The Corner

Politics & Policy

If This Night Doesn’t Save Hillary’s Campaign, Nothing Will

This was a terrible night for Donald Trump, so he’ll probably surge in the polls.

Hillary Clinton began oddly, with a lame knock on “Trumped-up trickle-down,” and claiming Trump’s main focus was to help the rich. (Is the “basket of deplorables” rich?) This is the exact same playbook she would have run against Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, or any other Republican. Of course, Trump is really different from a traditional Republican.

But after the first 15 minutes or so, she shifted to steadily working her way through the anti-Trump briefing book. She clearly had memorized a whole briefing encyclopedia on Trump’s controversial statements, scandals, lawsuits, and worked in most of them over the course of 90 minutes.

I think if you look at Trump’s face immediately after the debate, he knew he didn’t have a good night. One could argue the topic selection played against him: a whole section on his birther argument against President Obama, extended discussion of his unreleased tax returns, whether he stiffed former contractors. The debate included nothing on immigration (!) border security (!), Benghazi, or the Clinton Foundation. The discussion of Hillary’s e-mails was brief.

One of Clinton’s key strengths of the night was keeping her cool as Trump bulldozed over moderator Lester Holt and brought his traditional relentless, jabbing, unstoppable style. A lot of Trump’s GOP candidates never quite figured out how to deal with this human hurricane who doesn’t care at all about time limits, what question he was asked, interrupting the opponent, and so on. Then again, none of Trump’s primary rivals had the advantage of a one-on-one matchup.

Trump started better than he finished; he may be in better shape if the audience size declined over the course of the night. But on issue after issue, it was one missed opportunity after another.

It’s a shame Lester Holt couldn’t be there this evening; a lot of people wondered how he would perform as moderator . . . oh, he was there? I suppose he just forgot about the no-applause, no-cheering rule as the night wore on.

If this doesn’t reverse the polls for Hillary Clinton, what can? 

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