Women have seen this Trump be­fore

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at­steve­cokie@gmail.com.

To many women, the Don­ald Trump who de­bated Hillary Clin­ton was painfully fa­mil­iar. They’ve en­coun­tered men like him all their lives: fa­thers and hus­bands, boyfriends and broth­ers, bosses and teach­ers.

Faced with the first woman to win a ma­jor party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, Trump treated her with pal­pa­ble dis­dain. He smirked and sneered, erupted and in­ter­rupted (39 times in all, in­clud­ing nine times in one 2-minute pe­riod). He used barely dis­guised code words like “stamina” to im­ply that a woman, poor dear, simply couldn’t hack it as pres­i­dent.

But here’s the irony. The mis­sile Trump aimed at Clin­ton wounded him in­stead. His per­for­mance demon­strated that he — not his ri­val-was un­suited for the Oval Of­fice.

Repub­li­can poll­ster Frank Luntz con­ducted a fo­cus group among 21 un­de­cided vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia. Six­teen said Clin­ton had won the de­bate; only five backed Trump. In a CNN fo­cus group in Florida, 18 of 20 swing vot­ers picked Clin­ton as the win­ner. In a CNN flash poll, 62 per­cent said the Democrat had done a bet­ter job; only 27 per­cent fa­vored Trump.

“Don­ald Trump just got nuked,” Luntz told re­porters, “and I don’t know if he can re­cover from this de­bate.”

Of course he can. Luntz was over-re­act­ing. Trump’s core sup­port reaches about 44 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­ages. Those folks are go­ing to stick with him, no mat­ter how badly he got “nuked.” And Clin­ton faces huge prob­lems of her own, es­pe­cially a party base that fails to find her ex­cit­ing or in­spir­ing. Barack Obama she is not.

Still, the de­bate could prove to be an im­por­tant mo­ment in the cam­paign. On the eve of the event, ac­cord­ing to the ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post poll, 53 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers said Trump was not qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent; 58 per­cent said he lacked the tem­per­a­ment to gov­ern ef­fec­tively; 55 per­cent doubted his cre­den­tials to be com­man­der-in-chief.

Trump’s main ob­jec­tive was to ease those con­cerns, fill the pro­file of a pres­i­dent, re­as­sure waver­ing vot­ers, pass a thresh­old of cred­i­bil­ity.

He clearly failed the test. When Trump as­serted that he has a” much bet­ter tem­per­a­ment” than Clin­ton, the au­di­ence at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­sity openly snick­ered, and so did Luntz’ swing vot­ers. That com­ment, re­ports Real Clear Pol­i­tics, earned Trump “the low­est over­all score of the night among the fo­cus group, with all par­tic­i­pants rat­ing it very neg­a­tively.”

Gar­rett Thacker, a 30-year-old in Gal­loway, Ohio made a sim­i­lar point to the Wall Street Jour­nal: “I feel the way he talks to other peo­ple, the way he ad­dresses other peo­ple, can be ex­tremely rude and ex­tremely dis­re­spect­ful, and I don’t think that’s the tem­per­a­ment we should be look­ing for in a pres­i­dent.”

Trump’s prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute with one key voter group: col­lege-ed­u­cated white women, es­pe­cially those liv­ing out­side cities like Philadel­phia and Cleve­land. Many are nat­u­ral Repub­li­cans --Mitt Rom­ney won the co­hort by 6 points four years ago — but in the ABC/Post poll, Clin­ton beats Trump by 25 points with this group, 57 to 32.

Her mar­gin was 10 points only a month ago, and Trump made few con­verts with his dis­mis­sive de­bate de­meanor. “Trump needed to con­ceal his tem­per ... and ap­pear ready to be pres­i­dent,” wrote con­ser­va­tive blog­ger Jen­nifer Ru­bin. “He didn’t. There were too many in­stances in which the real Don­ald Trump showed through.”

Clin­ton has an­other post-de­bate tar­get as well: the coali­tion that elected Obama but re­fuses to fall in love with her. They likely never will. But she doesn’t need them to go gaga; she just needs them to ap­pre­ci­ate the stakes in the elec­tion. She needs them to re­al­ize that the elec­tion is a choice be­tween two real, flawed can­di­dates, and nei­ther one is named Bernie San­ders, Gary John­son or Jill Stein.

The de­bate could crys­tal­lize that choice. Only two can­di­dates stood on that stage. Only one will name the next Supreme Court jus­tice. Who do you want that to be? The bully or the nerd? The good girl or the bad boy? There is no third op­tion.

Be­fore the de­bate, the po­lit­i­cal land­scape was lit­tered with warn­ing signs for Clin­ton. The polls were tight­en­ing. The trend line was against her. Even states that once seemed safe — Colorado, Penn­syl­va­nia — were sud­denly in play.

It’s still not clear whether the de­bate will re­verse that trend, or even halt it. But one thing is clear: Trump did not pass the cred­i­bil­ity test, es­pe­cially with well-ed­u­cated women. They saw him for ex­actly who he is — the man who never took them se­ri­ously.

Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists

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