Donald Trump has stated repeatedly that his brand is all-important. Well, if what he says in that infamous recorded open-mic conversation with Billy Bush in 2005 about grabbing women’s crotches uninvited is true, then his brand should be his prison number. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations for sexual-assault charges in California, where he confessed to that crime, apparently has run out.
He didn’t help himself at the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, which was as down and dirty as it could be. How’s that for understatement? With its town-hall format, he was free to roam around the stage while Clinton spoke. It looked for all the world like he was trying to intimidate her, while she ignored him. It certainly didn’t help him with the women’s vote. Of course, his poll numbers with females already are in the toilet, and they probably won’t escape the swirl this time, as he looked like a hulking stalker on the stage. When he spoke, he left the impression he was a mugger with a sinus problem. More than one person has referred to him as “sniffles.”
He had been driven into the ground with the disclosure of his lewd comments, but down in the mud and sewage is Donald Trump’s natural habitat, and he showed himself to be a strong believer in the maxim “the best defense is a good offense.” Throughout the campaign, Trump has shown on a daily basis that he is the champion at being offensive, and he demonstrated it anew even before the debate started: He held a media event to display the women who, over the years, have claimed they were sexually abused by Bill Clinton. Trump’s point was that what he insisted was just “locker room comments” back in 2005 didn’t compare with the sex crimes actually committed by Bill Clinton in the decades before.
Frankly, that’s an arguable point, but did I mention he was referring to Bill Clinton, not Hillary? Hillary, according to the women accusers, was mainly guilty of viciously trashing them, also an arguable point. On debate night, the question was which of today’s candidates is the worse abuser. That one Trump won hands down.
Whatever the truth of Donald Trump’s idiotic sexual-assault braggadocio, he demonstrated that his abuse was not just limited to that realm. He also displayed a nasty willingness to abuse power. Speaking about Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, he said, “I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception …” etc.
He went on to threaten to “jail” her. That’s straight out of petty dictatordom, something his comrade Vlad might threaten, but it’s nothing new. He also referred to her as “the devil.”
She matched him with more surgical insults, questioning his “fitness” to be president, mocking him for “the way Republicans are leaving you” in the wake of the Bush tape. Suffice it to say, what the debate lacked in dignity, it certainly made up for in entertainment, much like the phony wrestling matches that Trump has frequented.
It’s fair to guess that after the confrontation was concluded, millions of American had this compelling desire to take a shower. But it’s also fair to assume that we’ve felt that way during the entire campaign. The good news is that it soon will be over. The bad news is that before it is, there is one more debate. Appropriately, it will be held in Las Vegas. Then Americans will get to vote … or not … ending our national embarrassment.
Actually, depending on the result, it might be only starting, but at least this two-year national humiliation will be history, and then, depending on the result, the United States of America will have some major work to do on improving our once-proud brand.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.