Out of all of them, this was the most entertaining to watch just because of all the crazy scandals coming out about Donald “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump at the time, and the press conference he did about Bill’s mistresses just before it started. This is when the election was really getting tense, with all the dirty laundry coming out. There was no handshake at the beginning, which a lot of people took note of on the Reddit livestream I was watching on. I remember when I was watching this live for the first time and I thought for sure we were about to witness a breakdown of Trump. He seemed so uncharacteristically nervous, quiet, lacking in his usual gravitas and almost submissive for once. It felt like the pussy-tape had finally cracked his shell and he was almost gonna start crying. Admittedly, when I rewatched these recently, I didn’t notice that as much anymore.
Red text pertains to Trump.
Blue text pertains to Hillary.
Green text pertains to the moderators.
The Insanity Continues
Right off the bat we get a demonstration of Hillary’s forced “I’m personable! I’m a human! See!” persona as she asks the woman in the audience a question to try to cozy up to her…and then doesn’t even wait for a response. While there’s no comparison to Trump’s crude abrasiveness, I don’t think Hillary can pretend she’s above the mudslinging either. If she had let her staff and press hammer home Trump’s offensiveness and spoke purely on the issues, she could have given this woman a real answer. This is why it’s usually good strategy as the candidate to keep your hands as clean as possible, and let the press, your surrogates and your VP be the attack dogs. When an opponent makes an unforced error, as Trump did half a dozen times at the last debate, you stay quiet and let it play out. As Sun Tzu said, never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake. Hillary, through hubris, overwhelming personal distaste of Trump, or perhaps a misguided attempt to show women could be tough, got right in the thick of things with him and therefore not only blunted those gift-wrapped moments but now ceded the high ground in the eyes of voters like this woman.
It goes without saying, but the “locker room talk” excuse for Trump’s comments is absolutely bullshit and insulting to men as well, with the insinuation they all act that way. I used to be socialized male and I can say from experience that, while men do certainly make disrespectful or lewd comments about women’s bodies in private, I have never once seen a guy brag about assaulting one as Trump did in that tape. I know I heard guys bragging them a woman “was totally into me” but I never heard them admit she wasn’t, but that he grabbed at her anyway as Trump said. I think any man who would defend what Trump said in that tape is either revealing themselves to be a sexual assaulter or they’re lying to put their political idol ahead of the dignity and safety of their daughters, wives, mothers and girl friends.
With regard to Hillary’s response to Pussy-gate, it’s legitimately unfortunate the more hardcore socially-focused Democrats and Hillary apologists threw the word sexist around so much that cycle it had lost all impact by this point in the race. The Angry Video game Nerd not wanting to watch the all-female Ghostbusters remake is not sexist, but Trump and his cronies thinking so little of all women is. This was a classic boy who cried wolf scenario in hindsight–what should have been a national dialogue about sexism and rape culture was totally undone because the word sexist had been thrown against everyone (including myself, actually) who had ever even once criticized Hillary at any point in the year, or even just preferred Bernie to her (“Bernie bros”/“girls are going to Bernie rallies because that’s where the men are“/“there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t vote for hillary.”)
In my humble opinion, the lowest Trump ever sunk that whole election was in immediately pivoting to ISIS to get off from having to defend himself against the tape and its implications. I’m glad the moderator, Anderson, didn’t like him get away with that so easily.
Once again (seriously, are you noticing a theme here?) Hillary destroys a gift-wrapped moment by unnecessarily getting her hands dirty–and doing so in a clumsy way, to boot. Seriously lady, take the victory. Anderson and the media are doing your work FOR you. You don’t need to get your hands dirty–piling on with the same accusations they’re throwing around adds nothing. It doesn’t come across well when you look down your nose at him and spend 3 minutes giving a moralizing, paternalistic lecture to a 70 year old man who’s incapable of shame. Yes of course that tape was awful, but the point is other people will grill him for it. She should have just said “Anderson, I’m here to talk about the issues. What Trump says or does are a matter between him and his own conscience, and the voters will take that into account on their own come election day.” I guarantee that if she said words to that effect, it would have gotten her a round of applause and a lot of credit in the press the next day. And anyone who’d say “this is an issue!” or “he was so offensive she just had to speak out!” I say fine, on a personal level I completely understand that. But that still doesn’t change the fact it was a bad look for her and bad strategy. The way she keeps invoking “the children are watching!!” all the time, and “America is great because America is good!” It’s just so cheesy it had me rolling my eyes–and I was revolted by the tape, personally. It’s obnoxious virtue signaling when the point had already landed anyway.
