Josh Marshall thinks Hillary Clinton had Donald Trump on the defensive in the first debate on Talking Points Memo.
Clinton clearly went into this debate not looking for one or two big “Have you no decency” moments but rather looking to hit him with a rat-tat-tat series of taunts and jabs to see if she could get him to lose his cool and throw him off his game. It ended up happening a lot more quickly than I expected. No more than fifteen minutes in he was getting visibly angry. And he stayed that way for the next hour plus.
From maybe a half hour into the debate Clinton had almost entirely seized the initiative. She was attacking while he responded, sometimes angrily, sometimes with new attacks and very often by doubling down on demonstrable falsehoods he’s been pilloried for for months. At various moments he shuffled in and out of parts of his stump speech. But through most of the exchange he constantly interrupted Clinton, talked over her, denied claims she made which are easily validated. In terms of body language and style it was thermonuclear Rick Lazio.
There were so many examples of this I lost track: the Chinese and global warming; on hoping for a housing crisis, “that’s business,”; we should have taken the oil; he was totally against the Iraq War.
Just a mix of easily demonstrable lies and nonsensical statements.
Trump had no good answer on why he refused to release his taxes. And I think on live TV, watched by maybe 100 million people, the fact that he’s lying about this was pretty obvious. On birtherism he tried to resurface the argument that Clinton was the real birther, just not as effective as he was. “I think I did a great job and a great service in getting the President to give his birth certificate.” If we’re going to use boxing metaphors, my read was that for the last two thirds or so of the debate she had him almost constantly on the ropes. He was almost always reacting to her. He was swiping, swinging, sometimes nasty, sometimes getting in applause lines – but he was reacting to her almost throughout. Most of the time he was ranging between outbursts, denying claims, saying how many people loved him and are happy. At other times, he talked about how she’d spent more money on ads than he had, how his poll numbers were going up. Hardcore partisans care about this stuff. No anyone else. It’s the stuff you grouse or brag about to your staff. Not the stuff you use in a debate.
Two key points to finish up. In this debate, Trump repeated virtually every lie he’s told through this campaign. He settled birtherism. He opposed the Iraq War. He can’t release his tax returns because of an audit. This time he said them in front of a hundred million people. Those things will each come up again now.
Finally, the most obvious thing was there right in front of us. We heard a lot about Clinton preparing in depth for this debate. Trump, we’re told … well his advisors couldn’t get him to do any real debate prep. He had bull sessions with Christie and Giuliani and Gen. Flynn. I now find those claims quite believable. Her preparation and his cocky indifference to doing so showed in both cases. Clinton was poised and unflappable. She needled him but not in a way that seemed nasty or petulant. She was poised throughout. It was equally clear that he had no clear strategy for what to do. For that among other reasons she took control of the debate within a half hour.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center