I try to be balanced. But I admit that I am biased in favor of candidates who are coherent. By the end of last night’s debate, there was only one of those left on the stage. Donald Trump sounded like a conspiracy nut on speed.
Because I analyze writing, I won’t talk about who “looked presidential.” But a look at the transcript provided by the Washington Post reinforced what I saw: that by the end of the night, Trump had ceased to make sense.
To show you what I mean, I’ve inserted the missing participant into the debate: the viewer. You can think of me as Bud Abbott, trying to make sense of what Trump — as Lou Costello — is saying. And just as with Abbott and Costello, the speaker thinks he is making complete sense, and the rational listener is completely bewildered.
What’s in normal type below is from the transcript, and what’s in bold is what the viewer is thinking as they attempt to follow the workings of Donald Trump’s brain.
Holt: Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation’s first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
Trump: I’ll tell you very — well, just very simple to say.
Viewer: Great, finally a simple explanation.
Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and close — very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle, went to — during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. And you can go look it up, and you can check it out.
Viewer: Look what up? That Clinton’s campaign manager fought hard for something? And who the hell is Sidney Blumenthal?
And if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened.
Viewer: Saying what happened?
Blumenthal sent McClatchy, highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. They were pressing it very hard. She failed to get the birth certificate.
Viewer: Who is McClatchy? And who is “she”? Doyle? Clinton?
When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. So I’m satisfied with it. And I’ll tell you why I’m satisfied with it.
Viewer: When did you enter this story? What did you do?
Because I want to get on to defeating ISIS, because I want to get on to creating jobs, because I want to get on to having a strong border, because I want to get on to things that are very important to me and that are very important to the country.
Viewer: OK, so Blumenthal is on first, Doyle is on second, McClatchy is on third . . . and now we’re done with all of them because we need to defeat ISIS?
Holt: I will let you respond. It’s important. But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15 … as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?
Trump: Well, nobody was pressing it, nobody was caring much about it. I figured you’d ask the question tonight, of course. But nobody was caring much about it. But I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate. And I think I did a good job.
Viewer: I thought Blumenthal was on first. Now it’s you that’s responsible?
Secretary Clinton also fought it.
Viewer: Fought what?
I mean, you know — now, everybody in mainstream is going to say, oh, that’s not true.
Viewer: What’s not true?
Look, it’s true. Sidney Blumenthal sent a reporter — you just have to take a look at CNN, the last week, the interview with your former campaign manager. And she was involved. But just like she can’t bring back jobs, she can’t produce.
Viewer: OK, I think I’ve got it. Somebody on Hillary Clinton’s incompetent staff failed to get Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate, but you did, proving that all along there was nothing to talk about . . . for the four years you were talking about it. Now it’s no longer useful to talk about it, so you’ve dropped it and want to talk about jobs and ISIS. Have I got that right?
If this were the only incoherent statement of the night, you might give Trump a pass. But it wasn’t. Here are a few other things that made me say “huh?” (Go ahead and accuse me of taking these out of context. But then go look at the whole transcript. They don’t make any sense no matter how much context you include.)
Trump: I’m getting rid of the carried interest provision. And if you really look, it’s not a tax — it’s really not a great thing for the wealthy. It’s a great thing for the middle class. It’s a great thing for companies to expand.
Trump: [Regarding bankruptcy and paying contractors:] But on occasion, four times, we used certain laws that are there. And when Secretary Clinton talks about people that didn’t get paid, first of all, they did get paid a lot, but taken advantage of the laws of the nation.
Trump: You need better relationships between the communities and the police, because in some cases, it’s not good. But you look at Dallas, where the relationships were really studied, the relationships were really a beautiful thing, and then five police officers were killed one night very violently. So there’s some bad things going on. Some really bad things.
So relationships between communities and police are good? Bad? Useless? Huh?
Trump: In Palm Beach, Florida, tough community, a brilliant community, a wealthy community, probably the wealthiest community there is in the world, I opened a club, and really got great credit for it. No discrimination against African- Americans, against Muslims, against anybody. And it’s a tremendously successful club. And I’m so glad I did it. And I have been given great credit for what I did. And I’m very, very proud of it. And that’s the way I feel. That is the true way I feel.
So not discriminating in a club you built in a wealthy community proves you’re not racist? Did I get that right?
Trump: As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? . . .
So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.
So the threat from the “cyber” is Russia, China, fat people, and 10 year-olds, and security is “hardly doable”? Really?
Trump: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There’s no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?
I have a much better — she spent — let me tell you — she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising — you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names — oh, temperament, let’s go after — I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not have a … Wait. The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don’t know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there’s a person with a temperament that’s got a problem.
Can we get a sedative over here please?
Hillary Clinton does not have the solution to every problem. She has made some poor decisions, and some others that have not worked out well. But she proved she was thoughtful and could form complete sentences.
Donald Trump is used to being in charge . . . and to having people defer to him even when he is irrational. Somehow, I don’t think this level of incoherence will serve us when dealing with the Chinese, the Saudis, NATO, Congress, or the millions of government workers taking their priorities from the office of the president.
The ramble about the birth certificate is below. Judge for yourself.