Hillary Clinton calmly won last night’s debate, while Donald Trump said he would put her in jail. (More)

“Hillary Clinton had a very solid night and won easily”

The Washington Monthly’s David Atkins is a progressive blogger, but his summary echoes the media consensus of last night:

Trump began the evening by holding a sordid and exploitative press event with Bill Clinton’s much-publicized accusers, which seemed to be the beginning of the end for him. But once the debate began in earnest, Trump managed to avoid a repeat of his first debate performance and avoided the total meltdown some had perhaps anticipated. Hillary Clinton had a very solid night and won easily, but didn’t deliver any knockout punches to put the election away for good.

It’s important to note, of course, that I’m grading Trump on a very low curve. He was unable to formulate any coherent policy answers, he threatened to jail his opponent, he lied constantly about easily verifiable things, rambled and interrupted incessantly, and his physical presence on stage ranged from cringeworthy to stalkerish. But that’s normal for Trump, and that behavior has been adequate to earn him the support of 40% of Americans. To self-destruct during the debate, he would have had to be worse than his usual self–which he wasn’t.

Several pundits criticized Clinton for not landing a “knockout punch.” Put that in the Tooth Fairy File. Cable news promos and pundits’ analyses treat debates as if they were boxing matches, but they’re not. The only “knockouts” I’ve seen were self-inflicted, such as the 2012 GOP primary debate where Rick Perry couldn’t name the three federal agencies he would eliminate and finally just said: “Oops.”

“Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question”

That won’t happen with Donald Trump, because he routinely ignores questions. He did so several times last night, instead launching a barrage of bullshit that had nothing to do with the question or even the topic.

For example, asked how she would address the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Clinton proposed no-fly and safe zones, working with our partners and allies on the ground, the need for negotiating leverage over Russia, and investigating the war crimes committed by Syria and Russia.

Then Martha Raddatz turned the same question to Trump:

TRUMP: First of all, she was there as secretary of state with the so-called line in the sand, which…

CLINTON: No, I wasn’t. I was gone. I hate to interrupt you, but at some point…

TRUMP: OK. But you were in contact — excuse me. You were…

CLINTON: At some point, we need to do some fact-checking here.

TRUMP: You were in total contact with the White House, and perhaps, sadly, Obama probably still listened to you. [Note: Fact-free accusation.] I don’t think he would be listening to you very much anymore.

Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened.

Now, with that being said, she talks tough against Russia. But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing. [Note: The question was about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.]

Now, she talks tough, she talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people.
Look at what she did in Libya with Gadhafi. Gadhafi’s out. It’s a mess. And, by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil. I’m sure you probably have heard that. It was a disaster. Because the fact is, almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster. [Note: Trump supported taking out Gadhafi … which has nothing to do with Aleppo.]

But if you look at Russia, just take a look at Russia, and look at what they did this week, where I agree, she wasn’t there, but possibly she’s consulted. We sign a peace treaty. Everyone’s all excited. Well, what Russia did with Assad and, by the way, with Iran, who you made very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal, with the $150 billion, with the $1.7 billion in cash, which is enough to fill up this room. [Note: This has to do with Aleppo … how?]

But look at that deal. Iran now and Russia are now against us. So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose?

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump, your two minutes is up.

TRUMP: And one thing I have to say.

RADDATZ: Your two minutes is up.

TRUMP: I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy. [Note: Humanitarian. Crisis. Aleppo. Remember?]

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president… (LAUGHTER) … what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

TRUMP: OK. He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree. [Note: That ka-thump was the Trump bus running over Mike Pence.]

RADDATZ: You disagree with your running mate?

TRUMP: I think you have to knock out ISIS. Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran, who she made strong and Kerry and Obama made into a very powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly, very, very quickly.

I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved. She had a chance to do something with Syria. They had a chance. And that was the line. And she didn’t. [Note: If his priority is “to get ISIS”, and if Syria and Russia and Iran are fighting ISIS, doesn’t that make Syria and Russia and Iran our allies? Meanwhile, Aleppo….]

RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?

TRUMP: I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise.

RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if it falls?

TRUMP: I think that it basically has fallen. OK? It basically has fallen. Let me tell you something. You take a look at Mosul. [Note: Bye-bye, Aleppo.] The biggest problem I have with the stupidity of our foreign policy, we have Mosul. They think a lot of the ISIS leaders are in Mosul. So we have announcements coming out of Washington and coming out of Iraq, we will be attacking Mosul in three weeks or four weeks.

Well, all of these bad leaders from ISIS are leaving Mosul. Why can’t they do it quietly? Why can’t they do the attack, make it a sneak attack, and after the attack is made, inform the American public that we’ve knocked out the leaders, we’ve had a tremendous success? People leave. Why do they have to say we’re going to be attacking Mosul within the next four to six weeks, which is what they’re saying? How stupid is our country?

RADDATZ: There are sometimes reasons the military does that. Psychological warfare.

TRUMP: I can’t think of any. I can’t think of any. And I’m pretty good at it.

RADDATZ: It might be to help get civilians out.

… and Trump goes on about 200 generals and admirals and dozens of Medal of Honor winners and George Patton and Douglas MacArthur spinning in their graves … and never – ever – addresses the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.

