Donald Trump, who has made a career out of branding himself as a dick, took it to the stage Sunday night and tripped over it.
With the wheels coming off his campaign, Trump needed to turn in a historically excellent performance at the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. What he delivered was one of the strangest debate performances in recent memory (surpassed only by the last presidential debate in which he participated). If he was coached at all, whoever tried to prepare him for the debate didn’t succeed in eliminating the tics that made the last debate so disastrous for him. He acted like a cartoon bully. He was a living museum exhibit on how not to be appealing to women.
Mere days after video footage surfaced of the Republican presidential nominee bragging about how much fun it is to grab unconsenting women “by the pussy,” his boorish performance was puzzling. He lumbered awkwardly around the stage, seemingly unaware of how to stand like a human person. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his face, licking his lips and appearing distracted when he wasn’t the one doing the talking. He loomed over Hillary Clinton, stalking behind her and glaring at her as she answered questions, in a manner that many women might recognize as the sort of way a man who is trying to physically intimidate them might act. He whined about the moderators, barking over co-moderator ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz when she tried to get him to answer a question about Syria. He interrupted Hillary Clinton. He just couldn’t stop himself from interjecting “WRONG” into her microphone and speaking over her during her allotted time.
Women wouldn’t find much to celebrate in the substance of Trump’s debate performance, either.
During the debate’s opening moments, Donald pointed and grinned at the alleged victims of Bill Clinton, whom he invited along as his guests and sat in an attempt to intimidate his opponent. As threatened, he brought up the sexual past of the husband of his female opponent, demanding she feel ashamed of herself.
Moments later, it would appear that he wasn’t aware of what the definition of sexual assault is. When asked about the damning footage that emerged Friday, Trump argued with Anderson Cooper, claiming what he bragged about in the tape was not sexual assault (grabbing somebody by the vagina is, in fact, a pretty clear example of sexual assault). “I have great respect for women,” Trump said. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” Cooper pressed, asking Trump to clarify whether or not he had ever grabbed a woman in the genitals without her consent. “I said frankly, you hear these things. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.” He then began to, unprompted, talk about how he’d make the country safer by keeping people from the Middle East “and other places” out. He then re-upped his claim that what he said to Billy Bush in the 2005 footage was “locker room talk,” a phrase he used five times during the debate. “It’s just words, folks,” he said. “It’s just words.”
Many American women would likely beg to differ.
Trump questioned Hillary Clinton’s friendship with Michelle Obama, appearing to pit the women against each other.
When he was questioned about how tweeting about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado’s sex tape at 3 am might reflect poorly on his discipline, he first denied the tweet, then defended himself. The contents of those tweets, including the sex tape, proved Machado was “no Girl Scout.” “I’m not unproud of it,” he said.
“Please don’t interrupt her. She didn’t interrupt you,” co-moderator Cooper reminded Trump multiple times.
Clinton, for her part, could not disguise her disdain. She did not shake Trump’s hand at the outset of the debate. In the split screen, her patience with Trump wore visibly thinner as the night wore on.
Like everybody else in America, it seems she, too, cannot wait for this election to be over.