The first presidential debate was Donald Trump's chance to prove that he is a mature, competent candidate with a command of the issues. He did the exact opposite. Dodging, deflecting, and lying, he exposed his glaring lack of qualifications for the job he is seeking.
Monday's presidential debate was widely seen as a disaster for Donald Trump. He came off as flustered and defensive; he talked over Hillary Clinton and moderator Lester Holt; he refused to give straight answers to basic questions. Above all, he failed to show that he had the temperament or preparedness to serve as commander-in-chief.
Trump made several unforced errors that will surely become fodder for Clinton in the weeks to come.
1. Tax returns
Lester Holt pushed Trump to explain his stonewalling on tax returns. Trump repeated his absurd excuse that he's being audited by the IRS, and Holt pointed out that the IRS has no prohibition against people under audit releasing tax returns. Trump then tried to deflect by saying he would release his taxes when Clinton "releases her 33,000 emails." Holt pounced on this: "So it's negotiable?" Trump confusedly backpedaled, saying "No!" The kicker: When Clinton posited that maybe Trump doesn't want people to see that he paid no federal income tax, Trump himself appeared to confirm this by saying "That makes me smart." With those four words, Trump practically wrote Clinton's next campaign ad.
2. The Federal Reserve
Although Trump was never directly asked about monetary policy, he pivoted to a bizarre and ill-informed attack on Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen during a question about the economy. He claimed, with no evidence, that the U.S. economy is in "a big fat bubble," that the stock market would crash if interest rates went up, and that Yellen is keeping rates artificially low to protect President Obama. Leaving aside what an enormous faux pas it is for a presidential candidate to attack the independent central bank — which is designed to be free from all political influence — Trump seems unaware that the Fed actually raised interest rates last year. Additionally, Obama has no authority over Yellen, so claiming she's manipulating interest rates to protect him makes no sense. But why let facts get in the way of a good Trump rant?
3. Stop and Frisk
When Trump was asked what he would do to improve race relations, he doubled down on his repeated claim that he would reinstate a "stop and frisk" policing policy in major U.S. cities, crediting it for the crime drop in New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. This is, to put it mildly, nonsense. Stop and frisk had nothing to do with the decline in crime in the 1990s, which was nationwide and also happened in cities that did not adopt the policy. Meanwhile, Trump flatly denied Holt's and Clinton's repeated reminders that stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional for implicitly targeting Black and Hispanic men, and that after it was struck down in New York, crime rates continued to fall. One thing is certain: Trump's spirited call for racial profiling will do him no favors in his attempts to court the minority vote.
Once again, Trump found himself facing questions about his central role in promoting conspiracy theories about President Obama's country of birth. And once again, Trump pushed his ridiculous claim that Clinton's allies started it and that he deserved credit for "getting the birth certificate" and settling the issue. Holt pointed out that Trump continued to cast doubt on Obama's birth certificate years after he released it. And even after Clinton condemned Trump's birther rhetoric as "racist", Trump refused to apologize to the Black community, telling Lester Holt, "I say nothing." To top it off, Trump pointedly referred to Obama as "your president," not-so-subtly implying that even now, he still did not accept Obama as legitimate.
Trump was unable to articulate a single specific action he would take when asked how he would defeat ISIS, continuing his charade that he had a "secret plan" he couldn't reveal for fear of tipping off the enemy. Clinton's command of the issue and detailed explanation of her plan was a stark contrast to Trump's empty bluster. Trump also made the bizarre statement that Hillary had been unsuccessfully fighting ISIS "her entire adult life" and repeated his assertion that ISIS was created by Obama pulling troops from Iraq. This is wrong on so many levels that there isn't even space to cover it all here, but this article does a great job of demolishing Trump's mindless accusation.
In a nod to his nationalistic base, Trump repeated his pseudo-thuggish claim that some of our NATO allies "haven't paid us" and that he might refuse to fulfill treaty obligations if our allies are attacked. He demanded to know how NATO benefits the United States, when we pay most of the money and have most of the weapons. Clinton shut him down with the perfect response: she pointed out that the only time NATO's defense articles have ever been invoked was after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In other words, it was Europe defending the United States, not the other way around.
Let's see which of these major Trump missteps shows up in a Clinton campaign ad.