I understand her disgust with him, I really do, but I think the female moderator, Marhta Raddatz let her personal feelings corrupt her duty to be unbiased. Trump’s right, Hillary got like 3, 4 minutes to deliver a preachy little sermon about what an awful sexist he is, and then he’s not allowed to defend himself without getting cut off. As despicable as he is, and that tape was, Trump should be allowed to speak in his own defense at a town hall debate in which he is one of the two participants. And she interrupts him just to waste more time reminding us how talked about the video is, which is totally useless. The excuse for cutting Trump off was the “need to get to audience questions,” but Anderson brought this topic of the tape up himself and allowed Hillary time to speak at length about it. So, if you want to get technical, the moderators are the ones eating into audience time, not Trump.
It’s clear that this whole section of the debate was planned out not as a topic of good faith discussion but as an attempt to shame, sabotage and destroy Trump live on the air. Was it warranted by how dangerous of a candidate he was? Perhaps. Was it deserved on a personal level considering how unscrupulous he is? Probably. Was it still manipulative, underhanded and setting a bad precedent for future debates? I would argue that yes, it was. I would also say it was a very transparent hit job that probably strengthened Trump’s supporters’ resolve and the “fake news”/”liberal media” narrative. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe that Facebook question they cite next is even real; it seems a little too on the nose, and a convenient excuse to keep the focus on the tape.
If you ever wanted any proof that Trump is a freaking mastermind at deflection and force of personality, listen to his answer in response to that “Facebook question” and how he brings up Bill Clinton’s rapes and Hillary covering it up. Once more you see the motif of Trump being a personally reprehensible sleazebag…but he does in fact raise a legitimate point about his opponent. And really, this just further proves why Hillary ought to have kept her mouth shut earlier—because as he points out, she’s a total hypocrite for going there. Once again, she put on a big sanctimonious show of condemning Trump for skeletons she has in her own closet. She didn’t need to do so either. If she had been the bigger person and focused on the issues, Trump bringing up Bill Clinton here as a defense would have come across as petty and desperate as opposed to fair game. Instead, because she set him up for it, the counter comes off like a reasonable “well who the hell are you to talk?” kind of comeback. This actually gets freaking applause while Hillary’s little self-important “tsk tsk” mantra from before did not (in fact you could feel the suppressed displeasure in the room as she was talking.)
With this rebuttal from Trump, Hillary has now lost the support of the crowd. I repeat, she is now on the defensive against Donald Goddamn Trump…at the lowest point in his campaign…and only 15 minutes into the debate. Think about that for a second, and realize that Hillary is fucking terrible at this. Like, historically incompetent at campaigning, debating or making people like her. And to reiterate the point again, this was a completely unforced error on her part; like Romney during the “please proceed, governor” moment, she allowed herself to walk into a rhetorical trap. I really don’t think Trump’s deflection to Bill would have gotten a positive reaction if Hillary had not had everyone rolling their eyes and silently groaning with her lecture on sexism just before. That lecture in itself may have been justified, but like so much else, Hillary was literally the single worst person in the world to deliver it.
Once again you’ll notice Hillary’s smug grin here as if she’s in on the joke when the whole room just cheered at the sight of her getting knocked down a peg and her husband called a rapist. This is also the moment when the infamous fly landed on her face, which if I were a superstitious person I would say is an omen–if she couldn’t get the clear edge on Trump after “grab ’em by the pussy,” she was dead in the water right then and there whether she realized it or not. Her defense is completely hypocritical now, saying Trump is focused on personal attacks and not the issues, after she just attacked him personally before. And despite the applause she gets for it here, if you have to rely on the former first lady’s convention speech for your best line, and you have to trot that out at every appearance since you lack the wit to make your own zingers…you suck. Seriously. As the candidate, YOU should be the one generating the talking points and the great lines. Can you think of when LBJ relied on Jacqueline Kennedy for his most effective zinger? George Bush recycling lines from Nancy Reagan? Bill Clinton parroting Rosalynn Carter? No? There’s a reason for that.
