Andrew Sullivan on the First Presidential Debate: ‘She Let Him Hang Himself’

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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What introduction to this spectacle do you need? Just buckle yourself up
for the first liveblog of the four presidential and vice-presidential
debates.

If you want to send me your thoughts as the events proceed, email me at
sully@nymag.com (if you’re a recovering dishhead, you can also always
use the old email address). Please refresh to update.

10:45 p.m.

10:39 p.m. What can one say? I was afraid that Trump’s charisma and stage presence and salesmanship might outshine Hillary Clinton’s usually tepid and wonkish instincts. I feared that the facts wouldn’t matter; that a debate would not take place. And it is to Clinton’s great credit that she prepared, and he didn’t, and that she let him hang himself.

His utter lack of preparation; his doubling down on transparent lies; his foreign-policy recklessness; his racial animosity; his clear discomfort with the kind of exchange of views that is integral to liberal democracy; his instinctual belligerence — all these suggest someone who has long lived in a deferential bubble that has become filled with his own reality.

Clinton was not great at times; her language was occasionally stilted; she missed some obvious moments to go in for the kill; but she was solid and reassuring and composed. I started tonight believing she needed a game-changer to alter the trajectory of this race. I may, of course, be wrong, trapped in my own confirmation bias and bubble — but I thought she did just that.

I’ve been a nervous wreck these past two weeks; my nerves are calmed now.

10:38 p.m. A reader writes:

A blinking, huffing manifestation of incoherent 21st century white male rage. He is offended by the temerity of his public servant opponent while incredulous that he is clearly in the presence of a sane person who is in possession of facts and reason. Cheap country club vulgarity. The only question is – is America seeing that too?

10:33 p.m. Trump attacks Clinton for not having the stamina to be president. That’s such a coda for bald sexism. If Clinton doesn’t have stamina, no one has. And notice how he refused to answer the question about her “look.” And he finishes by whining about tough ads against him.

10:33 p.m.

10:31 p.m. Clinton became the grown-up and the president in this last statement reassuring our allies. If Americans cannot see that at this point, there is, sadly, no real choice in this election. I say that as someone who is no fan of Hillary Clinton. There is simply no choice.

10:30 p.m.

10:29 p.m.

10:28 p.m. Trump’s insistence that NATO is a protection racket is also an entirely new phenomenon in postwar American foreign policy.

10:27 p.m.

10:26 p.m. Clinton is devastating him on NATO, Iran, and nuclear weapons.

10:22 p.m.

10:19 p.m. Now he’s just ranting like a drunk uncle — and shouting over the moderator. Again, his insistence on lying repeatedly about something in the public record is something I have never seen before. His only defense is that Sean Hannity will back him up.

10:17 p.m. “I haven’t given lots of thought to NATO.” This is such an embarrassment.

10:15 p.m. He’s actually doubling down on the war crime of “taking the oil.” Again: No American presidential candidate has ever advocated plunder as a goal in foreign policy. No Western leader has supported such a thing in modern times. The fact that he is still repeating the need for such a war crime is all by itself disqualifying for a Western leader.

10:14 p.m.

10:11 p.m. A small note about Trump’s insistence that “stop-and-frisk” was not unconstitutional. He believes it is constitutional because the judge was a “very against police judge.” He is a threat to the independent judiciary. I know of no American presidential candidate who has ever given an answer like that.

10:09 p.m. Someone “on that bed weighing 400 pounds”? Is he now hallucinating? Or just excusing Putin again?

10:08 p.m. A reader dissents:

Trump is being Trump and talking like regular folks. And Hillary is spewing forth wonkish liberal bullshit which many people hate. Not much new tonight. We have a choice in November.

10:07 p.m. The NYPD pushes back against Trump’s lies:

10:03 p.m. Clinton’s explanation of Trump’s foul racism — back from his days discriminating against African-Americans — was very powerful. She held him to account. I wonder why she doesn’t bring up the Central Park Five — another plainly racist emanation from Trump’s id.

10:00 p.m. Trump is now doubling down on his rancid racist attempt to delegitimize the first African-American president. And then to blame Sidney Blumenthal. He’s flailing. He’s foul. He’s shouting over the moderator. He is unfit for the presidency.

