Ten minutes after getting soundly defeated by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton Monday night in their first debate, Republican Donald Trump fled from the stage to his sanctuary network, Fox News Channel, and to his reliable sycophant, Sean Hannity.
“We’ve got Trump speaking to our own Sean Hannity,” Megyn Kelly said as the two men appeared on screen. “We’ll see whether he speaks to the journalists in this room after that interview. Let’s listen.”
Kelly usually chooses words carefully. In this case, it sounded as if she was implying that Hannity is no journalist, perhaps in much the same way that Trump is not a serious presidential candidate.
“She’s a very dishonest person,” Trump said of Clinton to Hannity. “She’s been a disaster. I used your name today because you and I used to argue over the war before the war started.”
Indeed, Trump used Hannity’s name five times in one answer while insisting — against evidence to the contrary — that he opposed President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq before the war began.
Although Hannity had both radio and television shows, his friend “Mistah Trump” didn’t voice his opposition to the war on the air to Hannity. They were just talking between themselves, you see, the way good buddies do.
Instead, at the time, Trump offered on air some half-hearted support for the war in a different conversation with Howard Stern. In that this mistaken war caused much of the current turmoil in the world, it’s an issue in the campaign, 13 years later.
Clinton, as a U.S. Senator from New York, voted for Bush’s war and said she regretted it. Unlike Trump, she has not tried to rewrite the record. Trump did it again on Monday and it was one of several uncomfortable moments for Trump, who got louder, ruder, and more untethered as the 90-minute conversation wore on.
“He did allow himself to get very defensive and she exploited that,” said Fox’s Charles Krauthammer. “He wasted a lot of time. He missed a lot of opportunities. She presented herself as she always does: Stolid, solid. Knows her stuff. Not terribly exciting, but reliable.”
Exactly right. And those are exactly the qualities that people look for in a president.
They got little of this poise from Trump, who acted as if he came from the Sean Hannity School of Broadcasting which teaches that when defeated by the facts, make finger, hand, and arm gestures, raise your voice, interrupt others and tell them to shut up by saying “excuse me!” with a nasty edge that could get worse.
“If Trump’s lesson from this is he needs to be more dirty and obnoxious, then he’s not … smart,” said Paul Begala on CNN. “He interrupted her dozens of times … Hillary dismantled him. She got stronger and stronger. He got weaker and weaker…. He was thin-skinned. He was mendacious.”
The split screen, he said, was kind to Clinton and unkind to Trump. Because both were always on camera when speaking or not, the reaction shots were telling, particularly when Trump tried to explain the “Birther” lie he pushed for five years, claiming President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
After falsely saying Clinton started it in the campaign of 2008, Trump said “She failed to get the birth certificate” while he, Trump, forced Obama to show it. Without commenting, Clinton’s face broke into a wide smile. Why interrupt when your opponent is making a bull-headed fool of himself?
As if often the case at his rallies, Trump described the nation in dire terms, despite a roaring stock market, positive economic momentum, improving poverty statistics and no new land wars of occupation in the Middle East for the last eight years, all under President Obama.
A random sampling of Trump’s words from the debate, in chronological order, includes:
“… Our country’s in deep trouble … Very, very sad … Disaster … You’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life … We have no leadership and, honestly, that starts with Secretary Clinton … Our country is suffering … The worst revival … Big, fat ugly bubble … Political hacks … Disgraceful, disgraceful … I built an unbelievable company … Law and order … Law and order … Living in Hell … It’s so dangerous. You get shot … Law and order. Law and order…. Stop and frisk … Gangs roaming … Illegal immigrants. They have guns. They shoot people … Stop and frisk … More police … It’s terrible … Stop and frisk. Stop and frisk … Get him to produce the birth certificate. I did a good job … I say nothing … Political hacks … Look at the mess we’re in. Look at the mess we’re in … We are not doing the job… Wrong, wrong, wrong … Knock the hell out of ISIS … I did not support the war in Iraq … Mainstream media nonsense … Sean Hannity … Sean Hannity … Sean Hannity … Sean Hannity … Sean Hannity … I have much better judgment than she does. I have much better temperament … My strongest asset is my temperament … Wrong. That’s lies … We’re losing a fortune. We lose on everything. We lose on everything … A worse deal. Iran deal. Horrible deal … One of the great giveaways of all time … One of the worst deals ever made by any country in history. Believe me…. Stamina, stamina, stamina … Bad experience. Bad deals … Rosie O’Donnell … She deserved it … Make America great again … Seriously troubled … Deport … Corruption … Make America great again.”
With Fox offering only tepid enthusiasm for Trump’s performance, you might imagine how Clinton’s victory was handled over at MSNBC, which is as left wing as Fox is right wing.
“It was almost like he was heckling,” Rachel Maddow said of Trump. “Literally dozens of times, almost in a way that felt like he couldn’t control himself … She held still. He was like a jumping bean. The grimacing, the sigh.”
Steve Schmidt — a Republican operative working for MSNBC — said Trump “looked like a runner out of gas” late in the debate.
“His interruptions, his body language,” Schmidt said. “Absolute and complete incoherence. Somewhere between incoherence and babble … As he ran out of gas, he became more incoherent … Talking gibberish about nuclear weapons.”
Nicolle Wallace, another Republican at MSNBC said, “We held Hillary Clinton to very high standards and she exceeded them.”
Their colleague, Chris Matthews, called it a 5-0 shutout for Clinton.
“She cleaned his clock tonight,” Matthews said. “It was a bit embarrassing for Trump. Very clear result. Hillary won big time. It was a shutout.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media
Joe Lapointe spent 20 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times and worked as a segment producer for Countdown With Keith Olbermann. Recently, he’s taught journalism at New York University, Rutgers and Long Island University-Brooklyn. follow him on twitter: @joelapointe