Don­ald’s gift to Hil­lary

Trump’s per­for­mance at the fi­nal de­bate and a char­ity event ben­e­fited his op­po­nent

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jules Wit­cover Jules Wit­cover is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and for­mer long­time writer for The Bal­ti­more Sun. His lat­est book is “The Amer­i­can Vice Pres­i­dency: From Ir­rel­e­vance to Power” (Smith­so­nian Books). His email is juleswit­cover@com­cast.net.

Two high-pro­file po­lit­i­cal events of the last week pro­vided an un­in­tended present from Don­ald Trump to his ri­val for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, Hil­lary Clin­ton. First in their fi­nal de­bate Wed­nes­day in Las Ve­gas, and then the next night at the Al Smith char­ity din­ner in New York, Mr. Trump’s be­hav­ior gave Ms. Clin­ton venues in which she dis­played her su­pe­rior po­lit­i­cal skills, knowl­edge and tem­per­a­ment.

In the de­bate, she re­peated her abil­ity to goad Mr. Trump into ex­cesses of per­sonal in­vec­tive, mis­state­ments of fact and in­sen­si­tiv­ity to women. Then, at the of­fi­cially Demo­cratic but tra­di­tion­ally non­par­ti­san din­ner, she largely main­tained a sense of deco­rum fit­ting the oc­ca­sion, as he oc­ca­sion­ally over­stepped the af­fair’s tra­di­tion of good-na­tured rib­bing, draw­ing boos from the in­vited guests.

In both set­tings, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee of­fered a much greater level of com­fort and con­trol of the facts ex­pected of a would-be pres­i­dent. In con­trast, her Repub­li­can op­po­nent in that fi­nal de­bate had gravely wounded him­self with his un­will­ing­ness to say he would ac­cept the Amer­i­can vot­ers’ de­ci­sion in the elec­tion out­come.

In the process, Ms. Clin­ton of­fered a con­vinc­ing chal­lenge to Mr. Trump’s strong­est ar­gu­ment for claim­ing the pres­i­dency — i.e., that she is to­tally un­ac­cept­able.

The most diehard Trump vot­ers, ob­vi­ously, will not be swayed. But among the un­de­cided and un­com­mit­ted, Ms. Clin­ton pre­sented her­self as more pre­pared, both in sub­stance and tem­per­a­ment, than the undis­ci­plined and of­ten ill-in­formed celebrity television star and real-es­tate ty­coon.

Some an­a­lysts have ar­gued that had some other Repub­li­can se­cured the nom­i­na­tion — such as Sen. Mario Ru­bio of Florida, who was de­feated and hu­mil­i­ated by Mr. Trump in the GOP pri­maries, or House Speaker Paul Ryan — he could have hand­ily de­feated Hil­lary Clin­ton. But Mr. Trump’s easy sweep through the pri­maries only demon­strated the dearth of po­lit­i­cal tal­ent in the dec­i­mated Grand Old Party.

In the first seg­ment of the third de­bate, Mr. Trump showed a much more re­strained and is­sue-fo­cused ver­sion of him­self, sug­gest­ing greater prepa­ra­tion than be­fore. Ms. Clin­ton’s ear­lier chid­ing that she had not only pre­pared for the next de­bate but also to be pres­i­dent was a telling dig at Mr. Trump’s dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude.

Ms. Clin­ton, as the first woman nom­i­nated by a ma­jor party for the high­est of­fice, was par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive play­ing on Mr. Trump’s dis­par­age­ment of fe­males, ob­serv­ing that he “thinks be­lit­tling women makes him big­ger” and that he “goes after their dig­nity, their self-worth. ... That’s who Don­ald is.”

His response was to pivot to his con­tention that the elec­tion was “rigged” against him, which led to his colos­sal po­lit­i­cal gaffe of de­clin­ing to com­mit him­self to the elec­tion result. Chief aides scur­ried to back away, Repub­li­can Na­tional Chair­man Reince Priebus ar­gu­ing that all Mr. Trump was say­ing was that he was he was “not go­ing to forgo” his right to a re­count in a close elec­tion. But Ms. Clin­ton re­nounced Mr. Trump’s ob­ser­va­tion as a “hor­ri­fy­ing” rap at a pil­lar of Amer­i­can democ­racy.

At the char­ity din­ner, Mr. Trump got a laugh by say­ing that Ms. Clin­ton in bump­ing into him said, “Par­don me.” To which he replied, he said, “Let me talk to you about that after I get into of­fice.” But Mr. Trump also re­peated that she was “so cor­rupt” and pre­tended “not to hate Catholics” — a par­tic­u­larly low blow be­cause she was sit­ting next to Car­di­nal Tim­o­thy M. Dolan of New York.

Ms. Clin­ton in her turn en­gaged in self-dep­re­ca­tion, say­ing, “I took a break from my rig­or­ous nap sched­ule to be here.” But then she ribbed Mr. Trump on his eval­u­at­ing women’s ap­pear­ance, say­ing “He looks at the Statue of Lib­erty and sees a ’4,’ maybe a ’5’ if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.”

In all, the two nights’ out­ings ap­peared to do noth­ing to slow Mr. Trump’s slip­page in the polls, while again show­cas­ing Ms. Clin­ton’s greater ease in the dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal set­tings. On fol­low­ing Mr. Trump to the mi­cro­phone at the din­ner, she quipped: “It’s amaz­ing I’m up here after Don­ald. I didn’t think he’d be OK with a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power.” Mr. Trump sat on the other side of the car­di­nal, a slight grin on his face, as she got in a jok­ing ref­er­ence to what is turn­ing out to be no joke for him.

SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Hil­lary Clin­ton laughs as Don­ald Trump speaks at the an­nual Al­fred E. Smith Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion Din­ner, which ben­e­fits Catholic char­i­ties, at the Wal­dorf As­to­ria on Oct. 20 in New York City.

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