It was preparation vs. improvisation and preparation ruled the day.
Going into the debate, the word circulating around the media was that Trump wasn’t formally preparing for last night’s encounter. Most thought this was classic expectation-lowering, but after the first few minutes it became clear, this was far less of a tactic than a simple truth. While Trump surely went over certain things, and must’ve prepared to a degree, two of his worst moments of the night were on topics he should’ve been more than ready for: birtherism and his tax returns.
While Trump was better on his tax returns than he was on birtherism, he doubled-down on his false claim that being under audit prohibits one from releasing his/her returns, to which Holt interjected stating, “you’re perfectly free to release your taxes during an audit.” Trump ignored the trajectory of this logic and went on to haphazardly meander around the perimeter of the question before bragging about making $694 million dollars last year. His only successful part of the exchange was the end when he slid the transparency conversation over to Hillary’s 33,000 deleted emails. Prior to drawing this blatant parallel, Trump jumped from half-statement to half-statement without landing on an actual defensive strategy. This was an clear opportunity to flip the script and Trump almost completely missed it.
His weak response was pounced on by Clinton, who, unlike Trump, clearly practiced how she would tackle this topic. Trump could’ve had her on her heels here, he could’ve shifted the conversation to her emails and general transparency more effectively, but he instead opened himself up for a barrage of assertive, “who knows” sentiments that can only be refuted by the release of the returns.
Clinton starts off referencing the historical precedent stating, “For 40 years everyone running for president has released their tax returns,” before pivoting directly into the potential reasons for his refusal to release, “First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.”
This is where things got interesting. Trump interrupted Clinton here with an ill-advised, “That makes me smart.” This tiny interjection played right into the thesis of Hillary’s statement. She continues, “So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health. And I think probably he’s not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide.” Clinton caps the whole thing off with an honest, concise response to the email issue, “I made a mistake using a private e- mail. And if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that.”
Trump was bad on his tax returns but his handling of the birther question was downright calamitous and inexcusable. He should’ve had 25 answers ready to go for this question; he should have been able to spin this 10,000 different ways. Instead of apologizing, of humanizing himself, he attempted to place the blame for the birther movement on Hillary Clinton through blatant lies. He then touted his success at getting the president to finally release his birth certificate saying he (Trump) did, “a good job.” Trump never answered Lester Holt’s question (which was centered around Trump’s recent admission that Obama was, indeed, born in the U.S.) he asked, “what took you so long?” and “what changed your mind?”
Trump strolled right into Clinton’s trap here. He sashayed in, arms swinging, without a care in the world, and Clinton destroyed him for it,
“Well, just listen to what you heard. And clearly, as Donald just admitted, he knew he was going to stand on this debate stage, and Lester Holt was going to be asking us questions, so he tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed. But it can’t be dismissed that easily. He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen.
There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted, he persisted year after year, because some of his supporters, people that he was trying to bring into his fold, apparently believed it or wanted to believe it.
But, remember, Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans, and he made sure that the people who worked for him understood that was the policy. He actually was sued twice by the Justice Department.”
Not only did she speak to the inherent racism of the movement itself, she brought up Trump’s prior issues with housing discrimination and tied the whole thing together into a neat and tidy narrative. This could’ve been an opening for her to also mention Trump’s role in the Central Park Five case, but she has to save some ammo for the other debates, and it was a deft maneuver on its own. And Trump should’ve been waiting for this. But he responded by essentially stating, but other people were racist too! He said,”many, many other companies throughout the country — it was a federal lawsuit — were sued” and it, “was a lawsuit brought against many real estate firms, and it’s just one of those things.”
He ended this disastrous exchange with what is possibly the most insane statement ever uttered at a presidential debate. Donald Trump gave himself credit for opening a club (Mar-a-Lago) that was not racist.
“In Palm Beach, Florida, tough community, a brilliant community, a wealthy community, probably the wealthiest community there is in the world, I opened a club, and really got great credit for it. No discrimination against African- Americans, against Muslims, against anybody. And it’s a tremendously successful club. And I’m so glad I did it. And I have been given great credit for what I did. And I’m very, very proud of it. And that’s the way I feel. That is the true way I feel.”
by Jesse Mechanic