Donald Trump lost the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton so badly that his campaign team should now go into crisis mode in order to salvage his chances of competing in any meaningful way in November.
Clinton masterfully outsmarted Trump at every turn, letting her opponent rant and ramble on about topics he clearly hadn't bothered to prepare for, while delivering smart, poised retorts of her own. It was an amateur vs a pro, and Clinton was in complete control the entire night.
It was actually quite shocking to watch Trump fall apart at every exchange -- his team clearly hadn't prepared him to do battle with someone as experienced as Hillary Clinton, and hadn't told him to control his temper when speaking to a woman. While he tried to behave civilly in the beginning, his ego and temper got the better of him 15 minutes in, and he began shouting Clinton down whenever she started rebutting his arguments. As Andrew Sullivan wrote on his live blog: "It is to Clinton’s great credit that she prepared; and he didn’t; and that she let him hang himself".
And Trump did not just hang himself -- he shot himself in the foot, the leg and gut. It was a suicidal strategy that consisted of not having any strategy at all. Trump had some one liners about Clinton being a corrupt beltway politician who had been in Washington long enough to "defeat Isis" and stop shootings in African American neighborhoods, but it wasn't sustained and wasn't articulated anywhere near well enough to have any effect. Clinton on the other hand, led him down the garden path and casually drowned him in 6 inches of pond water.
Clinton nailed Trump on his tax returns, his perpetual lies, his stance on nuclear weapons, and his appalling sexism. There were moments in the debate when you could literally hear the audience wincing after Clinton cut into Trump with the deftness of a highly skilled knife fighter. On the issue of Trump's refusal to release his tax information, Clinton let Trump bullshit for several minutes and then flayed him with one of the best lines of the night.
“First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is,” Clinton said in response to Lester Holt asking her for her opinion on why Trump wouldn't release his taxes. “Maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”
And that was just the beginning of it.
"One of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest," said Clinton on Trump's rampant sexism, adding that he "loves beauty contests."
Speaking directly to the audience, Clinton recounted the story of Trump calling a Latina contestant "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping."
“Donald, she has a name," continued Clinton. “Her name is Alicia Machado. … And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet she’s going to vote this November.”
Perhaps the best blow of the night was Clinton's reminder to America that only one candidate running for president is actually prepared for the job. Responding to criticism from Trump for being off the campaign trail in recent times to prepare for the debate, Clinton said:
"I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President. And that is a good thing."
While the poll numbers haven't come in yet, former Republican strategist Frank Luntz held a focus group during the debate that was aired directly afterwards on the CBS broadcast. Here's what happened:
No matter how Donald's team try to spin this, there's no getting around the fact that he was not just beaten by Hillary Clinton, but humiliated.