If you watched cable news at all over the weekend, you heard about Trump bragging about sexual assault a lot. But you also heard a lot from Trump surrogates who laid out a strategy for Trump to—maybe, just maybe—mount a comeback on Sunday night if he apologized sincerely and effusively and seemed genuinely contrite. Donald Trump did not take their advice.
He set the tone on Sunday when he appeared in a political stunt of a press conference with four women who have accused the Clintons of various misdeeds. At the very least, he was using people’s real pain as a kind of shield from the shellacking he had taken over the previous 72 hours. He barely apologized when pressed about the “grab them by the pussy” video—instead, he tried to use it to talk about ISIS and said that it was “just words.”
Things didn’t get much better after that. He promised to jail Hillary Clinton—a political opponent—if he was elected president, signaling that he would use the office for authoritarian ends. He slammed Bill Clinton—who is not running for president—saying that “there has never been anyone in the history of politics who has been so abusive to women” and that Hillary aided his war on women. He loomed behind Clinton in a way that could best be described as “deeply creepy.” He blamed Clinton for the fact that he probably did not pay any taxes for nearly two decades. He knocked his own running mate for attacking Vladimir Putin. He did nothing to explain his racist policies, despite being asked a number of questions about them. He was a giant baby.
At times, Clinton seemed taken aback by what Trump was doing, which allowed him to land a few blows. And Clinton’s performance was not perfect tonight, particularly her answer on her Wall Street speeches. But already, cable pundits are putting a very generous spin on Trump’s performance, saying he basically stopped the bleeding. Jake Tapper, for instance, led by arguing that Trump got better as the debate went on. Michael Smerconish said, “The night belongs to Donald Trump.”
Is that true? Maybe! But only if you set the bar at a level that is subterranean. Half of what he said and did tonight at the debate—to say nothing of the press conference that came before it—was absolutely disqualifying. Trump was not contrite tonight. Far from it. He was horrifying.