Round 2: The Dark Knight and Damsel in Distress

I came into this debate without a champion. In all honesty, I wanted both of these candidates to lose.

If nothing else, I wanted them to feel the pain of the American people, who have collectively lost. The revelation of Trump’s dirty talk over the past couple of days only cemented the fact that he is just as debased as his opponent.

Now, contrast Trump’s talk of seducing and inappropriately groping married women with the fact that he complimented Secretary Clinton as a “fighter” who “never gives up” at the end of the debate. In the same debate, he described her as hateful and as “the devil.” Does any of this make the rest of you scratch your head?

Despite Trump proving himself to be a loathsome character in the release recordings, he knows how to bounce back and he had Clinton on the ropes most of the night. Focus group guru, Frank Luntz, revealed that his sharply-divided audience of Trump and Clinton supporters swung heavily for Trump by the end of the night by an 18-4 margin. Summing up Luntz’s key takeaways, Trump won by virtue of being humorous,not nasty, and by staying on the offensive, rather than defensive.

That last compliment to Clinton didn’t hurt, of course, because it revealed an authentic sentiment that expressed something seemingly rare in Trump: charity. Clinton herself seemed a bit taken aback by a comment that could be featuredin one of her own campaign commercials.

Trump is not generally a sympathetic figure. It is one thing to be picked on for being conservative and quite another for making outlandish, offensive, and outright odious statements. That said, nothing makes a politician sympathetic like a moderator with a vendetta. Martha Raddatz interrupted (interrogated) Trump far more than Clinton. While Raddatz could be excused for such behavior considering Trump’s comments about women, her clear impartiality seemed to justify Trump’s victim narrative.

Despite the fact that Trump was handled a bit more roughly than Clinton, he managed to land jab after jab on her—from her negligence with national security to years of chronic inaction on issues of major importance. The email exchanges were particularly harmful for Clinton. There are only so many canned lines that can be employed to distract from the reality that a major offense was committed—one that deserves, at least, a special prosecutor, if not jail time.

Even though Clinton offered an impressive list of accomplishments with regard to health care for children and funding for first responders on 9/11, she came under withering attack by Trump for her foreign policy failures. She could deny her ability to effect change on a whole host of domestic issues due to her roles as a senator, but not on the foreign policy front, when she was secretary of state. During her tenure, the Middle East dissolved into the quagmire that progressives often claimed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be. As Clinton discussed plans to contain Russia in Syria and ISIS throughout the globe, the fact remains that they have reached their apex of aggression because of her actions (or lack thereof).

So what should be made of this debate? Well, the darkened reputation of Trump was augmented by his chivalrous knight performance at the end of the debate. He now appears to simply be ambiguous. Clinton appeared to be the damsel in distress, despite her feminist credentials. For all of her policy wonkishness, she is unable to rescue herself or even get out of her own way. Trump’s recorded comments overshadowed the release of excerpts from Clinton’s speeches on Wall Street, leaving him the worse for wear over the weekend. The fact that Clinton’s sinister dealings received more airtime at this debate than the last made the debate in itself a clear win for Trump.

Overall, the presidential race likely didn’t change with the debate tonight. Perhaps the hemorrhaging stopped for Trump, but his campaign is still on life support. On a night when a dark knight employed gallantry toward a damsel in distress of her own making, we are still left with the sense that we are the ones imprisoned in this sinister fairy tale.