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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump is saving his best anti-Hillary material for last

He was loud, he talked fast, he made wild hand gestures, he said strange things and interrupted Crooked Hillary Clinton often when she was speaking… in other words, he was Donald Trump.

Reaction continues to trickle in from Monday night’s verbal slug fest between the two 2016 major party presidential candidates, sometimes known as a presidential debate. Too many times the “fight” analogy is overused in describing these types of candidate forums, but the event that took place at Hofstra University Donald Trumpcame closer than most to living up to the label.

Just a couple minutes into the program it was clear the competitors didn’t like each other very much. As long time acquaintances, Trump and Hillary know the other fairly well. And their families used to be affable too. Despite this, the verbal blows came fast and furious and seemed intensely personal, like good friends suddenly gone bad.

Trump and Hillary often appeared almost like an old squabbling married couple, but with the love long gone and both partners just waiting around until the other leaves the relationship or….well, you know.

As far as Trump’s debate demeanor goes, I’ve got to admit that I find it strange when people talk about the need for Trump to morph into someone he’s not largely because it’s “being Donald Trump” that’s carried him so far in his career and straight to the Republican nomination this year.

Trump has won throughout his life’s journey just because he is not like everyone else.

That isn’t to say Trump can’t improve in areas that will make him more acceptable to the general electorate. Pundits mostly panned his debate performance, not because of his delivery so much as the opportunities he surrendered in failing to relentlessly attack Hillary’s weak points.

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner wrote yesterday, “Much will be made of Trump's missed opportunities, which were numerous. Trump had deflected Clinton's attacks on his tax returns by counterpunching on her emails, only to bizarrely start talking about his taxes again. Trump then failed to make the obvious point about Clinton's private server when asked about cybersecurity and didn't mention immigration when asked about homegrown terrorism.

“A debate in which Trump mentions Rosie O'Donnell more times than building a wall (1 to 0, for those of you keeping score at home) is defined by missed opportunities.”

Antle’s colleague at the Washington Examiner, Byron York, argued that it’s not about what Trump did say as much as what he didn’t bring up.

York wrote, “Trump might not have predicted that Holt would leave some equally, if not more, important topics untouched. There was Obamacare, currently veering towards crisis. Immigration, including a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Clinton Foundation. Benghazi. Certainly a moderator can't cover everything, but those were some pretty big omissions.

“Holt deserves blame for not bringing them up. But on the other hand, that is where a candidate's preparation comes in. If the moderator doesn't raise a key issue, the candidate does. And Trump didn't.”

Antle’s and York’s are certainly valid criticisms and I thought the same thing on Monday night as I found myself shouting at the TV screen. I felt Trump should be talking about Hillary’s malfeasance instead of defending potential Russian cyber hackers.

But the more I thought about Trump’s performance the more I speculated there could be another explanation for it. Perhaps it might be Trump’s strategy to see the race as a long marathon rather than a quick sprint and maybe Trump is saving his best arguments for the next two debates which will be much closer in time to the all-important prize to be determined on November 8.

Using the marathon analogy, Trump was simply holding back in letting Hillary get out to a little bit of a lead on the issue/attack front and is just saving his best “kick” for the ending. This explanation definitely beats the more standard media rationale that Trump was hopelessly unprepared. After over a year on the campaign trail, Donald Trump knows the issues and what people want to talk about.

And besides, by failing to mention these issues in the debate it just drives the media to talk about them for Trump because they’re pointing out all the “opportunities” he missed afterward, right? In essence, the media is speaking on his behalf by covering all of these matters now.

There will be a time and place to get after Hillary with her own misdeeds. Maybe to Trump, the time wasn’t ripe on Monday night.

Trump possibly also recognizes that it’s sometimes better to be seen as the “loser” of the first debate in order to make a big return in the second and/or third event. Taking Barack Obama as an example in 2012 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, pundits widely panned their respective showings in their first debates only to praise them later on for making a “comeback.”

Trump could be saving his best arguments for the subsequent debates when they’ll have more impact a la Reagan and Obama. After all, a star recording artist doesn’t play his greatest hits two or three songs into the set, he waits until the encore to leave his fans with a great impression of the concert.

