One hour and one minute into the first presidential debate, Donald Trump finally mentioned, in passing, the word that had gotten him this far: “border.”
And then Trump immediately forgot to bring up borders anymore, other than a rushed reference to the Border Patrol endorsing him. (He touched very briefly three times on “immigration.”)
Not surprisingly, Trump’s two opponents, Hillary Clinton and Lester Holt, didn’t bring up borders.
Trump can hardly rely on them. NBC’s Holt had heard plenty of “you’ll never work in this town again” threats from his colleagues in the press if he didn’t bias the questions against Trump more than Matt Lauer had at a lower-key Clinton-Trump forum on Sept. 7.
Holt did an expert job of tilting his moderation toward Hillary while still giving Trump a fighting chance. Sure, that’s not fair, but that’s the best Trump can expect in the debates.
At this point Trump is on track to rank, along with Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, Barry Goldwater, and George McGovern, as one of the finest losers in American history. To win, however, Trump’s effort is going to have to be even more heroic than it has been to get him to where he is.
Holt gave Trump one big opening by asking:
You mention ISIS, and we think of ISIS certainly as over there, but there are American citizens who have been inspired to commit acts of terror on American soil, the latest incident, of course, the bombings we just saw in New York and New Jersey, the knife attack at a mall in Minnesota, in the last year, deadly attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando.
But then Trump immediately went to ISIS over there and forgot to ever get home to bring up his prudent “extreme vetting” plan. (Similarly, he left out his wall and Hillary’s basket of deplorables.)
Hillary almost managed to botch this herself with her bemusing yet Orwellian response:
And I think we’ve got to have an intelligence surge, where we are looking for every scrap of information…. You know, they responded so quickly, so professionally to the attacks that occurred by Rahami. And they brought him down. And we may find out more information because he is still alive, which may prove to be an intelligence benefit.
Of course, Ahmad Khan Rahami, the Afghan-born chicken fryer who placed a bunch of poorly designed bombs in New York and New Jersey, isn’t some intelligence trove. He’s a moron. When Afghanistan sends its people, they’re not sending their best. He’s just another hostile hothead the U.S. establishment has allowed to colonize our country for no good reason.
Of course, Trump would have wound up arguing with Clinton and Holt about what to do about Islamic terrorists who are already American citizens. But he might have been able to draw attention to the impact of immigration policy on the future, which is, after all, when we’re going to have to live the rest of our lives.
In general, Trump was, by Trumpian standards, philosophical and self-deprecating. For example, he brought up his new hotel in Washington, D.C.:
We’re just opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the White House, so if I don’t get there one way, I’m going to get to Pennsylvania Avenue another.
Trump knows he doesn’t have a pedantic mind for details, so he seemed concerned about getting his assertions exactly right:
The Obama Administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven and a half years, to be semi-exact.
One of the weirdly personal exchanges came when Hillary claimed that Trump stiffed the architect hired to design the clubhouse of the Trump National Golf Club Westchester:
CLINTON: We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your clubhouses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid, what he was charging you to do…
TRUMP: Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work…
But, as both Hillary and Trump well know, Bill Clinton still maintains a locker in that same Trump National clubhouse, although none of the principals have publicly mentioned it during the campaign.
Trump’s main hope in his remarkable long-shot crusade has been to lure Hillary into an overly frank dialogue, whether in a debate or on the campaign trail, over just whose side she is on: 300 million Americans or 7 billion non-Americans?
The growing fanaticism of elite ideology, for which the aging Hillary has become a largely unquestioning vessel, in the “ultimate wisdom of a borderless world” would be profoundly disturbing to tens of millions of voters if Trump can focus attention upon it.
Trump started off the debate strongly enough on trade, where Mrs. Clinton’s obvious insincerity is evident in her supposedly now objecting to the TPP after Bernie Sanders made it an issue.
Trump then pummeled Hillary on crime, calling for “law and order” seven times. He pointed to New York City’s superb increase in public safety under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg as his model.
Hillary, who appears obsessed with turning out the vote in the slums of Charlotte and Philadelphia, could only bring herself to mention “law and order” once, and then in a scoffing tone:
So we’ve got to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. We cannot just say “law and order.”
On race and crime, Hillary emitted a number of statements that fell somewhere between dog whistles and whoppers, such as:
And it’s just a fact that if you’re a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated.
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