Monday, October 10, 2016

On a Bizarre Night, Trump Comes Through Okay

By Jim Geraghty
The National Review
October 10, 2016

What a bizarre debate.

It began with the candidates refusing to shake hands, an indication of the seething hostility between the two campaigns and the two candidates. The growing nastiness must have been cathartic for each of them, finally being able to bring out all of the arguments and opposition research they’ve wanted to bring up, directly to each other’s faces.

Trump probably didn’t mitigate too much of the damage from the “grab her” tape with his excuse that “it was locker-room talk” and “I’m not proud of it.” Lots of Republicans wondered if he would open with a blistering, furious counterattack, but early on, he almost seemed medically subdued. He did briefly rip into Bill Clinton’s record of sexual misconduct, and intriguingly, Hillary Clinton barely addressed those arguments. Hillary did offer her indictment, that Trump’s behavior doesn’t represent the great country full of good people that we want to be… and if everyone had switched over to the football or baseball games after that, she had a good night.

But the debate went on for another hour and fifteen minutes, and Trump seemed to have actually cracked the briefing books this time. He didn’t always explain all his references that he wedged into his two-minute answers – Sid Blumenthal, Jonathan Gruber, 33,000 e-mails – but he seemed to have more to say in all of his opportunities. He also pivoted to the topics he wanted to get to tonight; he barely did this in the other debate. He remembered to hit Obamacare early and enjoyed a whole segment on it. Whether or not viewers came away believing Trump had a detailed plan to fix it, Hillary Clinton had to concede the glaring and worsening problems in the program. If voters head to the polling places thinking about how disappointed and angered they are by Obamacare, that’s a bad sign for Clinton and Democrats in general.

Moderator Martha Raddatz detests Donald Trump, didn’t hide it much at all, and she seemed to want to debate Trump herself. That was an exceptionally unwise approach to the role of moderator, in part because it validated his complaint from earlier in the evening that it would be “three on one.”

Finally, it ended on something resembling a genuine gracious note. Asked if they could find something to praise in the other, Clinton praised Trump’s children. Trump offered comments that could pop up in an ad for Hillary Clinton. For one shining moment, Trump actually took the high road, and praised Clinton for never quitting, and for being a fighter. She seemed surprised and a little flattered – and she should, since those are undoubtedly among the qualities that Trump admires the most in himself.

Once he got beyond the opening twenty minutes, Trump had a much better performance. It was if he suddenly remembered he was up on stage to make an argument — my opponent has been in Washington for twenty-five years and represents the status quo, with all of its failures, disappointments, outrages and broken promises — and finally made that argument. Will it change the dynamics of the race? That may depend upon the size of the audience. Perhaps an audience as large as the first debate’s 80 million or so tuned in, expecting a Trump meltdown… and then didn’t get one.

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