Hillary Clinton confirmed that she’s a bit imperious. Donald Trump confirmed that the emperor has no clothes.
Ms. Clinton made clear that she knows her stuff. Mr. Trump made clear that even when he’s touching on the truth, he’s unfit to occupy the White House.
The task was simple, really. Ms. Clinton had to appear trustworthy and honest. Oh, and be likable, a woman’s unending burden, but that continues to be a challenge for her.
Donald Trump had to, well, given his strengthening poll numbers, keep on doing what’s worked for him so far: Ignore anything close to a fact, lie, and put on a great show. Surprisingly, the first 30 minutes or so, Mr. Trump was low-key, for him, and appeared to be a capable debater. But then, he became unmoored, rambled, got into the weeds about finances and his support of the Iraq War and NATO’s role in the world.
Mr. Trump did a decent job bringing up issues where Ms. Clinton is vulnerable — ISIS, emails — but none of that made up for his own weaknesses. Do Americans really believe that we’re “losing on everything?”
Moderator Lester Holt had a difficult task Monday night. Unfortunately, he blended into the background, without strongly challenging Mr. Trump’s serial mendacity or Ms. Clinton’s blithe blowoff of the email scandal or her wrong assertions about Mr. Trump’s taxes. The only time he really made a stand was in assuring the back-pedaling Mr. Trump that he did, indeed, support the Iraq War.
Both candidates had to reach out and touch skeptics. But the undecideds still might be scratching their heads. There was no knock-out punch, but Ms. Clinton won on points.
But given the bizarre dynamic of this presidential race, it’s not a matter of who won, it is a matter of who showed the audience the clearest ability to lead this country forward, push it toward prosperity and peace and do it in a grounded, sober and thoughtful manner. After all, the debate was not a tryout for “The Apprentice,” though that’s pretty much how pre-debate buzz pitched it.
Mr. Trump branded his Democratic opponent part and parcel of the political establishment. No argument there. He conceded that she had experience, but labeled it “bad experience.” But given his restrained, but enduring bragadaccio, willful ignorance of the facts, walking back ridiculous statements without any sense of reflection and those simple, declarative sentences that any 3-year-old is beyond — “It’s not a nice thing she’s done” — Ms. Clinton clearly looked, and sounded, not just presidential, but also capable and tough. Still, she didn’t build upon her usual aura of competence.
But as we said, she knows her stuff: She knows what NATO’s Article 5 mandates — Mr. Trump was clueless; she knows that stop-and-frisk has been judged unconstitutional and that violent crime, despite the plague of Chicago shootings, is down. Mr. Trump kept flogging law and order. It plays to the crowd, but is no solution to racial animus; she knows that President George W. Bush set the timetable for our pulling out of Iraq. Mr. Trump insisted, wrongly, that it was President Obama’s decision. And don’t get us started on birtherism.
Then, at the end we saw vintage Donald, the bully. When Ms. Clinton reminded viewers that Mr. Trump had a habit of calling women “pigs” and “slobs,” he retorted that he had planned to “say something rough” about Ms. Clinton and her family.
But he, like the gentleman he is, thought better of it: “I said to myself, ‘It’s not nice.’”
Like we said, unfit.