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Trump got trounced by Clinton, but will it matter?

People watch the first presidential debate on a television on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016 in a New York bar. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump held their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, N.Y.
People watch the first presidential debate on a television on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016 in a New York bar. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump held their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, N.Y. TNS

A rude, rambling, evasive and mendacious Donald Trump got his rear end soundly kicked Monday night on the debate stage at Hofstra University.

By a girl!

By Hillary Clinton, a woman who “doesn’t have the stamina” to be president – that’s what Trump said in an astonishing burst of sexism as the debate drew to a close.

“I said she doesn’t have the stamina,” he repeated in answer to a question from moderator Lester Holt about why, in early September, he’d said “I just don’t think (Clinton) has a presidential look, and you need a presidential look.”

“And I don’t believe she does have the stamina,” Trump went on, digging himself in deeper. “To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina. … You have so many different things that you have to do, and I don’t believe that Hillary has the stamina.”

“Well,” said Clinton, smiling in anticipation of administering a well-honed shiv, “as soon as he travels to 112 countries, negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents and an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”

“Let me tell you, let me tell you,” stammered Trump, talking over a burst of applause. “Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience. We have made so many bad deals during the last – so she’s got experience, that I agree. But it’s bad, bad experience.”

A duck. A pivot. A playground retort.

And so it went. The first of three presidential debates saw Democratic nominee Clinton speaking in paragraphs, keeping a twinkle in her eye and patiently delivering a number of evidently well-rehearsed zingers. And it saw Republican nominee Trump serving up word salad, sneering and smirking and trying to score points with sweeping insults cribbed from his stump speeches.

Trump seemed to brag about his freewheeling style. “I just left Detroit, and I just left Philadelphia and I just – you know, you’ve seen me, I’ve been all over the place. You,” he said to Clinton. “decided to stay home, and that’s OK. But I will tell you I’ve been all over.”

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” she said when her turn came. “And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The evening proved that preparation matters. It will probably end up being the first and last presidential debate in which a candidate basically wings it and depends on his larger-than-life personality and supreme self-confidence to carry the day.

The questions about Trump going into the debate were whether he could control his famous temper, exhibit a plausible command of the details of the problems facing the nation, and spell out his plans to address them?

The answer turned out to be no. The calm, sedate, polite, statesmanlike Trump whom some predicted would appear was in evidence for only a few minutes. But soon enough he began interrupting her, repeatedly intoning “Wrong!” as she spoke, letting loose with a weary “Ugh!” and avoiding specifics.

The predebate question about Clinton was whether she could come off as credible and inspirational.

Could she seem genuine and forthright enough to begin to erase the significant doubts about her trustworthiness that consistently show up in the polls? And could she outline a governing agenda that would inspire the millennial voters who have yet to flock to her candidacy?

The answer turned out to be maybe. By and large she avoided lawyer-speak and the sort of parsing of words that earned her a reputation for slipperiness. She never got rattled and was able to tick off a number of substantive policy proposals, but her passion was restrained and her rhetoric never soared.

Lack of experience, lack of preparation and lack of the ability to control his sexist impulses caught up to Donald Trump. That was no surprise.

What will be a surprise is if his embarrassing defeat ends up mattering at all to those who support him.

Eric Zorn is a Chicago Tribune columnist.

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