Hillary Clinton presented a better, more Presidential persona — calm, factual, measured, poised — than Donald Trump last night, but Trump’s Putin-like authoritarianism (i.e., threatening to prosecute and jail Hillary if he wins) plus his hovering stage posturing and general bluster wasn’t a total loss for him. I don’t think the needle was moved at all, but Trump didn’t blow it any worse than usual. He blustered and glowered and seethed his way through it — the hulking orange ape — but the word around the internet is that he at least placated his base, and that he may have given the independent fence-sitters pause or at least stopped the general pussy-tape bleeding. Maybe.
But the coke sniffing! After sniffing all through the first debate, surely Trump would take measures, I thought, to avoid doing the same in the second. But he didn’t. Who doesn’t know from antihistamines?
What kind of person could possibly be undecided at this point? I’ll tell you what kind of person. A person who’s leaning toward Trump but is holding back for some tweedly-deedly reason. A voter like Kenneth Bone, the cartoonish fat guy with the Santa Claus sweater and the dorky moustache who asked about energy issues last night. Who dresses like that? If Bone had access to a time machine he could’ve played one of the Italian fascists in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Conformist. If I saw Bone walking towards me from 100 feet away I’d cross the street.
I felt irritated by Hillary’s failure to zing-zing him with more panache. She wouldn’t or couldn’t land a good impulse punch. She sounded sensible and seasoned, of course, but time and again she relied on familiar HRC talking points — the kind of thing that most people hate. No Aaron Sorkin lines. The only off-the-cuff remark I can recall: “Okay, Donald. I know you’re into big diversion tonight, anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it’s exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you.”
Trump’s pussy tape will never go away and it’s entirely possible that more off-camera, hot-mike comments will break in the coming days, and I think most of us understand he can’t win now. (Nate Silver claims Trump was five or six points down before the pussy tape — do the math.) What Trump is trying to do right now, many suspect, is preserve, fortify and burnish his bully-boy brand so that post-election he and Roger Ailes can launch Trump TV — the new Fox News.
Moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz did a good job — they were fast and fleet and sharp. They were determined not to repeat Lester Holt‘s handling of the first debate, and they didn’t.
Before last night’s appearance of Kenneth Bone, I had never even contemplated a real-life person having such a name. Keep in mind that Cary Grant felt insulted when Katharine Hepburn gave him a temporary fake name of “Mr. Bone” in Bringing Up Baby (’38).