THE BLOG
09/27/2016 11:25 am ET | Updated Sep 27, 2016

Clinton Towered Trump

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Well knock me over with a feather.

Round One belongs to Hillary Clinton, although the online voting (Drudge Report, Time, CNBC) contradicts my position and #TrumpWon is trending.

The woman who just two weeks ago was being thrown like a side of beef into her campaign van, rose from her pneumonia, coughing fit state-of-being to become a force of mother nature.

She looked ten years younger and wore power red. Who was this imposter?!

Hillary Clinton went to Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, a mere seven miles east of New York City, and promptly out-New Yorked the New Yorker. She was confident, bold, in charge, poking with a wry smile at the master of persuasive provocation. She looked and sounded every bit the commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, Trump was sniffling, off his game, rattled, and often not making sense. He couldn't live tweet, which only added to his discomfort. Instead of challenging Clinton's close ties to Wall Street--remember CNN's Anderson Cooper pressing Hillary about her Goldman Sachs speeches--Trump became Wall Street, the movie. It's as if one could hear him channeling Gordon Gekko: "Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?"

Not paying taxes or making money at others' misfortune; in Trump's world, that's just the way he rolls. Take this exchange:

Clinton: Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well, it did collapse.

Trump: That's called business, by the way.

Is this the same Trump who has been spotlighting Hillary's vulnerabilities like her own Wall Street called Clinton Cash or "What difference does it make?" Benghazi? What happened to her Achilles' heel unchecked immigration? Instead we got an unsteady walk into the weeds known as Trump's failure to release his tax returns. Clinton poked, and he dodged:

Trump: I don't mind releasing. I'm under a routine audit. And it will be released. And as soon as the audit's finished, it will be released. But you will learn more about Donald Trump by going down to the federal elections where I filed a one hundred and four page, essentially financial statement of sorts, the forms that they have. It shows income, in fact the income -- I just looked today, the income is filed at six hundred ninety four million dollars for this past year. Six hundred ninety four million. If you would have told me I would make that fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have been very surprised. But that's the kind of thinking that our country needs.

"But that's the kind of thinking that our country needs?" What a non sequitur. I realize that facts don't often matter in these political theatrics, but all Trump managed to do was to twice point out how filthy rich he is in comparison to "Just Us."

Where was the "It's a Movement" Trump who has motivated record numbers of Trump supporters to get on the Trump Train?

Trump scored some points when he said he'd show her his (tax returns) if she showed him hers (33,000 emails), but the back-and-forth favored Hillary Clinton. Trump's referencing his tax lawyers brought to mind the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote from "The Rich Boy," a short story published in the Roaring Twenties: Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.

The two sparred about social issues, race relations, policing, Obama's place of birth, and here again, Trump floundered without success. When he pointed out how busy he was visiting Detroit and Philadelphia "and you've seen me I've been all over the place, you decided to say home, and that's okay." These communities are, he described, "very upset with what their politicians have told them and what their politicians have done." Clinton's response was just a tad short of Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in Election.

Clinton: I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that's a good thing.

Part of Clinton's Towering Trump was to refer to him as Donald.

The Birther exchange was another dubsmash-worthy debacle for The Donald as shown by this excerpt:

Moderator Lester Holt: Mr. Trump for five years you perpetuated a false claim of the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple weeks you acknowledge what most Americans have accepted for years, the president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?

Donald Trump: I'll tell you -- it's very simple to say. Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and a very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager Patti Doyle went to, during her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard, and you can go look it up, and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, a highly-respected reporter at McClatchy to Kenya to find out about it. 

I expected Mr. Trump to tower over his Democratic presidential nominee. He just had to hold serve by keeping his tone moderate and not interrupt, a foot-in-mouth fault he violated repeatedly with Clinton and moderator Holt. Stick to the simple game plan: look and sound presidential, not crazy, racist, bigoted, bullying, like Trump is often portrayed. But he couldn't get out of his own way.

