Regardless of the morning headlines, Donald Trump won the debate. Why? Hillary Clinton supporters, including most of the media, were betting on Trump self-destructing in the face of personal barbs thrown at him from Lester Holt and Clinton.
Trump, however, didn’t take any of the hooks — at least, none of the important ones. Even when Holt pressed the issues, “Let me interrupt just a moment,” Trump just talked over the “moderator” until he shut up. As a seasoned TV performer, Trump knows that those debating have leverage over the moderator, especially one who hardly conceals his political preferences.
Trump also successfully peppered Clinton with sly, and very audible, interruptions, which threw off the rhythm of Clinton’s most robotic moments.
Here’s the only Trump fumble of the debate:
HOLT: Why is your judgment — why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton’s judgment?
TRUMP: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There’s no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?
That moment reminded me of the Trump who won the primaries, not the Trump who will very likely win the coming election.
But back to barbs, which were predictable and, probably, both rehearsed and coordinated between the Clinton campaign and NBC News. Evidence of coordination can be found throughout the debate, but the most telling evidence came when Clinton ordered Holt to shut Trump up on the subject of NATO and the Middle East:
CLINTON: Lester, we’ve covered…
TRUMP: No, wait a minute.
CLINTON: We’ve covered this ground.
After Trump finished his comment, Holt said, “Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions,” and shifted to Trump’s purported support for the Iraq War. Holt interrupted and interrogated Trump throughout the debate and never once challenged anything uttered by Clinton.
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Most of the hooks thrown at Trump were about racism. At one point, he was explicitly called a racist by Hillary: “So he has a long record of engaging in racist behavior.” Rather than defending himself, Trump shifted to Clinton’s treatment of her opponent, Barack Obama, in the 2008 primary race: “You treated him with terrible disrespect.”
Several of Holt’s questions implicitly made the same charge — Trump as a “birther” and as a supporter of “stop-and-frisk,” both of which Trump parried well.
Then Trump was charged, unsuccessfully, with sexism:
HOLT: Earlier this month, you said she doesn’t have, quote, ‘a presidential look.’ She’s standing here right now. What did you mean by that?
Trump turned it into a question about Clinton’s health:
She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.
Holt tried to talk over Trump, but later Clinton came back to it:
You know, he tried to switch from looks to stamina. But this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said…
When Clinton told the “Miss Piggy” story, it seemed she was going to score big points, but it was nearing the end of the debate, and Trump’s next comment caught everyone off guard. Trump looked at Holt, then right at Hillary, and said:
TRUMP: You know, Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials. Some of it’s said in entertainment. Some of it’s said — somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her. . . . But you want to know the truth? I was going to say something…
HOLT: Please very quickly.
TRUMP: … extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.’ But she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. They’re untrue. And they’re misrepresentations.
And I will tell you this, Lester: It’s not nice. And I don’t deserve that.
But it’s certainly not a nice thing that she’s done. It’s hundreds of millions of ads. And the only gratifying thing is, I saw the polls come in today, and with all of that money…. [Emphasis added]
Holt responded with, “We have to move on to the final question,” rather than, “Mr. Trump, what was it that you were going to say, but decided not to?”
That was a can of worms that Lester Holt knew better than to open in front of 100 million viewers.
Deal W. Hudson is the publisher and editor of The Christian Review.