On Sunday, we watched a zombie uprising on stage, probably fitting as this is the month of Halloween. The Presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump expired last week as his sexually charged comments churned through the airwaves. On the debate platform, what was evident was its zombie avatar, just trying to eat some more brains, shuffling and flailing around.
It was obvious that the major issue that would be addressed were his remarks that he described as “locker room banter” and explained away on the debate stage as “one of those things.” It is actually one of multiple things that add up to do a number on his prospects of getting to the White House. At one point, he said to his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton: “I’m a gentleman, Hillary, go ahead.” That attracted guffaws from the audience that was mostly otherwise silent, as the moderators had commanded of them. Trump, who appears to live in his own reality, televised or otherwise, may have taken that as a mark of approval, though it was probably a reaction to the irony of such a statement coming from The Donald, who has crafted a new level of crassness.
In fact, just how disagreeable he is is evidenced by his voiced difference with his own running mate Mike Pence on a matter of policy; the same person who excelled in his attempt at defending Trump on Tuesday during the Vice-Presidential debate. Trump knows no loyalty other than to himself and his criticism of other Republicans for having deserted him is hollow.
Body language showed the sort of tension that cloaked the room: while Trump made contact with Clinton prior to the first debate, you could almost sense her maintaining a safe distance before the Missouri debate commenced, though that formal courtesy returned as the debate concluded.
The outcome of the 90-minute event itself is debatable. Trump was better than in the first debate, or least not quite as incoherent. Clinton was the same; coming across as a wonk, but not one to win your heart.
But the performance in St Louis will do little to salvage the Trump operation. As a real estate magnate, he ought to know that an edifice built on shoddy material is bound to collapse. Anyone could have seen the Trump train wreck coming, it was only a matter of when it would arrive at its destination. This was no October surprise. Many Republicans during the party’s primaries, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz had warned of the volume of Trumpian vitriol that was waiting to be released. Many such revelations may still be in the offing in the month that remains till the 8 November election.
Meanwhile, many Republican voters who powered Trump through the primaries are probably suffering from a serious case of buyers’ remorse. Clinton ails from her own questionable integrity, but Trump, just as he did physically on the debate floor, dwarfs her with his monumental ugliness. A normal, even boring nominee may have made Clinton’s warts as irredeemable as Trump has done unto himself.
Debates once mattered in the US Presidential cycle. But with the entry of Trump, policy positions have been replaced with bluster and bombast. And that was visible in the Republican primary field, though as he was one among a dozen or more, that reliance upon provocation alone didn’t have the sort of impact that it does when he faces off against just a single challenger.
There’s still another debate remaining, on 19 October and once again, it will settle little in this race, other than reinforce the narrative that Trump is as likely to win the election as he is to capture the Miss Universe crown. Fortunately, we have to suffer through just one more night of the living dead.