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Hillary Clinton got under Donald Trump’s skin

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Memorable presidential debate moments
Memorable presidential debate moments

Hillary Clinton destroyed Donald Trump Monday night.

Not since George Foreman knocked down Joe Frazier six times or Mike Tyson clobbered Michael Spinks in 91 seconds or Katie Ledecky jumped in a pool have we seen a public beatdown quite like this. This was the United States against Grenada; Rome vs. Carthage; the Road Runner vs. Wile E Coyote. If it were a Little League game, the mercy rule would have gone into effect.

In every way, Clinton out-classed, out-smarted, and out-worked Trump during Monday night's first presidential debate. And let's be clear, as bad as Trump was, she was legitimately great.


Clinton looked serene, confident, even bemused in the face of Trump's incoherent ramblings. She was every woman who has ever been shouted down, interrupted, or condescended to by a man. But she also showed the vast depth of her policy knowledge, her effectiveness on a debate stage — and her willingness, even enthusiasm in attacking Trump.

There'd been a lot of speculation before the debate on whether she would goad Trump into, well, being Trump. It was clear from the get-go that this was precisely her strategy. She went on the offensive early and often and delivered one clobbering blow after another. She hit him for his failure to release his tax returns. She suggested that he might not be as rich as he says he is and that maybe he's not a very good businessman. She dinged him on the "racist lie" of birtherism and basically suggested to his face that he's a racist. She hammered him on his misogyny; on calling women pigs and slobs. Trump is not a good debater — and it's easy to get under his skin — but she rarely let up in the attacks, didn't let him throw her off her game, and repeatedly baited him into embarrassing, defensive responses.


Now for Trump — and it's hard to know where to start. He was rude, petulant, and at times downright incomprehensible. He started off the evening by basically just repeating lines from his stump speech, which in several cases had a tangential relationship to the actual question asked. He said so many things that just weren't true — like stop and frisk reduced crime in New York or that he didn't support the Iraq war or that he convinced President Obama to turn over his birth certificate. It was fairly obvious that he simply didn't bother to prepare for the debate, instead somehow believing that he could just wing it as he has for much of the past 15 months. In many ways it was an insulting performance, one that highlights the contempt he has repeatedly demonstrated for both the American people and the entire process of running for president.

As the debate wore on and Trump's energy and stamina clearly appeared to flag, his answers became more incoherent, more defensive and increasingly seemed to suggest that he was spewing out a narrative that only he understood. At one point, he actually defended his ridiculing of Rosie O'Donnell, said he did black people a favor by questioning President Obama's birthplace, boasted about the fact that he didn't pay federal taxes or fully pay his contractors and patted himself on the back for opening a resort in Palm Beach, Florida, that didn't discriminate against people of color.


Near the end of the debate he said that he has better judgment and better temperament than Clinton, which can only lead me to conclude that Trump simply doesn't know what these words mean. I can't imagine anyone watching that debate last night and drawing the same conclusion as Trump.

This was an unhinged and embarrassing performance that laid bare for an estimated audience of 100 million Americans that Trump is not even remotely qualified to be president. We should all be ashamed as a nation that a major political party nominated this man for the highest political office in the land. I have no idea what the polls will say about what happened last night, but I do know there were two people who met last night and only one of them deserves a vote for president. On this point, there can be no debate.

Michael A. Cohen's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.