Presidential debates have the potential to make or break the candidacies of those seeking the most powerful elected office in the world.
Before the first debate in this election the political talking heads concluded that Hillary Clinton had the most to lose. She needed to meet or exceed the nebulous criteria the national press and the right-wing noise machine had created for her to be judged a success.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, needed only to show up and not kill a stage hand and he would be deemed to have passed his test. The bar had been set so low for Trump that it had been painted on the floor.
After all, Trump has not gone a single day in this campaign without fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance – or when some mendacious or illegal act from his past cropped up.
He has done and said things that would have disqualified any other politician from either party for any race, and yet the hateful, racist rhetoric continues to endear him to his base.
So I was worried about the outcome of the debate, given the differing standards on which each candidate would be judged.
Once the debate finally started, Secretary Clinton was calm, knowledgeable and totally prepared. The Donald grimaced, sniffed and sniffled his way through his answers and rebuttals, and it was game on.
What followed for Trump was a long slow slide into ignorant gibberish, rambling lunacy and a total failure to show that he could negotiate candy away from a baby, let alone represent the United States and the free world facing down the multiple problems a modern president deals with every single day.
Trump was clearly out of his league. Interruptions, childish bullying and name-calling may suffice to win Republican primary debates, but Hillary Clinton, a former or current first lady, United States Senator, secretary of state, wife, mother and grandmother schooled him repeatedly during the 90 minutes while he embarrassed himself with the whole world watching.
After Trump’s debacle my only fear was that The Donald would back out of the next two debates.
It would clearly be political malpractice to send him out again because he cannot pivot and become “presidential.” He cannot be anything other than who he is: a greedy, ego-driven narcissist who can be goaded into irrationality by the slightest perceived slight.
And that is a disastrous combination when pitted against a skilled and poised debater, one who is experienced and prepared.
The main reason that Trump will not back out of the second debate is that his sociopathic need to be a “winner” will not let him believe he lost the first debate. The feedback loop created by his rallies and his total reliance on Fox News as the only media outlet he will talk with only reinforce his fantasy that he won the first debate.
Nobody who has been following this election closely believes that Donald Trump will change in any meaningful way.
He will not prepare for the second debate because he has the attention span of a 2-year-old and details like policies, plans and issues are just not part of his world.
He has relied on money, power, fame and bullying bluster for so long that doing the hard work to prepare is a foreign concept to him. That’s what he pays other people to do.
Hillary Clinton is not a charismatic speaker, but her life’s work has made a difference in the lives of millions of people – from the poorest, most disadvantaged to the movers and shakers in the upper echelons of world power.
She has a vision for the future of the United States and world and she has concrete policies and plans in place to make that vision a reality.
Donald Trump cares only about what is good for Donald Trump (and maybe Ivanka and Don Jr., but definitely not Tiffany).
American voters saw Hillary and Trump side by side on the debate stage, and it was obvious who is better qualified to lead America in these tumultuous and harrowing times.
Donald Trump not backing out of the remaining debates would continue to highlight the differences between the two candidates. And for the Clinton campaign, that is the best possible outcome.
Kevin Buck is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” runs Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several Santa Clarita Valley Democrats.