Published on NationalPost.com on September 27, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump showed what an amateur he is in his first presidential debate performance Monday night. He stupidly thought a debate was about answering all the questions, rather than using them as excuses to get out his pre-planned sound bites. He lost the debate, but not by so much that he can’t come back in the second contest that will take place on Oct. 9th.
Apart from the outcome, the real story of the debate is the shots Trump left on the cutting-room floor. How can you go through a 98-minute debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and not mention the following words: “Clinton Library,” “Benghazi,” “FBI,” “pay for play,” “IRS scandal” or “speaking fees”?
Clinton — minus the corruption, secrecy issues and the constant lying and cover-ups — should win this election easily. Trump made that clear in the first debate.
When the subject turned to cyber-security, why on earth did Trump not talk about Clinton’s private email server and how it compromised America’s national security by putting the country’s innermost secrets on an insecure server in her basement? Instead, he let her ramble on about the danger of cyber-attacks. Claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee server, she warned the Russian leader against any more hacking before the election.
And when the host, Jim Holt of NBC News, asked Trump directly what could be done to ward off things like the terrorist bombings in New York, he didn’t even mention his proposal to ban immigrants from countries deemed to be state sponsors of terrorism. (The bomber was an immigrant from Afghanistan, one of the countries from which Trump would have barred immigration.)
When Clinton read off a litany of the things Trump has said about women, Trump should have replied that all he did was call people names, but Clinton hired private detectives to dig up dirt on women who had been linked to her husband. (Not to get them to leave her husband alone, or even to get a divorce, but to intimidate them into silence, so he could get elected president by lying about his relationships.)
Trump twisted himself in knots as he tried to make the accurate point that he has opposed the invasion of Iraq, while Clinton backed it. Instead of just pointing out that his comments, which made it sound as though he was open to backing an invasion, were made years before the actual war and that, when the debate got serious and the matter was before the U.S. Senate, he wrote extensively against invading, while Clinton voted to go ahead.
Then, when Clinton implied that Trump would be fast and loose with nuclear weapons and could not be trusted with that power, he didn’t come back at her and point out that she backed the war in Iraq, sponsored the war in Libya and advocated for a war in Syria. He should have said that she felt she needed to prove her strength by urging military action.
Trump also was unable to fend off attacks on his failure to release his income tax returns. Instead, he tried to sell the transparent falsehood that he didn’t dare release them while he was under an audit from the Internal Revenue Service — a position Clinton rightly debunked. And he had no answer to charges that he laid off workers, stiffed them of their pay and went into bankruptcy to avoid paying his debts. Trump should have turned to Clinton and said that he was a private businessman, and that sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he failed, while she has lived off the taxpayers for 40 years, never taking chances and never taking risks.
Trump’s biggest omission was his failure to challenge his opponent on her health. Apart from questioning her stamina (which Clinton rebutted well), he should have demanded that she take a full MRI exam and release the results to the public. We can handle a disabled president. We had one for 12 years (FDR) and did just fine. But we cannot have a demented one. And, after cranial blood clots and four fainting episodes in the past six years (that we know about), we are entitled to question her health and demand answers. But Trump let that pass him by, too.
So Trump didn’t do as well as he could have. Will it cost him the election? No. He can still come back. There are two more debates and if this arrogant know-it-all will only listen to constructive criticism from experts, he might yet be able to confront Clinton and win.
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