What’s the difference between Trump’s four-minute word salad and Rick Perry’s self-knockout? Simply, Perry realized he had no answer and said “Oops,” while Trump kept shoveling bullshit – line in the sand, Libya, Russia’s nuclear weapons, Iran deal, ISIS, Mosul, Patton and MacArthur – without ever answering the question.

And that’s all it takes to avoid a “knockout punch” in a debate, so pundits should stop criticizing Clinton for not stuffing a sock in Trump’s mouth. Meanwhile….

“Because you’d be in jail”

Trump said he’ll put Clinton in prison if he wins:

And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.

When I speak, I go out and speak, the people of this country are furious. In my opinion, the people that have been long-term workers at the FBI are furious. There has never been anything like this, where e-mails – and you get a subpoena, you get a subpoena, and after getting the subpoena, you delete 33,000 e-mails, and then you acid wash them or bleach them, as you would say, very expensive process.

So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been – their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

RADDATZ: Secretary Clinton, I want to follow up on that.


RADDATZ: I’m going to let you talk about e-mails.

CLINTON: … because everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: In the first debate…


RADDATZ: And really, the audience needs to calm down here.

CLINTON: … I told people that it would be impossible to be fact-checking Donald all the time. I’d never get to talk about anything I want to do and how we’re going to really make lives better for people.

So, once again, go to HillaryClinton.com. We have literally Trump – you can fact check him in real time. Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is – it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

Yes, really. For the first time in our 200+ year history, a U.S. presidential candidate has promised that – if he wins – he’ll put his opponent in prison. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall assesses that precedent:

I don’t think we can discuss this debate as citizens, take stock of it as a country, without noting that this is certainly the first time one candidate has openly threatened to jail the other candidate. Trump said openly that he would instruct the Justice Department to open a new investigation of Clinton and that he’d make sure it ended with her imprisonment. That’s something we expect it kleptocracies and thin democracies where electoral defeat can mean exile, imprisonment or death.

Such a ferocious claim, one that puts our whole constitutional order on its head, is not something that can be easily undone. That’s the ranting threat of a would-be strongman and dictator The threat itself is like a bell that can’t be un-rung. Through the course of what was often an ugly debate, I was thinking a lot of the destructiveness of this entire campaign, virtually all of which stems from Trump’s transgressive, norm-demolishing behavior. It’s a topic we’ll have to return to in the ed blog and one the country is going to need to wrestle with. None of this is going to disappear after November 8th. These are slashing wounds to the country’s political fabric that will at best leave tremendous scar tissue we’ll still see for decades.

Both Democrats and Republicans condemned Trump’s threat:

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter: “In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents. @realDonaldTrump said he would. He is promising to abuse the power of the office.”

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W. Bush and a supporter of Trump, wrote: “Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don’t threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong on this.”

Fortune’s Katie Reilly collected a series of other responses … and almost all include the word “dictator.” Meanwhile….

“She was steady, knowledgeable and pleasant”

The overnight polls showed Clinton won the night. Yes, the CNN/ORC poll was skewed Democratic, but the YouGov poll had a good sample – 812 voters, 88% of whom said they watched the entire debate – and its horserace split (48-42 for Clinton) tracked the margin of polling averages. And if you need confirmation that Trump’s campaign is white male identity politics, check out YouGov’s crosstabs. Overall, the YouGov respondents broke 47-42 for Clinton.

The predictably vapid Chris Cillizza was the proverbial stopped clock:


Hillary Clinton: Clinton had more to work with in terms of negative hits on Trump in this debate than she did when the candidates met last month. And she did less with it than she did in the first debate. This debate was focused far more on Clinton than Trump – particularly in the final hour or so. Clinton’s answer on her email server was meh and her Abraham Lincoln defense on her speeches to Wall Street was ridiculous. So, how is she a winner? Because Clinton went into this debate with massive momentum in the race – much of it caused by Trump’s stumbles – and didn’t make any sort of glaring error that would allow the Republican back into the contest. She was steady, knowledgeable and pleasant – even in the face of some very personal attacks – throughout. And she let Trump talk, which, as has been the case since he got into the race, is always his undoing.

Donald Trump: Trump was much more solid and energetic in this debate than in the previous tilt.  He was able to drive messages on Clinton’s email, the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi. He dealt with his hot mic tape in (relatively) short order. And he ad-libbed a terrific line after Clinton cited Lincoln to explain her impolitic comments in front of a Wall Street audience.

And yet, Trump was – stop me if you’ve heard this one – his own worst enemy. His stunt of holding a pre-debate news conference with a handful of women allegedly assaulted by Bill Clinton flowed seamlessly into Trump’s insistence from the debate stage that Hillary Clinton would be in jail if he was elected president – and into his remarkable (and repeated) accusation that Clinton has “hate in her heart.” Trump won the debate among the Republican base that has longed for a candidate who would stand up to the Clintons without fear of reprisal. The problem for Trump is that we know from polling that his base isn’t nearly large enough to win an election.

So there you have it. Trump played to his angry white male base, while Clinton reached out to Everyone Else. Small wonder that she won.


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