9:59 p.m. Clinton’s line about being prepared for the debate and the presidency is the best line of the night.

9:57 p.m. The idea that “stop-and-frisk” solely brought down crime is absurd. So much of what he’s been saying is absurd. He is winging this; she is prepared. I thought he might be able to overcome that substantive disadvantage. I don’t think he has. Surely people will see that.

9:55 p.m. A reader writes:

I think he’s shouting and acting so antsy because he’s getting zero reaction from the crowd. Trump himself has said he tries to read the room at his rallies and that leads the direction of what he says and how he says it. He’s getting no feedback. Lester basically sucked all of Trumps oxygen out of the room by not allowing him the praise he so desperately needs to perform.

Another:

I’m loving this Hillary. She’s prepped and it shows. She’s not smooth, but she found an opponent that makes that part of her delivery not matter.

9:54 p.m.

9:53 p.m. If Trump is a raging barfly on the race question, Clinton is a defensive blatherer.

9:50 p.m. What he has just said in a presidential debate is indistinguishable from what a drunk at a bar might say before he is thrown out. It’s incredible to me that this ranting, incoherent bigot is actually a nominee of a major party in the U.S.

9:47 p.m. Trump’s response to the racial-divide question is simply to tout his endorsement from the police union. Then he pivots to the notion that inner-city violence is caused by illegal immigrants. His answer on stop-and-frisk is an argument against the Constitution. He has contempt for the Constitution because it might actually impede him from doing what he wants.

9:46 p.m.

Yes, he did.

9:43 p.m. It’s clear that Trump has no idea what a debate is and has never actually debated an equal. He rants and then shouts over and interrupts his debate partner. This is the performance of a tyrant, someone utterly unsuited to the give-and-take and reasoned debate that’s integral — essential — to a liberal democracy.

9:42 p.m. I have to say that Clinton’s spiel on Trump’s foul business record was effective. And what’s up with his nose? Why is he constantly sniffing?

9:40 p.m. A little fact-checking:

9:38 p.m. He’s shouting at her directly now.

9:37 p.m. Trump has interrupted, and shouted over, Clinton repeatedly. I wonder if that will affect the views of American women.

9:35 p.m. His answers on the tax returns are bizarre. Clinton hammers it home.

9:30 p.m. He’s now full bonkers — attacking the Federal Reserve. And then repeating the absurd lie that he cannot release his tax returns because of an audit. He’s just doubling down on the bullshit. If this performance works, it’s the end of any kind of rational discourse in a liberal democracy.

9:27 p.m. I can’t quite understand what he’s talking about. And what strikes me is his insistence on shouting over her. He will not let her answer — but she has not told him to stop interrupting.

9:24 p.m. Now he’s talking and shouting over the moderator. He’s out of control. “She’s been fighting ISIS her entire adult life”? Again, what is he talking about?

9:20 p.m. Now he’s getting his mojo back. He’s shouting over her. And pounding her on her experience.

9:19 p.m. He’s now looking directly at Clinton — and cutting her off.

9:18 p.m. “Our country is losing so much in energy.” What is he talking about?

9:17 p.m. She’s pwning him right now.

9:16 p.m. Clinton is doing far better than I anticipated. And he’s flailing — and gives us the first interruption.

9:12 p.m. A terrific response from Clinton on “trumped-up trickle-down economics.” And her attempt to contrast her more modest upbringing with Trump’s astonishing privilege. Trump is responding with slogans. And suddenly it’s not “Crooked Hillary,” it’s Secretary Clinton. So he switches tactics and plays his strong card — that he is the new thing, and Clinton has been around for ever.

He has no answer on how to bring manufacturing jobs back.

9:09 p.m. Trump begins by denying reality — that jobs are leaving the U.S. in droves. He has almost nothing substantive to counter Clinton’s policies, except a massive tax cut. A weak start for the Donald.

9:07 p.m. A solid, crisp, substantive, policy-packed first answer from Clinton.

9:04 p.m. My basic first take is that Trump is winning this campaign handily and that Clinton needs tonight desperately to get back in the race. I wish that were not so, but it is.

9 p.m. Take a deep breath.