The debate night that will be discussed for generations in Political Science classes – and Women’s Studies seminars – ended with Republican Donald Trump landing more punches than Democrat Hillary Clinton, and successfully deflecting attention successfully away from a two-day-old crisis about graphic sexual language that threatened to derail his White House bid.
In the first debate at Hofstra University 13 days earlier, Clinton sat back and let Trump hang himself. But on Sunday her quiet patience gave him room to roam and dominate.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who has been among Trump’s most forceful defenders, summed up the real estate tycoon’s performance with two words in the post-debate spin room: ‘home run.’
‘I think the momentum is going to switch, like that,’ Giuliani , snapping his fingers. ‘It was one of the biggest victories in a presidential debate, ever.’
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta called Trump ‘desperate’ and called him ‘incoherent’ in policy discussions.
Neither candidate appeared in the hall where reporters waited to grill them. For Clinton, that was par for the course. For Trump, it marked his first such absence in any debate in which he’s participated in 2016 and 2015.
Clinton established herself as a superior bureaucrat Sunday night with more mature knowledge of foreign policy minutiae and a more intelligible way of communicating details about how laws are made.
But Trump won on points in what has become the Year of the Outsider, playing to a national television audience that polls show are weary of Washington’s same-old same-old and eager for new blood.
He had Clinton playing defense for most of the 90-minute clash, saying she would be ‘in jail’ if he ran the Justice Department – a reference to her classified email scandal – and declaring that she had ‘tremendous hate in her heart’ when she branded ‘half’ his supporters as ‘deplorables.’
He even bested her on her recollection of her own tenure at the helm of the U.S. State Department.
Trump recalled that Clinton was secretary of state when President Barack Obama drew his now-infamous rhetorical ‘red line’ in Syria, ineffectively warning Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians.
Clinton insisted she had retired from the government by the time that happened. Not so: Obama dared Assad to cross his line in August 2012, six months before Clinton’s term ended.
THE GREAT ESCAPE BY DONALD TRUMP
Then Trump found himself behind the 8-ball, with co-moderator Anderson Cooper telling him bluntly that he had admitted to ‘sexual assault’ in the audio – referring to a remark saying that powerful men could touch women whenever they wanted. ‘Grab them by the p***y,’ he said as one example.
‘You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women,’ Cooper charged.
Trump insisted, as he did Friday night, that ‘this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it.’
But then he turned the discussion on the Clintons.
‘If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,’ trump jabbed. ‘Mine were words, his were actions.’
‘Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those women, attacked them viciously.’