Well, after the first presidential debate was far more shocking and bizarre that any of us were prepared for and the second debate was like that video where they blow up a whale carcass on a beach and suddenly everyone is being showered in rotting gore, we finally got a fun one.
Hillary “Madame President If You’re Nasty” Clinton had, the last time I checked before the debate, a 90% chance of winning according to one aggregator. She knew her facts, she knew her opponent. All she had to do was stay calm, lead Trump into a series of laughably easy rhetorical traps, and – here was the fun part – relax and enjoy herself.
And she did it. We saw the side of Hillary Clinton that we’d long heard about from people who know her in private. The one who likes people and has a wicked sense of humor. She openly laughed at Trump while he was speaking at one point. Just stopped worrying about getting that perfect A+ and enjoyed the crazy ride that she was on.
In a way, the debate was a bit of a shame – so far beneath Clinton’s dignity and skill, so ridiculously lopsided. And so unfair and almost demeaning that she wasn’t at least up against a real candidate who would have given her a real challenge. But on the other hand, Trump was nearly sent from heaven for a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Who better to highlight the subtle racism that the Republican Party has been winking at and waving in for so many years? And who better to highlight the vicious sexism that Secretary Clinton and so many women in the public eye face?
And so we got to see Clinton relishing a victory lap while still never taking it for granted. She was cool, she was prepared, and she calmly poked Trump until he got mad while also cheerfully setting up boxes propped up on sticks all over the debate stage. And Trump walked into all of them and kicked over the sticks himself.
I was concerned about Chris Wallace as a moderator – and he did hit a few Fox News talking points along the way – but for the most part, he was firm and fair and handled the candidates well. Wallace, as a Fox News man, might have been expected to be at least lightly in the tank for Trump, and he had announced before the debate that he wouldn’t be fact-checking Trump, the most notorious compulsive liar since the Jon Lovitz Tommy Flanagan character who constantly claimed to be married to Morgan Fairchild.
But Wallace did a good job of holding both candidates to fair standards. And listening to him try to keep his rising distaste for Trump from boiling into a “Have you no decency!” speech was invigorating. Almost endearing.
Trump started the evening on – this is just a guess – something to make him stop snuffling combined with beta blockers. But we knew it was just a matter of time when Clinton explained that she would like some gun regulations to keep fewer toddlers from getting shot and Trump rambled about how everyone should be able to have assault weapons and she’s coming for your freeze-dried doomsday prepper supplies.
She followed that with an answer on abortion – They actually had a question on abortion! – that took into consideration the agony and grief that a woman goes through when she has to make the most difficult medical decision of her life.
Trump responded by screaming the pretend fact that babies are aborted two days before their due date. Do I need to tell you that this is not a true thing? This is not a true thing. How does anyone know so little about women or pregnancy or science that he could even think this a true thing?
And then the snuffling into the microphone started again and Trump in response to an immigration question said that there are “some bad hombres” out there and we all knew he was too stressed out to be coherent and he was pretty much done. And Hillary beamed like she was seeing the sunshine after days of staying indoors studying.
Many people will say that “bad hombres” was where Trump started really and truly losing debate, but I submit to you that it was later, after he had spent a couple of full segments rambling about how he never even met Putin, doesn’t even know who he is, has never bragged about how much Putin loves him and they are totes going for an ice cream soda after math class, and Clinton accused Trump of being Putin’s puppet.
“YOU’RE a puppet!” Trump yelled into the mic. “YOU’RE a puppet!” was all he could think of. The kindergarten defense, which Trump has used before, of No, YOU are!
Trump is not good at self-examination, and he is not good at reading a room that isn’t already cheering for him, but somehow there I believe he knew he was flustered and tanking and would never claw his way back. He started hurking the word “WRONG” into the mic again, like he’d done in the first debate and had clearly been coached out of for the second one.
Hillary, in her Laurie Anderson suit, felt the exhilaration. After Trump tried to prove his expertise on trade, what he thinks is his big issue, she nailed him to the wall with a spike made out of Chinese steel he bought himself. Trump was dumb enough to bring up what their charities did and Hillary whipped it back with a jai alai stick, summing up the way the nation has reacted toTrump’s use of his charity with “Who DOES that?” It was heartfelt, it was natural, and it really, really pissed Trump off.
Trump thought mentioning his hotel would be a good idea and Hillary zinged in a “made with Chinese steel” like she’s been doing roasts her whole life. People say they don’t want to have a beer with Hillary? Hell, yes, I want to have a beer with Hillary. I will escalate that to wanting to have margaritas with Hillary. Maybe while we re-watch this debate and sit in a corner and laugh and laugh.
And then when Trump was saying – an actual presidential candidate saying – that the election is rigged against him, Hillary brought up his temper tantrum when he accused the Emmys of being fixed. She expertly walked us through how childish and vain and petty he is. And then he did her the favor of stepping on the rake she’d set out by being unable to resist saying that yes, he’d deserved that Emmy. He’s still mad about it. This is who people are trying to elect.
And that’s where he got less funny and genuinely scary, of course. Wallace asked Trump if he would accept and uphold the election results and he said, as a grown up human being real-life major presidential candidate, that he would keep us in suspense.
He would wait to let us know about shit-stirring up some actual sedition until the night of the election and see how he feels. He’s so small that he’s hanging onto his tiny shred of power to possibly stir up low-information yuckabucks into perhaps actually shooting people.
This debate was way more fun, but we must always remember that at his core, Trump is not funny. And he has such a withered sense of humor – and so little an understanding of how important it is to appear to have one – that he responded to Hillary’s second gentle zinger by growling “Such a nasty woman” straight into the mic.
Which was the best soundbite, yes, but we really do need to focus on that part where he threatened to refuse to accept the transfer of power and foment violence over fake accusations of a rigged election. That would be an excellent thing to focus on.
So there it is. Trump is still emotionally a toddler, still knows nothing about the Middle East, knows startlingly little about the female anatomy he so loves to grab, and has only proven himself to be less fit for office than he did the last time.
And Hillary, as it turns out, really does know how to enjoy herself.
This doesn’t mean we can relax or get cocky. We still have to stay vigilant and live up to our highest good and turn out at the polls. Honestly, I can’t imagine who wouldn’t turn out at the polls at this point. It’s like skipping the chance to help give Skeletor his comeuppance.
We made it through the debates. The election is three weeks out. Trump is a spiral of flailing, failure, and rage. It’s time to be like Hillary: Relax and enjoy the show, but make sure to show up and do your job when the time comes.