I think that’s what Trump is doing. The man is smart. It’s all part of a plan. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, not everyone thought Trump did a bad job.

Conservative stalwart Ted Cruz wrote on his Facebook page, “Tonight, Donald Trump had his strongest debate performance of the election cycle. He drew strong contrasts with Hillary on taxes, regulations, law and order, and the disastrous Iran deal.

“Rather than Hillary's America, we need to take a different path. A path that would begin to restore our country from the damage it has suffered the last eight years. We need to unite to defend freedom and restore the Constitution. And Hillary Clinton made absolutely clear tonight she would not do so.”

Well said. And all of Trump’s critics kind of miss the point.

The most important thing about Monday night’s debate was not to see who could hit the hardest or score the most policy points. Everyone knows Clinton has the edge on policy knowledge. It has more to do with who voters see as bringing a fresh new approach to the country. While Trump is certainly rough around the edges and is not your typical politician, there’s little doubt he is the “alternative” candidate in this race.

And standing aside Hillary Clinton on a debate stage, the “alternative” is an awful good place to be in.

To moderate or to fact check, that is the question

Donald Trump’s initial reaction to debate moderator Lester Holt’s performance was positive, telling CNN Money that Holt had done a “great job” and the questions were “very fair.”

I found Trump’s reaction curious at the time considering Holt had “fact checked” him on several occasions, notably on the birther question, his tax returns, whether Trump did indeed support the Iraq War before he was against it and even followed up on Trump’s advocacy for “stop and frisk.”

To me, it was over the line of what a moderator should do and was clearly a knee jerk reaction to implied threats made by liberals after Crooked Hillary’s tangle with an all-too-nosy Matt Lauer a couple weeks ago during the “Commander in Chief forum.”

In contrast, Holt offered no such follow-up questions to Hillary despite her numerous obvious deviations from the truth trail.

Trump changed his tune towards Holt on Tuesday morning, however.

Kyle Cheney of Politico reports, “Trump spent his post-debate morning in the friendly confines of Fox, calling in to Fox & Friends for a gentle interview, where the hosts agreed he had been asked too many tough questions. Trump couched his concerns about Holt around mild praise of his performance as moderator, but his allies correctly pointed out that Holt reserved his most probing and personal questions for the businessman and spared Clinton similarly tough questions about her handling of classified information or her untrustworthy persona.”

Cheney’s is a typical Politico smear piece dripping with sarcasm in a failed attempt to pass Trump off as an incompetent buffoon, but you get the point. Looking back on Monday night, Trump appears to have changed his mind a bit on how well he thought he performed in his 90 minutes opposite the serial liar that is Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, as noted by Cheney, Crooked Hillary’s post-debate spin has been all about trying to focus the election on Trump’s personality and past statements rather than her own multitude of crimes and lies. Trump must do more in the next debate to shine the spotlight where it belongs – on her.

As for Holt, there have been a number of comparisons of his moderator shortcomings to the infamous Candy Crowley and George Stephanopoulos performances from four years ago.

Stephen Kruiser writes in PJ Media, “The first part of the debate was actually all right for Holt, but the wheels flew off when they got to how each candidate would handle healing the racial divide in the U.S. Holt went for the birther issue with Trump, which isn't off the table but has very little relevance to what faces our next president. Had Hillary brought it up it would have been fine. For Holt to interject it during what was supposed to be a substantive discussion on race relations made it seem as if he were being fed questions directly from Clinton HQ.

“Holt then hit Trump with a question about him saying that Hillary didn't have a presidential ‘look,’ which obviously just served as a platform for Hillary to call Trump a sexist. It was George- Stephanopoulos-are-you-going-to-ban-contraception bad.”

Granted I’m admittedly biased, but how do any of these matters Holt asked about remotely touch the economic and national security issues that surveys consistently show as being the most important to Americans in this election?

The next president can heal the racial divide by treating everyone equally and working to bring economic choices and opportunities to those in the poorest communities (white, black, Hispanic, whatever…). What Trump might have said or done about Barack Obama’s birth certificate years ago is completely irrelevant now if you don’t have a job and people are getting shot outside your front door which naturally impedes your ability to go look for one.