And then for good measure, Hillary decides that now is the perfect time to treat us to a greatest hits package of how mean and racist Trump is, as if we didn’t already know. Literally right after criticizing him for going personal as opposed to focusing on the issues. In hindsight, it’s insane that neither she nor her staff ever thought “hey…aren’t these same talking points getting kinda stale? You think maybe we should move on and focus on something else for like one day? I mean…if the voters haven’t realized what a racist he is by now, I’m not sure repeating it for the zillion and second time is really going to make that much difference, y’know?”
It’s at this point when Trump really starts coming alive again. By bringing up the same old crap for the millionth time, Hillary ironically allowed him to get off the defensive with the Access Hollywood tape and go back to attacking via his own tired talking points. The most shocking moment of the debate comes when he literally threatens to send her to jail as president. You could actually feel the tension in the air, it was so un-befitting the supposed decorum of a national debate. My mom, who was far more forgiving of Trump’s antics than most, even called it “frightening” when we discussed the debates that Thanksgiving.
When Hillary tries to claim everything Trump just said as false, there is an audible murmur of displeasure in the crowd. We all knew the facts by this point, so for her to lie about it to our faces yet again was, I imagine, a bridge too far for a lot of people in the audience. Her stupid “go to Hillary Clinton dot com to get the facts!!” line isn’t cutting it, especially in this instance. Because yeah, your personal campaign site is totally gonna be honest about your criminal investigation, right? Trump’s zinger “because you’d be in jail” and the applause it gets proves once more Hillary has totally lost the room with no hope of regaining the upper hand. Nobody likes a hypocrite, nobody likes a liar, nobody likes an obnoxious virtue-signaling moralizer with obvious skeletons in their own closet. Trump managed to get her to expose all of these negative qualities about herself and instantly pussy-gate is old news at what was supposed to be the death-knell of Trump’s campaign.
Again, say what you will about Trump and what a nasty piece of garbage he is, but when he lists all the damning facts about the email scandal: didn’t know what “C” meant, deleted 30,000 emails after getting a subpoena, Bill met Loretta Lynch on a plane…it’s impossible for all but the most die-hard, facts-be-damned Clinton apologists to not be outraged. I’m a broken record at this point, but it’s just so clear she never should have run with all this self-inflicted baggage–anyone with an ounce of experience with politics ought to have foreseen what a mess it was going to become. And it’s infuriating how me and so many others were saying as much all through the damn election and we were constantly told to just shut up and fall in line anyway because “Trump’s a racist though.” Hillary and the DNC played Russian Roulette with our country and lost. And here again you see that oblivious horsey gape of a grin on Clinton’s face as Trump says all this. What are you laughing about? How the hell can you grin? You’re getting decimated by a buffoon, a reality TV star who just took up politics for fun. Worse, to onlookers it looks like you don’t care about these accusations that we take very seriously. It’s just such a bad look. You can tell Trump’s gotten under Hillary’s skin at 25 minutes in with her weak response.
At the next (really only the second, and we’re a third of the way done) question, probably the pettiest single moment in debate history comes along with the two of them arguing who answers first like little children. Once again, you see how Donald has completely defused Hillary’s grandstanding position and rattled her poise when he says “nah I’m a gentleman Hillary, go ahead!” and people laugh and applaud while Hillary sullenly marches forward with her head down in barely concealed frustration. It was absolutely remarkable to me then and still is now how Trump was able to turn things around so completely and so perfectly at this debate. Many people thought he’d cancel his appearance after the tape leaked, some thought he’d even drop out of the race altogether. Instead, he made pussy-gate old news that very night and after only like 15 minutes on the defensive, then he spent the rest of the night viciously attacking Clinton to great effect. That requires an insane amount of confidence (or narcissistic ego-stroking) to pull off. I don’t know how many other nominees throughout history could have done it.
Around this time too, you’ll notice Hillary has stopped giving that condescending grin every time Donald talks. It definitely feels like she realizes at this point she’s underestimated Trump and lost the momentum in this debate.
