If you’ve endured 11 primary debates and now three general election debates featuring Donald Trump, you deserve a medal — or condolences. No, he never improved, learned anything or developed a presidential temperament. He knows as little about domestic and foreign policy as he did the first time he stepped on a debate stage.
Considering how badly he’s going to lose, the good news is that this is the last time you will have had to endure his presidential debate antics. You know the routine — interrupt and insult the opponent, complain about the moderator, provide no details, exhibit weird hand gestures, string together fragments of ideas in no particular order, praise Vladimir Putin, denigrate anyone and everyone else in public service except people who have said nice things about him, demonstrate the vocabulary of a fourth-grader, repeat lies debunked many times before and most of all deny, deny, deny your own vile rhetoric and behavior.
Here are 10 takeaways from Wednesday’s Las Vegas debate:
1. Trump was peculiarly subdued, low energy, as he once said of Jeb Bush. Hillary Clinton was happy to talk policy and generally ignore Trump.
2. On immigration, Trump outrageously declared that we have some “bad hombres” in the United States. Clinton did an effective job describing Trump’s extreme mass deportation plan. (Trump didn’t dispute her characterization.) Given that more than 70 percent of voters disagree with his immigration approach, this was a winning issue for her.
3. Clinton lured Trump from a discussion of “open borders” into a discussion of Vladimir Putin. She declared that Trump would “rather believe Vladimir Putin” than our intelligence and military agencies sworn to defend us. Remarkably, Trump refused to specifically concede Russia is hacking Democrats on his behalf. That was just the beginning of a painful interchange for Trump in which he was forced to defend his comments on NATO and nuclear weapons. “This is just another lie!” Trump spat out. “I’m just quoting you,” Clinton said quietly. She provided a powerful reminder that Trump is completely unfit to be commander in chief.
4. Given a chance to talk about jobs, Trump bizarrely reverted to a discussion about NATO. Clinton effectively slammed him on big tax cuts for the rich. Trump insisted we could grow at 8 percent because India (a partially developed country!) does.
5. Trump’s meltdown occurred about 50 minutes in the debate when asked about female accusers. He claimed the women’s stories had been debunked. That’s a lie. He accused Clinton of putting the women up to it, and actually bragged that he had NOT apologized to his wife, because the claims were not true. Clinton calmly recited his own words, rebuking him for demeaning women to make himself feel big. With Trump insisting it was all “fiction” (but accusing Clinton of instigating violence at his rallies) and desperately trying to change the topic to Clinton’s emails, she plowed forward, condemning Trump for inciting violence, insulting a federal judge, etc.
6. As the conversation moved to the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest, Clinton took the opportunity to praise the Clinton Foundation’s work. She then pivoted to list the misconduct documented in The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold’s reporting. When he tried to insist he had given generously to charity (and falsely denied using his foundation’s money to settle business disputes), he gave Clinton the opportunity to slam him for not releasing his tax returns. Trump once again crowed about not paying taxes and seemed to blame Clinton for not taking away the tax provision he used (!).
7. Trump, in the end, always does himself in, as he did when he repeatedly refused to promise he would concede the election if he lost. “I will look at it at the time,” he said. Wallace sounded incredulous; Clinton blasted him and recounted that whenever things don’t go his way he claims things are “fixed.” Hers was a calm and devastating performance. There is a certain rough justice in his pounding the final nail in his political coffin. He has always been his worst enemy.
8. When the conversation turned to Iraq, Trump tried to insist for the umpteenth time he opposed the Iraq War; Clinton pointed out he did not. He outrageously argued the effort to retake Mosul was aimed to help Clinton in the election, which Clinton promptly brushed away with a reminder that nutty conspiracy theories are nothing new for him. Later in the discussion on Syria, he seemed almost to concede the election, telling Clinton “Lotsa luck” with her no-fly zone plan.
9. Chris Wallace was masterful, asking more substantive questions than were asked in the other debates combined. He was forceful in pinning down the candidates without unduly interfering. His performance should be studied by future moderators. Actually, the debate commission might consider giving him all the debates to moderate.
10. Clinton needed simply not to have a disaster in order to lock down the election. Instead, she was error-free and eviscerated Trump, helping to remind voters what a nut he is. She won hands down and now has a shot to win by a very large margin.