Trump did noth­ing at the de­bate to halt his cam­paign’s death spi­ral

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Eugene Robin­son Eugene Robin­son Colum­nist Eugene Robin­son’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

On the de­bate stage, we saw a life­long pub­lic ser­vant with to­tal grasp of the is­sues and con­crete plans to take the na­tion for­ward. And we saw a saw a fraud­u­lent boor who knows noth­ing about any­thing and brags about grop­ing women. Let’s not pre­tend any­more that we have an ac­tual choice.

Let’s not pre­tend there is any ques­tion about who “won” the de­bate, be­cause only one can­di­date — Hil­lary Clin­ton — ac­tu­ally de­bated. Don­ald Trump did noth­ing but spew dan­ger­ous and in­co­her­ent non­sense, demon­strat­ing in the process how for­tu­nate we are that his elec­toral prospects fi­nally seem to be cir­cling the drain.

That sort of thing hap­pens in ba­nana republics: Newly elected lead­ers use state in­sti­tu­tions to per­se­cute and pun­ish their po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. Pres­i­dents of the United States do not be­have this way, for heaven’s sake. The fact that Trump would threaten Clin­ton with prison proves he does not be­gin to un­der­stand, let alone re­spect, the tra­di­tions that have sus­tained our democ­racy since the time of the founders.

The de­bate at Washington Univer­sity in St. Louis came two days af­ter The Washington Post ob­tained and pub­lished video footage in which Trump boasts about sub­ject­ing women to sex­ual as­sault. If you are a “star” like he is, Trump says in the video, “you can grab them by the [vagina].” He used a vul­gar word that I will not re­peat.

The video was recorded on an “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” bus in 2005. The cav­a­lier way in which Trump speaks of kiss­ing and grop­ing women — and of try­ing but fail­ing to get “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” star Nancy O’Dell, a mar­ried wo­man, to have sex with him — led dozens of Repub­li­can of­fice­hold­ers to re­nounce their sup­port for the GOP nom­i­nee. By Sun­day evening, the stream of de­fect­ing sen­a­tors, gov­er­nors and mem­bers of Congress threat­ened to turn into a flood.

So Trump came into the de­bate need­ing to halt what looked like a death spi­ral for his cam­paign. His rem­edy was to throw red meat at his most loyal sup­port­ers, who con­sti­tute a siz­able per­cent­age of the Repub­li­can Party base. The mes­sage to the GOP es­tab­lish­ment was clear: If you join the ex­o­dus, I’ll pull the whole party down with me.

But Trump’s poll num­bers were al­ready slid­ing be­fore the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape was re­vealed. Dur­ing the de­bate he may have de­lighted the true be­liev­ers who flock to his ral­lies. But he did noth­ing to change the fun­da­men­tal dy­nam­ics of the race — or let prin­ci­pled Repub­li­cans con­tinue to pre­tend he shares their val­ues or ideals. House Speaker Paul Ryan an­nounced Mon­day that he will no longer cam­paign with or de­fend his party’s nom­i­nee. That could be the death knell the Trump cam­paign so richly de­serves.

Asked at the begin­ning of the de­bate about the video, Trump said it was just “locker room talk” and then started bab­bling about “a world where you have ISIS chop­ping off heads.” No one was fooled by this clumsy at­tempt to change the sub­ject. Trump was es­sen­tially claim­ing that his moral char­ac­ter does not mat­ter. But of course it does.

It didn’t work. Clin­ton was re­laxed, com­posed, pa­tient and un­ruf­fled. Trump stalked, scowled and at times came up and loomed be­hind her, like a hor­ror movie vil­lain. She be­trayed not a hint of con­cern.

As for sub­stance, she of­fered plenty and Trump of­fered none. Cam­paign aides have tried to get him to learn some­thing about health care pol­icy, or the Syr­ian con­flict, or his own tax plan. Those aides have failed.

Trump lost the de­bate. Now he should lose the elec­tion and go away.

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