The one-trick pony?
It’s unlikely Donald Trump will bounce back in the second debate as others have done
Donald Trump’s strategists, shaken by his ineffective defensive posture against Hillary Clinton’s deft verbal assaults in their first debate, now face an improbable task: somehow remaking his very core.
That would require turning a candidate whose natural political weapon is an arsenal of personal abuse, factual distortions and lies into a credible political figure able to convince the nation’s electorate that he can be trusted running the country.
The first debate showed Mr. Trump to be an undisciplined, rigid and generally uninformed charlatan, driven to project and protect his self-image as an all-purpose problem-solver on a grand scale.
Rather than again letting Donald be Donald — which in the first debate often left him looking uncertain and snappish, compared with a cool and collected Hillary — his strategists must persuade him to correct course.
But persuading Mr. Trump to ignore the bait tossed out by Ms. Clinton might be beyond any political adviser’s talents, given his supreme self-confidence and resistance to advice.
Ms. Clinton’s success in getting under Mr. Trump’s thin skin was predictable. He has a celebrated short fuse and insists that he is always right even in the face of irrefutable evidence, as when he contends that he was against the 2003 invasion of Iraq before it happened.
Ms. Clinton, who voted as a senator to authorize the use of force and now calls it “a mistake,” joined debate moderator Lester Holt in getting Mr. Trump to repeat that falsehood last week. She also got him to enter the briar patch of his refusal to release his income tax returns, enabling her to muse that perhaps he had paid none at all — an idea reinforced over the weekend with the release of some of his 1995 tax return.
Mr. Trump also allowed Ms. Clinton to draw him into defense of his self-lauded business practices. He contended it was “smart” to find ways to avoid taxes and even to stiff construction workers on services rendered as a normal part of doing business.
In the process, Mr. Trump never was able to steer the debate into areas where Ms. Clinton would have had to defend her political vulnerabilities, from her email controversy to her own personality quirks. Mr. Trump’s lame attempt to challenge her “stamina” backfired, as she stood comfortably with him over the 98-minute nonstop debate.
Ms. Clinton cleverly pivoted from what she suggested was a sexist dig at women by referring to Mr. Trump’s insulting treatment of a Miss Universe winner when he ran the contest. She quoted the winner, Alicia Machado of Venezuela, who accused Mr. Trump of calling her “Miss Piggy” after a subsequent weight gain. Instead of ignoring the charge, Mr. Trump denied it, and the next day on Fox News called the woman, now an American citizen, “the worst we ever had ... the absolute worst.” He then went on a Twitter tirade against her in the middle of the night.
Furthermore, Mr. Trump after the debate claimed he had seen several polls that found him the winner, contrary to a CNN-ORC poll in which Ms. Clinton beat him, by 62 percent to 27 perent. Other polls generally confirmed that finding.
Some prominent Trump supporters conceded that Mr. Trump had erred in not submitting to mock debate preparation as Ms. Clinton and earlier presidential nominees had done. But it is uncertain, given Mr. Trump’s self-confidence and resistance to being managed, that major changes will be made before the next presidential debate in St. Louis on Sunday night.
That event, again lasting 90 minutes or more, will be moderated by ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, a highly regarded foreignpolicy reporter, and Anderson Cooper of CNN. The issue of Mr. Trump’s preinvasion position on Iraq may well come up again. He insists he differed with Ms. Clinton on it and that she should be judged accordingly in evaluating her foreign-policy experience.
Prior to the first debate, Mr. Trump’s camp promised that a more restrained Donald would emerge as the formal Republican presidential nominee. He began to use a teleprompter to deliver scripted speeches, but then in that debate he was obliged to go it alone on the stage with Ms. Clinton, and it did not go well.
A cliche holds that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. Four years ago, though, President Barack Obama didn’t do well in his first encounter with Mitt Romney; still, he bounced back in the second without any character transplant. Can the set-in-tone Donald Trump do likewise next time?
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., last week.