Does anyone really think that the Donald J. Trump who showed up to the debate on Monday night look like a credible president of the United States?
He repeatedly lied about his own words and record. He rambled on about Rosie O’Donnell. Near the end of the 90-minute debate, as Trump was showing signs of fatigue, he gave a muddled, seemingly contradictory answer to a question about nuclear weapons. If there were ever a subject where presidents must speak clearly and be sure of themselves, nuclear strategy has to be it.
Trump came into the night with the challenge of proving he could really be commander in chief. But the verdict should be clear: This candidate did not pass the sniff test.
None of that may matter to his most fervent fans, who long ago learned to excuse or overlook Trump’s flaws as a candidate. Polls show most voters had already made up their minds before the debate even started.
But an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in, and surely some of them were open to persuasion or second thoughts. From almost the first minute, the debate provided one reminder after another why Trump should not be entrusted with the presidency. Many of those reasons have nothing to do with policy positions.
Do you want a man so blase about nuclear weapons with his finger on the button?
Do you want such an inept, ignorant man negotiating complex international agreements?
Is his provocative, racially toxic rhetoric what America needs right now?
Will you be better off four years from now if the country plunges into the kind of internal conflict and international antagonism that Trump seems to believe would make America great again?
It’s not necessary to like Hillary Clinton — though she easily exceeded Trump on all matters of substance and temperament during the debate — to see after Monday night that Trump is deeply unprepared and unqualified for the job. He would pose a danger to the nation’s stability if elected.
For Trump, the best strategy for the rest of the fall may be to keep up his high-volume antics on the campaign trail and hope that voters never come to grips with what that those traits would mean in a president. He’s also counting on the continued fecklessness of his elected Republican officials, so many of whom cannot summon up the courage to cast aside party loyalty.
Debates, though, are a valuable check on shallow candidates like Trump. The debate’s moderator, Lester Holt, came under some criticism, but the debate certainly served a public purpose, by exposing just how clueless Trump is.
He’ll still have plenty of supporters who don’t care.
But after Trump’s disastrous night in the spotlight, the rest of us can’t say we haven’t been warned.