The “town-meeting”-formatted “debate” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Sunday night was, as could have been expected, a disappointing affair, with the two moderators generally avoiding any real challenge to the lies and distortions of the two candidates and declining to push them into critical areas that have been ignored throughout this fall’s presidential campaign — like climate change, an increasingly dangerous conflict between nuclear powers that could trigger a likely nuclear world war, and the worsening income gap in the US which, let’s face it, neither candidate has a program or even a desire to combat.
On balance though, while both candidates were awful, I would say the night went worse for Clinton. Trump’s challenge in this second outing, coming right after the release of an 11-year-old video in which he boasted of assaulting women, was firstly to defuse that damaging revelation, and secondly to avoid losing his cool and making outrageous extemporaneous statements that would worsen his standing as a sober “leader.” He largely met both challenges, apologizing for his lewd boasting and his obnoxious and abusive behavior as described in the video, which he dismissed as “locker-room talk” that he wasn’t proud of, and sticking for the most part to criticisms of Clinton’s actual actions (and inaction) and to her words. His performance probably was adequate to at least staunch the stream of defections of Republican candidates and Republican voters from his campaign and support base.
Clinton meanwhile, had the challenge of trying to get the public to trust her. In this she failed miserably. Smirking frequently when she was being accused by Trump of serious crimes and of blatant and repeated lying, she clumsily tried to dodge some serious and valid charges he made against her. These on-screen actions and lame efforts to change the subject will only succeed in making her less trusted by those voters who have still not made up their minds about which candidate, if any, to back on November 8.
For example, when Trump hammered at Clinton for having deleted and then “bleached” from her hard drive over 30,000 emails — actions taken after she had already received subpoenas for them — she tried to dodge the issue by referring, in a complete non-sequitor, to the 50,000 emails that “I did provide.” It was hardly an adequate response, and effectively simply confirmed her crime of obstruction. The two moderators, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, did almost nothing to press her on this failure to respond.
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