I like what Anderson is doing calling Trump out on the impossible promises about his healthcare plan. But I don’t like how this is the second time Anderson has interrogated Trump himself rather than allow him to respond directly to audience questions or Hillary. If Anderson did this to Hillary as well I wouldn’t mind, but one-sided like this it appears like a hit job. Maybe Anderson saw it as his duty to the country to show the emperor has no clothes, but I think it backfired and instead made Trump look sympathetic. He’s clearly getting bullied on by the mods, and while they could claim it was warranted earlier with the pussy-gate tape, the fact that they’re still doing it now raises suspicion of bias.
When the issue of Muslims come up, I think Martha Raddatz oversteps her boundaries cutting off Trump and arguing with him on his policy as though she were a participant rather than a moderator. Again, I understand her not liking him and taking issue with this policy. The problem is, she’s hurting her own cause by arguing with him from a position of neutral arbiter. She makes him look sympathetic as if he were the victim of a hit-job by getting involved when really, Hillary ought to be doing that (if she was in any way decent at this.)
I think Hillary’s arguments for taking in more refugees fell flat for 3 reasons: a) for better or worse, immigration was a big factor in the election. People were, rightly or wrongly, already pissed at the idea of taking in Latinos from the south, so much so that they got behind a man talking about building a wall. b) That same insipid “think about the children!!” excuse is done to justify a lot of authoritarian and/or stupid policies. It’s a dog whistle for “this is something you aren’t gonna like, but you can’t complain because children.” It has a visceral reaction in me where I want to support the opposite of what the person making that argument is saying. I think a lot of people feel the same these days. c) She uses this opportunity to yet again sneak in a dig at Russia, ignoring our own meddling in Syria and the Middle East which helped cause and exacerbate the crisis. Hillary really didn’t do herself any favors by constantly pushing this anti-Russia rhetoric. It made her (it turns out, accurate) claims of hacking come off like part of a catch-all smokescreen. It also made her appear to be the exact kind of interventionist, war hawk neocon we’re all sick to death of. If she wasn’t also talking about a no fly zone over Syria and other policies which would flick Russia’s nose, these attacks might have come off better.
A lot has been made about Trump’s movements around the stage during this debate. It’s around this point he appears to be humping a chair for unknown reasons. In actuality he’s swaying back and forth next to one, but it still looks strange.
Once again, what might have been a good attack on Trump from Hillary (he supported Iraq!) falls completely flat because SHE VOTED FOR THE WAR. It’s a complete pot calling the kettle black situation. She needed to stop attacking him because she’s bad at it, and many of her attacks are totally hypocritical. She should have ignored Trump completely and just talked policy. That’s what she knows, that’s what people who were tired of the circus act election wanted, and she was never gonna beat Trump at his own game with so much baggage of her own weighing her down. She badly underestimated how much people do not like her, how many of her old gaffes and bad decisions were preserved online, and how hypocritical she constantly comes off in attacks like this.
I don’t buy for one second Hillary’s excuse “oh, I was talking about Abe Lincoln!” when her damning “you have to have a private and a public stance” quote from a Wall Street speech comes up. I doubt anyone else was either—you’d have to be incredibly naive to believe that crap. Besides, using different arguments to persuade different Senators to vote for something is a lot different than holding two positions, one for the masses and one for your donors. She never should have given those speeches, period. She knew she was going to run for president, she knew it would look bad in the wake of the bailout/Occupy, and she did it anyway because of greed and hubris. Same with the email server, it represents a complete lack of foresight. Her apologists trying to say it’s not a big deal are missing that point. In the first place, it is a big deal. But beyond that, it LOOKS BAD. Period. And perception is EVERYTHING in politics. Period. She really thought she could just piss all over the voters and skate by anyway because of the pied piper strategy with Trump. She miscalculated.
When Trump rightly throws Hillary under the bus for daring to use Abe Lincoln as a shield, he gets another round of laughs. As I’ve been saying, it’s very clear watching this debate in hindsight that Trump has the crowd on his side. Nobody is buying Hillary’s deflections or virtue signaling anymore.
