Trump Is Better Positioned for the Next Two Debates Than the Pundits Dare Realize

In the first presidential debate Donald Trump achieved Job One: convincing independents that he is being mischaracterized and caricatured, that he really is a “normal” guy, just exuberant but essentially normal, under control, disciplined.  To the point that he is a plausible choice.  I believe that at the suggestion of his handlers he drank water whenever he felt the urge to interrupt or insult or felt himself “losing it.”  (The irony, of course, is that he mocked Marco Rubio for drinking lots of water during debates.  But, as with “All Things Trump,” the alternative is Hillary.  So drink away!)

It seemed kind-of a draw.  I wanted him to hit her harder on the emails, the Clinton Foundation, the speaking fees, her 25 years of public scandals, even how she lied about her name.  But his most important job was to seem Presidential, no matter what, to seem plausible.  In that, he succeeded, much as he benefited when he shared a stage and podium with the Mexican President, with marble walls behind them as two world leaders. He was sharing the stage, split-screen with the Secretary of State, the Democrats’ candidate for President, and he managed to emerge plausible.  Despite the hundreds of millions spent on calling him a monster, the mere sight of him in a one-on-one with Hillary Clinton legitimized him for Independents as a real candidate.  In that sense, he won a split decision narrowly.

I was enormously put off, disgusted, by her constant false laughing and broad toothy smiling, as though she perceived Trump to be the funniest buffoon, just so comical that you honestly could not help laughing.  Well, he was fine, was serious, and there was nothing to laugh at — reflecting that her laugh and toothy smile is phony, now and always.

Lester Holt was profoundly one-sided.  He interrupted Trump constantly (41 times), rarely Hillary (7 times).  He tried a few Candy Crowley moments, as when he interjected his views on the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk.  That is Hillary’s job, if she wishes to interject along those lines, not the moderator’s.  He asked Trump five hard follow-up questions; he asked Hillary . . . not one.  However, whereas moderators like Crowley cowed Romney and McCain into submission, because those genteel nominees were oh-so-polite and well mannered, Trump was not cowed.  When Holt corrected Trump, Trump stood his ground and re-stated his positions in contradiction to Holt.  When Holt tried to cut him off, Trump gently continued talking.  It is not elegant to stand up to bias, and maybe Frank Luntz’s sample viewers dialed back their devices, but the alternative to standing up is getting crushed, as Crowley did to Romney.

Because Holt was so predictably biased, I have no problem with Trump refusing to answer certain questions and instead answering his own questions.  It was a shame that Trump got baited into defending extensively on his taxes and the birther stuff.  If I were he, on taxes I would have said: “Lester, you get the IRS to stop its audit.  Or, better — Hillary, you get Koskinen to stop the audit, and then I will release taxes.  Meanwhile, Lester, when tonight are you going to ask her to release her 33,000 deleted emails?  And when are you going to ask her to release the transcripts of those secret Wall Street speeches where they paid her $225,000 for each 15-minuite speech?” 

As to the Birther issue: “Lester, the whole thing was spread by Hillary Clinton’s veteran henchman Sidney Blumenthal.  Here, Lester — I just happen to have with me a copy of the news item where the guy from the McClatchy newspapers tells how he was pressed by Mister Blumenthal to send a reporter to Kenya to check out where Obama was born.  In fact, I have a second copy of the article, which I would appreciate, Lester, if you can hand to Hillary.  And, speaking of Hillary’s close advisor Sidney Blumenthal, when are you going to ask Hillary about Sidney Blumenthal’s private emails to her on her unsecure private server?  And since he was advising her on Benghazi, Lester, when are you going to ask Hillary about Benghazi and about Sidney Blumenthal’s role in secretly advising her while he was on the payroll of the Clinton Foundation.  And, oh yeah, Lester, when are you going to ask her about the Clinton Foundation and how it took money from regimes that oppress women and murder gays, and how she gave special treatment as Secretary of State to donors to the Clinton Foundation?”  Then, if Holt returned to follow up on the Birther issue, I just would have kept repeating the retort above

Hillary’s mouth got drier and drier as the debate progressed.  That means that, despite her laughing and toothy smiling, she was more stressed and anxious than she showed.  You could hear it.

I do not believe most non-Democrats give a hoot about Trump’s taxes, or what he is worth, or who he has stiffed in business, or what he gives in charity.  We just want to know what he will do to protect the homeland, improve the economy, and secure the federal judiciary, from the Supreme Court to the federal appellate circuits down to the district courts.  The taxes and Birther stuff is a real sideshow that fascinates the media and the Dems but means nothing.  Moreover, if Trump really is under such an audit — and we do not care — then he should not release taxes.  Any tax release would lead the media to poke around and embarrass the auditors into chasing down every single possible point of contention, including things they otherwise would not bother with and taking a hard line with Blumenthal on every single point of dispute, lest they be accused of going soft on him.  He should just keep coming back with: “You release the 33,000 emails, and the Wall Street speeches, and get the IRS to stop hounding me and end the audit, and I will release the taxes.”

Final thought.  Obviously, I am voting for Trump.  Anyone But Clinton.  So I am the prisoner of my vantage point.  But here is what I see:  If he had won the first debate, Trump’s megalomania would have gone through the roof, and he would be back to gloating and making incredibly damaging comments and getting into silly fights with people beneath him.  He would walk into the next debate with no prep, and — to use his term (which every Brooklyn boy used in my teen years when describing a baseball game when our team lost by a lot) — he would get schlongged next time.  And it would be a disaster.

Instead, he stood his ground nicely.  She called him names — “racist,” “crazy,” “in his own reality” — and he behaved himself.  He interrupted no more than does Bernie Sanders or than does any other New Yorker interrupt others who are speaking.  This was not a GOP primary debate.  He was pretty much a plausible President.  Yet he knows, and his team knows, that he missed many chances, faced a terribly biased moderator, let her squirm out of some corners — and somehow let the night go by without deeper talk of Benghazi, the martyred families, “What difference does it make?” the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street speeches, the $225,000 fifteen-minute speeches, the way they left the White House “broke” (except for the furniture they stole) and soon became hundred-millionaires without ever building a thing they can point to.  So he now has a chance to mull over what was, what could have been — and what yet can be.

Meanwhile, never underestimate the egomania and arrogance of Herself.  Hillary is as crazy-in-love-with-self as he is, and she is surrounded by the same kind of sycophants that he has.  Now she goes home, even more sure that she has it all locked up, and that he is an idiot.  John Kerry did that after his first debate with “W” and it showed in the second, when “W” was on his game.  If she comes in next time, like some kind of Rhonda Rousey expecting to win in thirty seconds, or like last year’s St. Louis Cardinals, convinced that she in invincible, she may just end up like Rhonda Rousey or last year’s Cardinals.

I think that is a possibility.  Trump has a great shot at being better next time, and he again benefits from entering the second debate with a lower bar of expectations.  By the third debate, he not only will have gained experience but also will have Chris Wallace moderating.  Wallace will not be Trump’s friend at that debate, not by a long shot, but Wallace will be fair and will demand the same of Hillary that he demands of Trump.  She is not used to that, and she won’t have a fourth debate to recover from being treated the way an honest journalist should treat her.