In a world on nodding terms with sanity, that surely would be that. After a gruesomely electrifying, barely moderated first presidential debate, you could stick a fork in Donald Trump in the certain knowledge that his juices would run clear, and give thanks that America will overcome its distaste for Hillary Clinton and make her its 45th President.
But right now, lest this has escaped you, it is by no means a sane world. No world in which Trump is quoted at shorter odds to reach the White House than the Road Runner, Elmer Fudd, Muttley, Mr Magoo or any other cartoon character can be considered that. So often have rumours of his political death proved exaggerated that to write the obituary again risks stretching that Einsteinian definition of madness beyond breaking point. He could recover yet again.
But God alone knows how. Trump was absolutely slaughtered in the early hours of today, partly by his own capacious buffoonery, and in part by a Hillary Clinton who started slowly but ended up owning the terracotta grifter and the very underpants he walked in.
For the first 10 or 15 minutes she was tense and unfocused, on the defensive. But once the nervousness lifted, a smile played almost incessantly at the corners of her mouth as she slew both the malicious rumours about her health and her opponent. While she grew in strength the longer it went it was Trump, who does like to question her stamina, who visibly tired. She looked far younger than her 68 years (hats off to the make-up artist). He looked every moment and more of his 70.
While you might draw the same conclusion from the verbal exchanges, as in fact I will, the optics made a compelling case. Not once in 90 minutes did she cough or touch her water. Red-eyed and snifflier than a cokehead at a white pepper festival, Trump relentlessly sipped his.
Radiating authorative stillness, Hillary smiled him to destruction. She grinned at him like an irked but indulgent aunt, while he gurned and fidgeted like a bored and bad tempered schoolboy.
She looked like she belonged on a banknote. He looked like he belonged in detention.
With any debate, you can no more overstate the importance of the visual messaging than a candidate’s ability or otherwise to beat expectations. Hillary soared above her caricature as an ailing, humourless virago. She even got more laughs than Trump, who married unusual witlessness (every crack at a zinger fell flat) to the familiar rambling ignorance.
Trump said so much that was false, stupid and grotesque that it seems invidious to choose a winner. Reminded that he had looked forward to the imminent 2008 crash, which cost some eight million Americans their homes, because it would help him buy property cheaply, he said “that’s called business, by the way”.
When she suggested he won’t publish his tax returns because they would show him avoiding all federal taxes, he brazenly observed “that makes me smart”. When Hillary accused him of “stiffing” his hotel contractors for their money, he shrugged insouciantly.
If we absolutely must pick a champion from a crowded field of braggardly foolishness, the laurels should probably go to the brag about ending the Birther fantasy he peddled for years – and would continued to peddle for years – by forcing Barack Obama to release his birth certificate. The giggle she just about suppressed then erupted later, when he cited his temperament as his greatest presidential asset. The chuckle seemed as lethal to Trump as his own mesmerising inability to articulate a coherent thought. His sentences were bamboozling hybrids in which one half-expressed idea collided with another. He spoke like the winner of one of those beauty pageants Hillary archly mentioned that he “likes to hang around”.
After more than a year as a candidate, it was plain that Trump had made no more effort to educate himself on the detail of domestic and geopolitical issues than to jettison the racism and sexism that were the fuel injectors for his insurgency.
Whether his indolence is more or less staggering than his arrogance is as close a call as this election appeared before this debate. But it is hard to believe that this transparent huckster can recover from being dismantled by Hillary on so many fronts, among them his references to women as pigs, dogs and – in the case of someone Clinton took the trouble to name – “Miss Housekeeping” (purely because she was Latina).
Hard, but not impossible. Every instinct screams that even now, with two more debates to come, the combination of Hillary’s wry competence and an an angry, outclassed Trump’s cluelessness has settled this race. But writing after a long, draining, sleepless night in which much malt whisky was taken for the nerves, I must acknowledge the perils of wishful thinking. There is a chance that the terror of a Trump presidency influences the judgement.
But sod it. Let’s show a little faith in the sense and sanity of our cousins across the Atlantic and make a prediction. If it comes to make me look an idiot yet again, so be it.
To what extent she won it, and he threw it away, is a matter of perspective. But by any objective measure, Hillary gave Trump such an elegantly vicious hiding today that it will be she who takes the oath to defend the Constitution on 20 January next year.
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