Then we come to the most famous exchange of the debate, about taxes, and Trump continuously interrupts Clinton. She has to look at Anderson to save her. She gets to talk again, and delivers probably the weakest zinger in debate history “Presidents have a little something called veto power!” It wouldn’t have been that bad if she hadn’t said it in such a transparently snarky way. Worse, she actually lowers the mic and looks out over the crowd as if expecting applause or laughter…but it never comes. So she awkwardly continues on. I have to keep belaboring the point—Hillary lost the audience a long time ago, and this is just the latest example of it. What makes this would-be zinger even lamer upon reflection is Hillary’s actually proving that by her own metric of a strong leader, she failed in the Senate. Her dodge regarding the earlier topic was that Abe Lincoln could talk to different people in the Senate and convince them to do what he wanted…and by her own admission she was not able to do so in the Senate. And Hillary talks about vetoes, but did she ever even propose any of this legislation at all? The way she words it here, it sounds like she didn’t even try, and uses the existence of a Republican president as a convenient excuse. That’s pathetic.
The female moderator REALLY oversteps her boundaries in the next segment on Syria. Literally, she inserts herself into the debate, tries to argue against Trump’s positions, and cuts him off. As bad as Trump is, this is totally uncalled for. It completely destroys any appearance of neutral non-partisan moderation and once again makes Trump look like the victim of a coordinated media hit job. Martha Raddatz needs to shut her mouth—this is supposed to be a back and forth between the candidates not you taking down someone who don’t like. And to anyone reading who might be thinking “oh, but Trump’s so terrible she just had to say something…” I say STOP. You’re not doing yourself or our country any favors by supporting double standards and the media purposefully picking a winner like this. This behavior isn’t okay regardless of whether the recipient is Republican or Democrat. Trump’s biggest mistake of the night was not saying “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was having this debate with you, Martha, feel free to take the chair. Do you not trust Secretary Clinton to win on her own without extra help?” or something of that nature. I guarantee Trump would have gotten laughs and applause if he had. The way to prevent a dangerous demagogue like Trump from getting this far in a race again is reforming the primaries, having multiple major parties by repealing first past the post (that way, a weak opponent like Clinton isn’t a guarantee of a win) and perhaps having a fail-safe “none of the above” option on the ballot which if it gets a plurality triggers a redo of the election with new candidates. (I’ve proposed these and many other reforms to prevent this fiasco from happening again in my Constitutional Reform project.) Having moderators try to make a name for themselves as “the one who stood up to Trump” just makes him sympathetic and sets a horrible precedent.
And while all of this back and forth with Trump is going on, Hillary has slunk back in her little corner letting the moderating team once again fight her battles for her, just as they attacked Trump on her behalf over the tape and Anderson had to save her when Trump ate up her time. Trump’s maniacal rantings aren’t a presidential look, but neither is being a third wheel at your own debate. It plays into the weak damsel in distress perception of women Hillary was supposedly going to tear down with this campaign. This is another reason why the woman moderator’s stand against Trump might have been done with good intentions but actually didn’t do Hillary, or the electorate, any favors.
Gotta give him further credit, Trump played it smart bringing up the “basket of deplorables” comment. For the millionth time now, notice how these moments which should have been great attacks on Trump (supported Iraq, Tax Returns, divisive) were completely nullified because Hillary has similar or worse problems. In this case, the audience’s asking if they can be a candidate for all Americans…this should have been a knockout segment for her but it’s undercut by that asinine, unnecessary comment she made earlier in the election. She spends practically the whole segment defending and explaining in what should have been a golden opportunity to get TRUMP on the defensive again. And her talking point about how civil the Democratic primary had been is bullshit—she attacked Sanders viciously during those races. Calling him sexist (which helped dilute the legit accusations against Trump now), saying he needed to work on his tone, and saying he didn’t care about the Sandy Hook families just because he disagreed with their decision to sue gun manufacturers.
When the question comes to the Supreme Court, Hillary totally walked right into Donald’s trap. He mentioned the second amendment under siege and then exhaustively laid out the fact that she’s profited handsomely in office, especially as Secretary of State. And what does Hillary respond to? The guns. And then she lays out her gun policies (which the gun nuts/single issue voters don’t like and consider the very siege Trump was talking about). She doesn’t address the corruption charges at all probably because there was nothing she could have said to defend her ridiculous bank account she accumulated as a “public servant.” So she lets those accusations stand and gets herself on record yet again describing policies many people in America don’t like. This is an amateur mistake coming from the self-proclaimed “most experienced candidate ever!!!”
