Last night’s debate made for grim watching. I’m a fan of neither candidate, but Hillary performed far better than Trump. She kept her poise, she smiled, she stayed on her talking points. She was, in a word, disciplined. Measured. And smart. She admitted she was wrong about the emails, apologized, and moved on. She projected calm. Not surprisingly, she was well prepared and knew her stuff.
Trump was the total opposite: ill-prepared, mugging and pulling faces for the camera, angry and unsmiling, wandering from his talking points, often losing himself. He was, in a word, undisciplined. And Trump never admits he’s wrong, whether about the Iraq war or the birther issue or his tax returns or what have you. Instead of calm, Trump projected anger. Despite running for president for more than a year, he seemed ill-prepared and not in command of the narrative.
Whether any of this matters in the long run remains to be seen. But what surprised me the most about Trump was the lack of a positive message. Where was Reagan’s sunny optimism? Where was George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism? Where was the hope? Trump just seemed angry: angry at Mexicans, angry at the Chinese, angry at corporations for taking American jobs overseas, angry at Hillary for her negative ads. (I guess “Crooked Hillary” doesn’t count as negativity.)
Can you win a presidential campaign when your primary appeal is an angry one? Anger that is often directed at various minority groups as well as your opponent? I suppose we’ll find out, come this November.
Trump sniffled a lot and was perhaps suffering from a cold. As the debate dragged on, he lost steam and grew increasingly incoherent. You could see Hillary’s confidence grow. She’s not the best debater; she has a tendency to lecture, to drone on, to lose the attention of the audience. But his dismal performance overshadowed her occasional forays into the weeds of wonkishness.
Trump, in sum, emerged the loser, and for a self-professed “winner” like Trump, that is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.