Microsoft.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament,” Donald Trump said in the first Presidential debate, at Hofstra University, on Long Island, on Monday night. “I have a winning temperament. I know how to win.” On the split screen, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, looked amused, as she did through much of the debate. She appeared to think that she was winning; on balance, she was right. Lester Holt, of NBC, the moderator, tried to turn to Clinton, but Trump stopped him. He had more to say about this temperament thing.
“Wait. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. the other day, behind the blue screen, I don’t know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there’s a person with a temperament that’s got a problem,” Trump said. The reference was a bit obscure. Possibly, just possibly, Trump was referring to a video in which Clinton spoke to the Laborers’ International Union of North America, in Las Vegas, not behind a blue screen but in a blue shirt, with some blue signs in the background. In it, she raises the question of why she is not ahead in the polls by fifty per cent; that may be ambitious, but it is hardly unhinged, particularly given the candidates’ relative performances on Monday. (And it would be like Trump to treat labor organizations as interchangeable.) Or maybe Trump has some other behind-the-blue-screen moment in mind—some scene in which Hillary played the wizard in Sapphire City—well known to his supporters, who have become familiar with the shorthand he deploys at rallies. It was one of a number of moments in the debate that were incomprehensible without some proficiency in the lingua franca of Fox News; for those who are, the reminder that they saw a video with some blue in it that was unflattering to Clinton might have been enough. When Holt asked Trump a straightforward question about his belated acknowledgement that President Barack Obama was born in the United States, which came years after Obama released his American birth certificate—“Can you tell us what took you so long?”—Trump responded with an undiagrammable sentence structured around the name Sidney Blumenthal, which he repeated several times, and lies about getting Obama to “produce” his birth certificate. Clinton didn’t take the bait when Trump brought up the real bitterness of the 2008 primaries, which Blumenthal had been part of, or when Trump tried to sound shocked that, in the nineties, she had used the term “superpredators.” (His own statements in that era included demanding the execution of the Central Park Five, accused rapists who were then fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen years old; after they were exonerated, years later, Trump called their settlement with the city a “heist.”)
By contrast, birtherism was a topic on which Clinton was notably focussed and clear. She talked about Obama’s “dignity,” despite the attacks; she called birtherism a “racist lie,” and linked it to Trump’s “long record of engaging in racist behavior.” At the beginning of Trump’s career, she noted, the Justice Department had sued his company for not renting apartments to black tenants. Trump answered by saying that all that had been in the family’s buildings in Brooklyn and Queens—not, that is, in a classy borough like Manhattan—and that he’d settled the suit without admitting anything.
Trump then congratulated himself for taking what he portrayed as the tough, radical step of not discriminating at his club in Palm Beach. “And it’s a tremendously successful club,” he said, as if he expected the audience to be surprised that that was true of an establishment where black people were allowed to play golf. “And I’m so glad I did it. And I have been given great credit for what I did.” When Holt asked about relations between minorities and the police, Trump responded with a blanket statement about African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods being places of great danger, saying, “You walk down the street, you get shot”—proof that, among other things, he hasn’t been to Brooklyn or Queens in a while.
There are quarters in which Trump will get great credit for his performance in the debate. Some of the praise is partisan and laughable, like Newt Gingrich’s declaration, on Fox News, that Trump had won “a great historic victory.” But it would be a mistake to think of Clinton’s strong performance as a blowout. Especially at the beginning of the debate, Trump spoke about trade and industrial decline in stark terms that will resonate with many voters who don’t live in New York’s boroughs. Clinton was not at her best when she explained why she had abandoned her earlier expressions of support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or T.P.P. “Secretary Clinton and others, politicians, should have been doing this for years, not right now because of the fact that we’ve created a movement,” he said. This was his go-to answer for almost anything: that she had had her chance, on trade and on the Middle East and everywhere, and had failed, both personally and as a representative of the traditional political establishment. As a rhetorical device, this had some force—when he remembered to use it. But he couldn’t stop bragging about how in some years he didn’t pay any income tax, or saying that maybe he hadn’t honored the invoices of small-time contractors because he didn’t like their work, or going on about Howard Stern and Sean Hannity and their place in his false narrative of Iraq War opposition.
He barely got to the subject of her e-mails—about which she offered one of her more concise and straightforward answers, calling the use of a private server a mistake. (He even missed an opportunity to go on about Benghazi, when Clinton, in response to his attack on her stamina, mentioned sitting through eleven hours of hearings.) Clinton managed to make Trump sound like a bad neighbor, rather than a clever entrepreneur. Holt used the relatively open format to allow the candidates to talk to each other; that lack of structure seemed hard for Trump to manage. And, after weeks of promoting conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health, Trump sounded, at times, like a man with a cold. Meanwhile, she was glowing.
Clinton took some risks that paid off, waiting until almost the end to quote ugly things that Trump had called women (pigs, slobs, dogs), knowing that he had threatened to respond to that line of argument by talking about Bill Clinton’s misbehavior with women. He tried to congratulate himself for not doing so—“I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate”—and along the way got lost in an attack on Rosie O’Donnell, who had, as it happened, been one of his targets in the very first Republican primary debate. It’s been a long election season. Clinton brought several strands of it together when she mentioned Trump’s comments to a pageant contestant: “He called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.”
Trump’s bully’s instinct for his opponent’s weakness seemed to desert him. In his Republican Primary debates, he had zeroed in on ways to make his opponents seem small. But even in his most effective moments against Clinton—as when he said that “all of the things that she’s talking about could have been taken care of during the last ten years, let’s say, while she had great power,” and railed against her for pushing trade deals and American involvement in Libya, “another one of her disasters”—he conceded that she was, to borrow his phrase, big league. In his rallies, he has caricatured her as a grubby hack and as “Crooked Hillary,” an easily bought crony. She made him acknowledge her experience and her preparation. When he wound up his riff about his winning temperament and the goings-on behind blue screens, Clinton let out a half-laughing “Whew!,” with a big smile and shake-it-off wiggle of her shoulders. (Some of her relieved supporters may have been breaking out a similar move at home.) Then she talked about NATO.
It was hard to say at that point what Trump’s strongest asset might be, if not his temperament. He didn’t exactly display a diversified portfolio of Presidential qualities at Hofstra. This is not over—the polls are too close, the partisan filters through which the debates are viewed too covered with grime. Neither candidate exhibited the crumpling, physical acknowledgement of defeat that is fatal in a debate. But this night, at least, Trump didn’t figure out a way to win.
CREDIT: New Yorker