On the last question, asking them to say something nice about each other, I think Hillary made a mistake taking the initiative and going first. The moderator specifically directed Trump to answer and he didn’t probably because he couldn’t think of anything to say. If Hillary had let that hang there, Trump might have had to admit he couldn’t think of anything and/or refused to answer at all which would have made him look terrible. Instead, Hillary steps in and gives a very transparently back-handed compliment. What do I respect about Donald? His kids. So, people that aren’t him. And then she goes on to clarify (in case it wasn’t clear) that she disagrees with everything else he says and does, then pivots to talk about herself. I don’t blame her for not liking Trump and being hard-pressed to name something. But that was a bad look. And again, it was an unforced error. If she just shut up, Trump might have looked really bad all by himself. When Trump comes in and acknowledges that what Hillary said probably wasn’t meant as a compliment, rather than speak up and clarify it was, or show a poker face and let the world guess, she has that big stupid grin on her face again. As if to say “Yeah! I really played you! I gave an anti-compliment!! I’m so smart!!!” but we all knew that’s what she just did, and if there was any doubt then this smug grin confirmed it. Trump’s compliment, ironically, comes off a lot more genuine—it’s something people frequently cite as Hillary’s strong suits that she doesn’t give up. Against all odds, Hillary managed to make TRUMP look more magnanimous, right after pussy-gate. That is how badly she failed this debate.
I’d have a lot of people mad at me if anyone actually read these things, but I’m just gonna say it—Trump won this debate. Hands down, and he had everything working against him going in. This was when pussy-gate leaked and it appeared like he and his campaign were spiraling out of control. Some thought he’d cancel on the debate, some thought he might even drop out of the race. Instead, he showed up, took the blows for 10, 15 minutes but then he expertly turned everything around and managed to put HILLARY on the defensive. He diffused the greatest bombshell against him of the whole campaign and regained his footing without missing a beat. Everyone on Reddit and my Facebook newsfeed was saying “Trump totally lost LOL!!!” and “Hillary mopped the floor with him!!” the next day…but upon a second viewing I really don’t think so. You can see numerous instances where the crowd responded positively to Trump but ignored or even groaned at Hillary. He got a lot of effective digs in while all her would-be attacks fell flat due to bad delivery or because she had similar issues as a candidate.
The only thing people could focus on with the “Trump lost” perspective is how he humped a chair and how he stalked Hillary around the stage, both of which are overblown if not outright fabricated. Now, were a lot of Trump’s points lies or stupid? Of course. But the point is, he came off better than she did from a charismatic/force of personality perspective, which is often just as important if not more so. Hillary didn’t land a single blow on him while Trump dodged the pussy-gate bombshell and the same tired talking points she dug up for the millionth time. Hillary was supposed to be the “greatest candidate ever” according to her brainwashed supporters and the DNC, and she played this like a complete amateur. The moderators did half her work for her, and rather than take charge of the situation she sat there and smirked which made her look weak and petty. It also martyred Trump and gave credence to the “CNN is in bed with Hillary” perception. The moderation of this debate is just as terrible as Lester’s from the previous outing but for different reasons. Lester was too hands off and let Trump dominate the whole proceedings, while Martha and Anderson tried to make this their big moment taking down Trump and it backfired.
ASIDE: I notice how, reading this again for the purposes of editing and reposting it on here, I focus a lot more on Hillary’s blunders than Trump. I feel the need to point out that the reason for this is because, frankly, I expected better from her. She was supposedly experienced in politics and had been waiting all her life for this moment. Her errors are also a lot more due to strategic missteps and rhetorical traps she walks herself into. I think describing these moments are both easier for me and more helpful to the reader in understanding debate tactics. By contrast, Trump’s errors often come from untrue statements of fact, general abrasiveness, and being offensive to most people’s sensibilities. These qualities are certainly repugnant and a hindrance, but there’s less to analyze, and if I were to point out every time it happened, we’d be here all day and these are already very detailed elsewhere. The point is Hillary’s mistakes could have been avoided and can be used to teach others what not to do. By contrast, Trump’s mistakes are character flaws which are endemic to who he is as a person, they represent symptoms of a serious personality disorder and (I strongly suspect) dementia. There’s just not as much to learn from him except “don’t be an asshole.”