Presidential Campaign

Trump plays the berserk card for the win in Sunday debate

Trump Clinton debate
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Donald Trump was backed into the corner of the political boxing ring Sunday night at the debate in St. Louis, and he needed to do something big. He responded by going berserk with a bit of policy thrown in.

It largely worked.

{mosads}Trump semi-jokingly threatened to put opponent Hillary Clinton in jail when he’s president. He called her “the devil” with hatred in her heart. He spoke about audio of Clinton laughing about a past case she’d taken in her legal career defending a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. He slammed Bill Clinton as sexually abusive and cast the former first lady as a heartless enabler. Clinton deflected.

“The people of this country are furious,” Trump went on regarding the Clinton email scandal, promising to sic a special prosecutor on her when president.  

Trump did a Facebook live event with women who’ve accused former President Bill Clinton of rape and abuse before the debate. This effectively upstaged the debate and drew media attention away from the recently unearthed tapes of Trump bragging about sexual assault.

Note: Trump hasn’t always been so respectful of Bill Clinton’s accusers, but his focus on the Clinton controversy in and before the debate did succeed in making outrage over his sexually aggressive 2005 chit-chat with Billy Bush fall into the rhetorical background.

Hillary Clinton, speaking from her airplane after the debate, called Trump’s various statements against her “an avalanche of falsehoods.” She appeared rattled at various points of the debate, constantly reverting to a litany of mean things Trump had said, including the fact that he’d really upset a small adopted child from Ethiopia. Clinton said very little about her plans and was largely on the defense, at times visibly flabbergasted by the torrent of words coming from Trump in her direction.

Trump openly called out debate moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz as biased against him, and at various times refused to listen to their commands to stop talking. He was not pulling any punches.

Trump interrupted Clinton repeatedly during the debate, and often appeared to glower with resentment as she spoke. He paced like a caged lion on the occasions he did let her speak uninterrupted. He intensely gripped the debate chair, sniffed loudly, twitched and posed austerely. Trump viscerally reacted to the Washington University town hall like a man who’d imbibed a supersize serving of rage juice, speaking loudly and quickly as he responded to audience questions and parried Clinton’s volley of attacks on his character.

Trump tossed running mate Mike Pence under the bus on Syria without a second thought. He brusquely dismissed accusations that he’s pro-Vladimir Putin but argued for a détente of tensions with Russia. Trump claimed Syrian leader Bashar Assad shouldn’t be a priority target because he fights ISIS, a bizarre and eminently ignorant statement that nonetheless is effective on a superficial level. Trump, with almost no coherent foreign policy vision, nonetheless managed to indicate some of the vexing problems with Clinton’s foreign policy in a short period of time.

Trump argued that his since-walked-back temporary Muslim ban is really a matter of “extreme vetting,” accusing Clinton of foreign policy incompetence and malice. His scaremongering over refugees is transparently Machiavellian, but his critiques on the former secretary of State wanting open borders and being not adequately concerned with domestic security still hit hard.

Clinton, instrumental behind the intervention in Libya and a strong supporter of Saudi Arabia, behind the current slaughter in Yemen, had little ability to effectively defend her foreign policy record. Her only real implication was that the Syrian refugee crisis was mainly the fault of Russia, though she declined to send U.S. ground troops to Syria (note: U.S. ground troops are already in Syria). Incidentally, Clinton’s support of a no-fly zone above Syria effectively necessitates a large-scale ground troop action as well, so her answer was also a misleading cop-out.

In another over-the-top offensive statement, Trump claimed Army Capt. Humayun Khan would still be alive today if he’d been president, as the Iraq War wouldn’t have happened. The Clinton campaign was not amused, but do they really have the moral high ground on this one? Quite the opposite.

One man and his sartorial choices were a definite hit Sunday night — 2020 may be in the cards — but the audience was mostly a prop. Indeed, Trump and Clinton mainly treated the audience and their questions as an annoying interlude to their dispute, flashing fake smiles before launching into their next tirade. Both candidates came off like divorcing parents interrupted by their concerned kids, thus angering them further. The final questioner even asked Clinton and Trump to say something nice about each other.

It was sad and it was a bit scary.

Trump scraped all the gold veneer for this event, and his performance was raw and uninhibited. He wasn’t shopping for furniture, he was smashing it (cringe). Although it’s likely Trump mainly shored up support on the right and among his base, as John King noted, Clinton may well experience a decline in enthusiasm among undecided voters after her lackluster, “he said x” debate performance.

Did Trump win? It’s hard to say if such a debate, where two ultra-rich New Yorkers yell at each other about tax avoidance, can be won — but if it can, then Trump did win, in my view. He won by hammering home every point repeatedly, commandeering the town hall’s narrative and forcing Clinton constantly on the defensive at every opportunity. Trump won by sucking up all the oxygen in the debate hall. He won by taking the debate to the absolute maximum of serious, alarming accusations and showing how Clinton would only respond to it by saying mean things he had said.

Trump may be a king of flip-flopping, but he still made Clinton look worse. This debate will be seen as a particularly big win for Trump among voters unimpressed by the media’s perceived crusade against their beloved real estate tycoon.

Brian is a freelance journalist whose interests include politics, religion and world news. He has written for The Federalist, Roads and Kingdoms, BBC and Reuters. His website is and he is on Twitter @paulrbrian.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 2016 Presidential debates 2016 presidential election Bill Clinton Bill Clinton sex scandals Commission On Presidential Debates Democratic Party Donald Trump Foreign policy Healthcare Hillary Clinton Mike Pence Missouri Policy Republican Party St. Louis Trump lewd comments United States
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