Oh what an amusing and revealing spectacle a sore loser is.
And that’s what we’re seeing now in one Donald J. Trump. A day after Hillary Clinton pressed The Donald into service as debate-stage mop, the unwelcome reality was settling in with Trump supporters everywhere that Hofstra hadn’t been a halcyon happening. Actually, make that almost everywhere. Off in Hannity Land, Newt Gingrich had declared that Trump had won an “enormous, historic victory,” the dimensions of which wouldn’t become obvious for several days. Just the way, say, Custer’s victory at the Little Big Horn has taken some time to make its true historical effect felt.
But Donald himself wasn’t waiting for history. By Tuesday, he was whining. He had been saddled with a bad microphone and unfair questions, he complained. There, sulker-by-proxy Rudy Giuliani was one step ahead of the GOP nominee. Piqued at moderator Lester Holt for correctly noting that New York City’s stop-and-frisk program had been ruled unconstitutional, Giuliani had already declared that Trump should skip the remaining two debates unless guaranteed that the moderator wouldn’t play fact-checker. With apologies to Kenny Rogers, Rudy, don’t make yourself a clown.
Grouse as they might, however, the Trump camp couldn’t negate this reality: Clinton won a sweeping victory on Monday, turning in a smart, composed, presidential performance, while Trump looked like the ill-prepared egotist he is.
His response on the birther issue was tantamount to a no-contest plea. His excuse for not releasing his taxes — “I’m being audited” — was, once again, thoroughly misleading. And though he may have been lukewarm about the Iraq war, his assertion that he had opposed the invasion is only plausible if you discount what he actually said at the time. His defense of his business record, after Clinton reminded viewers that he had stiffed scores of contractors and had resorted to bankruptcy a half dozen times, came down to the repeated assertion that he had built a great company. His it-was-mostly-about-Rosie O’Donnell defense of his boorish comments about women no doubt helped him consolidate the coveted caveman demographic, but beyond that, it simply left him looking sophomoric.
After repeatedly rope-a-doping Trump into clumsy flailing, Clinton let him punch himself out — and then commenced her rebuttal with a laugh or a “whew,” or a quick rejoinder on one or two key points. She obviously knew she was helping her rival reveal the real Donald Trump to the world, and she clearly reveled in the exercise.
But even if Trump hadn’t spent much of the evening on the defensive, even if he hadn’t dissolved, yet again, into Captain Queeg mode, even if he had stayed equable, one couldn’t watch this and come away thinking that he was a passably knowledgeable candidate for president.
Take foreign policy: Trump has spent months ranting about how terrible the Iran nuclear deal is, though it has actually worked quite well so far. But when Clinton asked what his alternative would have been, he had nothing to offer.
Or economics. Trump did score a point by noting that Clinton had flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, something she implausibly denied.
But on broader economic matters, Clinton noted, accurately, that Trump’s massive tax-cut plan is a return to the same old GOP supply-side (a.k.a. trickle-down) economic theories, which would result in trillions more debt, and, according to one analysis, lead to the loss of several million jobs, while hers would create several million more.
Trump didn’t just lose. He revealed himself as an empty suit.
And Clinton didn’t just win. She scored a victory impressive enough to persuade undecideds.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.