As the day has gone on, the analysis of the results of last night's presidential debate (outside of rigged online polls - as will be discussed in another post) has been increasingly brutal against Donald Trump. Many of those condemning Trump's poor, unprepared and hubris filled performance are many Republicans and conservative pundits and columnists. One such columnist is Michael Gerson, President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006, as a senior policy advisor from 2000 through June 2006, who is scathing in his critique of Trump. Here are column excerpts:
During the past political year, life has imitated professional wrestling. Those expecting such antics from Donald Trump during the first presidential debate were not disappointed. When confronted with his claim that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, Trump replied, “I did not [say it].” He did. When Trump’s claim that he could not release his tax returns because of an IRS audit was exposed as false, he still insisted on it. When charged with saying that he could personally negotiate down the national debt, he said this was “wrong.” The charge was right. When Trump’s transparently deceptive claim to be an early opponent of the Iraq War was debunked, he doubled down in a babbling defense citing Sean Hannity as the ultimate arbiter.
It is not surprising that Trump inhabits his own factual universe, in which truth is determined by usefulness and lies become credible through repetition. What made the first presidential debate extraordinary — really, unprecedented — was not the charges that Trump denied, but the ones he confirmed.
When Hillary Clinton claimed he didn’t pay any federal income taxes in a couple of years, Trump said: “That makes me smart.” When Clinton accused Trump of defrauding a contractor out of money he was owed, Trump responded: “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.” When Clinton criticized Trump for casual misogyny and for calling women “pigs,” Trump brought up Rosie O’Donnell and said, “She deserves it.” When Clinton recalled a Justice Department lawsuit against Trump alleging housing discrimination, he dismissed it as “just one of those things.”
When Clinton attacked Trump for coddling the Russians, Trump attempted to excuse them of hacking, shifting the blame toward obese computer geeks.
During the debate, the points scored against Trump were damaging. But the points he ceded would disqualify any normal politician, in any normal presidential year.
Trump has made some political gains over the past few weeks through greater discipline — speeches from teleprompters, carefully selected media interviews, no news conferences, a Twitter account in the hands of others. But the candidate has internalized none of this. He might as well have sung “I Gotta Be Me” as his opening statement in the debate. It was Trump unplugged and often unhinged.
Rhetorically, Trump drove a high-speed train filled with fireworks into a nuclear power plant. He was self-absorbed, prickly, defensive, interrupting, baited by every charge yet unprepared to refute them. During his share of a 90-minute debate, he was horribly out of his depth, incapable of stringing together a coherent three-sentence case. The postmodern quality of Trump’s appeal culminated in an unbalanced rant claiming, “I also have a much better temperament than she has” — an assertion greeted by audience laughter.
It should now be clear to Republicans: Vanity is his strategy.
Trump’s defenders will charge his critics with elitism. The great public, it is argued, gets Trump in a way that the commenting class does not. But this claim is now fully exposed. The expectation of rationality is not elitism. Coherence is not elitism. Knowledge is not elitism. Honoring character is not elitism. And those who claim this are debasing themselves, their party and their country.