The question Monday night was which Donald Trump would show up at Hofstra University to debate Hillary Clinton. Now we know.
The Trump that showed up was not prepared. Clinton won easily.
He rambled. He dissembled. He bragged.
The Trump that showed up said it is “smart” not to pay any income tax. That from a potential president.
The Trump that showed up repeated the lie, often fact-checked, that he can’t release his federal return because he is under an IRS audit.
The Trump that showed up missed every opportunity to show empathy.
When Clinton talked about how Trump stiffs people who do work for him — with an architect in the audience who Trump refused to pay — Trump said, “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.”
The Trump that showed up, accused by Clinton of rooting for the housing crisis, said in reply, “That’s called business, by the way.”
The Trump that showed up smirked and sneered. Optics matter in a debate.
“My strongest asset is my temperament,” he said at the end of a whirlwind riff that was head-spinning.
All Clinton could say is: “Whew! OK.”
Clinton mainly kept a straight face as Trump wandered from here and there and back again, bouncing from topic to topic.
At the start, it was clear he was not coming in with a disciplined strategy when he said in greeting Clinton, “Secretary Clinton, yes? Is that OK. I want you to be happy. That’s very important to me.”
This he says when part of the battle is for suburban, educated female voters?
He bragged, again, about how he got President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate, which only gave Clinton an opening to say how much birtherism hurt Obama — a way to make him look small and crass.
Trump twisted himself into a pretzel when he talked about why he pushed the race-based birther movement for years. He never gave an answer. I get that he wanted to blame Clinton for starting it — which is not true — but for folks who don’t know who Sidney Blumenthal or Patti Solis is, good luck.
The Trump that showed up could not resist plugging his new hotel in Washington, D.C., which is hardly presidential.
“We’re just opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the White House, so if I don’t get there one way, I’m going to get to Pennsylvania Avenue another,” Trump said.
Clinton, with some glee, sounded the alarm several times in the debate for the fact-checkers to get to work. “I hope the fact-checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard.”
And after accusing Clinton of somehow being a slacker — she took time off the campaign trail to cram for the debate — she said, “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for the debate.”
“And you know what else I’m prepared for? I’m prepared to be president,” she said.
The Trump that showed up contradicted himself within seconds in the exchange about his refusal to release his taxes.
“I’ll release my tax returns — against my lawyers’ wishes — when she releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted.
Moderator Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor then had his finest moment: “So that’s negotiable?”
Reversing himself, Trump said, “It’s not negotiable.”
Trump did have his moment. “She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website. I don’t think Gen. Douglas MacArthur would like that too much.”
Before the faceoff, Clinton and Trump were trying to manage expectations via Twitter, which has become the dominant form of political communication in the 2016 presidential election, in part because Trump understands the medium better than anyone else.
“My team of deplorables will be managing my Twitter account for this evenings debate,” Trump said in a tweet.
“No matter what Donald says at tonight’s debate, we already know the real Trump,” Clinton sent out.
What is new for the 2016 presidential cycle is how a slice of voters — all in real time — absorbed the debate: In this digital era, they were watching the televised event while commenting among themselves and reading instant analysis from news outlets.Tweets by @lynnsweet