Rudy Giuliani thinks Trump should consider skipping the next debate because the liberal moderators can’t be fair. I won’t go that far, but I certainly believe everyone deserves better than the job Lester Holt did on Monday night. He should have left his fact check book at home.

#NeverTrumpers cite the Bible again in dissing Ted Cruz for endorsing Trump

Former Donald Trump chief rival Ted Cruz’s encouraging words concerning the Republican nominee’s debate performance would probably be looked upon as a good thing in most circles, but not in the dark, dingy and depressing world of #NeverTrump.

The eternally disgruntled still can’t seem to get over the fact that another member of their anti-Trump cohort actually came to his senses and joined in the party effort to defeat the greatest evil that is Crooked Hillary.

As they often have in the past, the writers at The Resurgent are bringing The Bible into the conversation to make their case against Cruz. It’s getting ugly, folks.

Resurgent writer Steve Berman wrote, “Faced with two options: Breaking your word, or supporting a person with the chronic defects Cruz listed, breaking your word would be the most moral action.

“The Bible, in the Ten Commandments, says not to bear false witness against your neighbor. Either Cruz made these terrible accusations against Trump and then pretended without apology he never said them, or he meant those accusations (or they are true!). Either way, Cruz has had a major ethical lapse: False accusations, or a false oath.”

The only moral action left for Cruz, according to Berman, was to not vote for Trump. Berman’s post is astonishing in its self-righteousness. Read it all if you have time.

I understand some of this #NeverTrump fever. They have columns to write. They feel that they’ll lose whatever is left of their reader base if they change positions on Trump now – or maybe they’re waiting until the day before Election Day to do so for greater effect. They’ve already posited that God himself is going to have to make the choice between the two evils that are Trump and Hillary this year because it would stain their pure white piety in order to do so themselves.

But it takes some nerve for them (#NeverTrump in general) to heap religious scorn on Cruz just because the Texas senator made a political choice to support a human candidate in this year’s election.

No, Cruz didn’t sacrifice his immortal soul by saying he’ll vote for Trump last Friday. There aren’t 30 pieces of silver on his kitchen table right now because of it. Ted simply recognized the reality that is placed before us and decided that having Hillary serve as president would be a much greater evil than voting for a man who he’d fought a bitterly divisive primary campaign against.

And frankly, #NeverTrump does not have the moral authority to pass judgment on anyone let alone to effectively excommunicate someone from the conservative movement. Or insinuate that they’re immoral for making a decision on their own.

If that were the case, an awful lot of us former Cruz-turned-Trump supporters would be heading to the center of the earth on Judgement Day.

Conservatives should reject the notion that Erick Erickson, Berman, the folks at RedState and some of the more bitter contributors at National Review have any right to declare who’s moral and who’s not.

Thou shalt not judge, #NeverTrump.

Ratings for Trump vs. Clinton Part I set a new debate viewing audience record

Finally today, a number of political observers predicted Monday’s debate could draw a Super Bowl sized audience to watch Trump and Hillary go at each other.

Ratings indicate the program didn’t quite reach the forecasted 100 million mark but there were still a lot of people watching. A record crowd, in fact.

Joe Concha of The Hill reports, “More than 80 million people viewed Monday's presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, making it the most watched debate ever, according to Nielsen research.

“The previous record was the only debate between Republican Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which drew 80 million in an era with far fewer channels and no internet. In 2012, the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 drew 67 million viewers.”

Concha noted that the 80 million figure didn’t include internet watchers, so the real number could actually be significantly higher. He also noted that the Monday Night Football game opposite the debate will likely end up with the lowest rating in the show’s history.

It’s interesting to see the parallel between the Trump/Clinton and Reagan/Carter debate. This year there’s a similarly stark choice between a gutless liberal and a former entertainer-turned-politician who promises to go to Washington to shake things up.

I’m also guessing the majority of the audience was Trump fans, but that’s just a hunch.

It’s well known that Trump prevailed in most online polls after the event, which counters the media’s narrative that he was ill prepared and ineffective. The Hill’s own online poll also showed Trump with a comfortable lead (you have to take the poll to see the results, 57%-37% at press time).

Simply put, Trump’s supporters are a lot more enthusiastic about their candidate than Hillary’s are about their own. It’s a distinction that I’m guessing will reveal itself on Election Day as well.

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