Donald Trump lost the first debate to Hillary Clinton, and this left him with two weeks to study hard and come back strong. That didn’t happen, but to be fair, he was pretty distracted by three scandals — of his own creation — that plagued him all the way up to the night of the second debate. He feuded with a former Miss Universe for a week. Then the leak of some of Trump’s tax documents sent his team into defensive mode, and he was nearly undone when the Washington Post released audio of his extremely lewd commentary about women. This last tidbit was the most effective October surprise Democrats could have hoped for the first major-party female candidate.
The days leading up to the debate were full of speculation. Folks wondered if he’d pull out Bill Clinton’s sex scandals (he did). And many wondered if Trump would continue to shoot from the hip (he did that too). What Trump truly did was wage a scorched-earth attack on Clinton, the kind of to-her-face attack that Clinton haters have fantasized about for years. He rode in with nothing to lose — desperately firing at any target he could muster up — and yet managed to sink even further down into the muck before the debate even began by rolling into St. Louis with multiple accusers of Bill Clinton.
The declaration of who technically “won” this debate (other than Ken Bone) will likely be subject to several unscientific Internet polls (at least we know Fox News won’t be spreading them again), but an official CNN/ORC poll found that 57% of debate watchers declared Clinton the winner. 34% said they believed Trump won and that he “exceeded expectations,” which is a statement open for interpretation. In this town-hall style event, Trump stalked through the whole debate, sometimes appearing like a clinging apparition. He threatened to toss his opponent in jail, threw his running mate under the bus, and slung random words into the ether. Early on he insisted, “I’m a gentleman,” but the audience reaction was a telling one.
From there, Trump and Clinton’s different debate tactics were evident. As he launched multiple attacks, she reacted calmly (and almost warmly) to every shot fired. Let’s run down some prominent examples of this contrast.