Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct 9, 2016 in St Louis, Mo.
Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty

What losing a debate looks like

There’s no denying the fact that Donald Trump’s most rabid followers had reason to cheer last night’s presidential debate: the Republican nominee spent 90 minutes throwing red meat at them, fulfilling their dreams of what an unapologetic, uncompromising, angrily partisan debate performance should look like.

And if Trump had gone into the debate as the overall favorite in the presidential race, bolstering his base might have even made sense as an electoral strategy. But given that the GOP nominee is losing, he has limited opportunities to find new support, and he made literally no effort to reach out to anyone beyond his existing backers, last night’s spectacle was needlessly strange.

The misguided strategy was only part of the problem. This was a debate in which Trump called for his opponent’s imprisonment. It was a debate in which he defended Russian and Syrian leaders, while denouncing his own running mate’s foreign policy. It was a debate in which he conceded he exploited tax loopholes to avoid paying his fair share.

And as the New York Times’ David Leonhardt explained, it was a debate in which Trump lied – a lot.
He lied about a sex tape. He lied about his lies about ‘birtherism.’ He lied about the growth rate of the American economy. He lied about the state of the job market. He lied about the trade deficit. He lied about tax rates.

He lied about his own position on the Iraq War, again. He lied about ISIS. He lied about the Benghazi attack. He lied about the war in Syria. He lied about Syrian refugees. He lied about Russia’s hacking. He lied about the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

He lied about Hillary Clinton’s tax plan. He lied about her health care plan. He lied about her immigration plan. He lied about her email deletion. He lied about Obamacare, more than once. He lied about the rape of a 12-year-old girl. He lied about his history of groping women without their consent.
This list is not comprehensive. There are a variety of related fact-checking pieces, which include additional falsehoods, repeated as fact, from the Republican nominee during the debate.

Charles Krauthammer recently urged Trump to “ignore the fact checkers.” The GOP nominee took the advice to heart.

Leonhardt added, “The country has never had a presidential candidate who lies the way that he does – relentlessly…. He believes he can fool a lot of the American people a lot of the time. He has decided that lying pays. It’s up to the rest of us to show him otherwise.”

What’s especially striking about observations like these is how many willfully look away. Trump “stopped the bleeding” with his debate performance, we’ve been told, because he had a good night – just so long as one overlooks the near-constant lying, the dictatorial declarations, the profound ignorance, and the radical views.

The routinization of such political behavior just isn’t healthy in a vibrant democracy.