Donald Trump lost last night. Hillary Clinton looked elegant — others have said “smug,” but who can blame her, given how badly Trump did? — and brevity was her friend. Trump couldn’t talk enough, and he definitely couldn’t talk enough about his businesses, his financial deals, or anything else that focused on him. He was defensive, he interrupted Clinton and Holt, and even his one-liners about Clinton’s record were lost in his ramblings.
As the old saying goes, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing,” and Trump spent a lot of last night explaining. And explaining badly, as Clinton played him like a fiddle for the last hour of the debate.
Then again, it’s easy to put Trump on the defensive when the moderator’s helping you out. This is one of the big talking points out of the Trump campaign post-debate, and it’s a valid one.
Holt wasn’t particularly impressive. I was glad he didn’t let Trump avoid answering questions, but he didn’t control the stage much as Trump pretty much plowed right through him on his many ramblings. More importantly, as the transcript shows, Holt literally initiated zero questions to Clinton about her various controversies — e-mail law-breaking, the Iran deal, Benghazi, Clinton Foundation pay-for-play, her possible illness, etc. — yet he asked Trump about a lawsuit from the 1970s. He also asked Trump about releasing his taxes and the birther controversy, and asked an irrelevant question about what Trump said about Clinton’s look not being presidential. Clinton, naturally, took the gift to accuse Trump of being a sexist pig.
Holt did ask Clinton about her e-mails, but only after Trump brought them up.
Holt was also biased in other ways. As my Stream colleague Al Perrotta noted, Holt’s question about the economy infused Democratic talking points about the economy doing well (it’s not). He let Clinton get away with saying all cops are racist, never bringing up the other side of the equation about the problems with the often-violent Black Lives Matter, or how blacks in America have higher rates of violent crimes than other racial demographics.
And The Washington Examiner counted six follow-up questions from Holt to Trump, and none to Hillary.
None of this excuses Trump’s horrid appearance at the debate; my camera-shy girlfriend would have done better at transitioning to, and bringing, up the Clinton scandals. But there’s no question that Trump’s rambling defensiveness was exacerbated by moderator bias that favored the Democrats’ nominee.