My take on last night’s presidential debate for Globe and Mail:
Last night, Hillary Clinton, the daughter of a drape maker, revealed the man behind the curtain. Combining the personal with the political, she hit Trump where it hurt – his brand, revealed to be as bankrupt as the businesses he bottomed out.
Before last night, Trump had never been confronted directly by an adversary for a sustained period of time. He had appeared before cheering crowds and chatted with sycophants, but dodged or banned any journalist who challenged him. Unlike, for example, Sarah Palin and Katie Couric in 2008, Trump never had an extended interview with an objective party. At the first presidential debate, it was painfully evident why.
Clinton’s brand-destroying strategy emerged early on, when the two candidates were asked about the economy. As Trump lied that he was given a “very small amount” by his father – in reality, it was millions – Clinton noted not only his wealth but his reluctance to spread it. She ticked off a list of workers who he refused to pay, adding that she was grateful that her father was not among them.
Trump’s attempt to present himself as someone who understood American economic pain crumbled when he was outed as a man who caused it. Clinton debunked not only Trump’s origin story, but the ethics of his business practices and, in turn, the ethics of his candidacy. He never recovered.
Trump not only failed to deny that he fleeced workers; he implied they deserved it. When the issue of his tax returns was raised, Trump lied about why he couldn’t release them, citing an audit – which does not prohibit release – and stating that not paying taxes “makes me smart” and is “good business.”
Clinton gave names to these unethical practices: “the Trump loophole” and “Trumped up, trickle-down economics.” Trump, who has spent his campaign devising nicknames for rivals, faltered when his own beloved name was cast in a disparaging light. Lauded by some for his potential to shake things up, Trump was now inextricably tied with shaking people down.