Hillary Clinton's game-changing deplorables comment, followed immediately by the "What's really going on with Hillary's health" questions from across the political spectrum, seemed to set her up for an easy take down. But this Donald Trump could not be the boss of Hillary Clinton in a general election debate the way he could his mostly male counterparts in the Republican primaries. Back then it was all fun and games, quips and jabs, Lyin' Ted and Crooked Hillary. Nonstop entertainment for him and for the press.

This is real. And Clinton passed the test for presidential readiness. She didn't clear her throat, much less cough. Meanwhile Trump, with his audible sniffle, should we be questioning his health now?

On the foreign policy front, Trump singled out Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Germany:

They do not pay us what they should be paying us because we are providing tremendous service and we're losing a fortune... they don't pay a fair share because this isn't forty years ago where we could do what we're doing. We can't defend Japan.

Clinton's turn was presidential:

Let me start by saying words matter, words matter when you run for president and they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America's word be good.

Word matters for Trump would get worse.

NBC moderator Lester Holt asked Trump to explain his remark that "she doesn't have a presidential look." (Whoever supplied that question should receive A+ for the day from Hillary Clinton.) This was dangerous footing for Trump, who is, to put it mildly, looks-oriented in matters related to women. He hopscotched: 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 corrected: The quote was, "I just don't think she has a presidential look..."

Trump: Wait a minute, Lester, you asked me a question. Did you ask me a question? You have to be able to negotiate our trade deals. You have to be able to negotiate, that's right, with Japan with Saudi Arabia. I mean, can you imagine where defending Saudi Arabia and with all of the money they have we're defending them and they're not paying...all you have to do is to speak to them. What you have so many different things you have to be able to do and I don't believe that Hillary has the stamina.

Hillary Clinton's turn, obviously anticipatory, was Reaganesque.

Clinton: Well, as soon as he travels to one hundred and twelve countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, and opening of new opportunities and nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina. 

The stamina stampede continued:

Clinton: Well, one thing Lester, is 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.

Trump jumped in: I never said that.

He did.

Clinton wasn't finished. She had a trump card on its way:

Who has said women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men and one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest, he loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina. Donald she has a name. Her name is Alicia Machado and she has become a U.S. citizen and you can bet she's going to vote this November.

Roll tape:

Trump's memorable last moment before a record-breaking number of debate watchers was this:

You know Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials, some of it's entertainment, some of it is said somebody's been very vicious to me. Rosie O'Donnell, I said 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 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.

That parting shot was not presidential and bordered on menacing. Trump played along the edge of bullying. Clinton could barely conceal her gleeful "I got this."

Were the election held today, I told my debate watching group of some forty Japanese students at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Hillary Clinton would win. She passed the test -- stamina, looks, steadiness.

But we're still 43 days from Tuesday, November 8, Election Day.

Trump has a few more rounds to recover. Recall Mitt Romney's good first debate against Barack Obama, the two-term president. Maybe Hillary Clinton will falter next time but I highly doubt it, given her confidence in knowing now that she cannot be intimidated by Donald Trump. This go round Secretary Clinton was extremely well prepared. I could picture her doing mock debates with an opponent acting exactly like Donald Trump. She was unruffled and did the ruffling.

In contrast, I pictured Trump's debate preparation as close to nil with a lot of tweeting. What worked for him so well, what brought him to this point, is not working in the one-on-one debate style setting. He isn't in command. He needs to be focused, disciplined, more self-aware (score major points for that Hillary-favoring split screen) and remind himself that tweeting is not debate preparation.

Lester Holt: Will you accept the outcome of the election?

Donald Trump: I want to make America great again. I'm going to be able to do it. I don't believe Hillary will. The answer is if she wins I will absolutely support her.

Perhaps it was this willingness to concede the election that may keep Trump's candidacy alive for the next six weeks. He sounded fair and reasonable after a tough time explaining himself. Otherwise, we better start imagining the first female president of the United States.

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