Election 2016

The 10 Most Bizarro Moments of the Debate—and Just After

Trump even managed to advance a new paranoid conspiracy theory.

The much anticipated first presidential debate of 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exceeded all expectations. It was straight out of bizarroworld. Any pundit who says Trump came out on top has got to be entirely in Trump's pocket. Even some of the conservative ones, like John Podhoretz in the New York Post who railed against his "debate incompetence," "laziness and vanity," said he lost. But then again, there's no debate club scoring this bout, and there is no telling what effect this peculiar performance will have in the coming weeks.

Still, let us celebrate some of the craziest moments in this most recent culmination of this long strange trip.

1. The sniff.

Trump, who always has the best health, had a strange case of the sniffles throughout the night. The sniff was persistent and well-miked, and led to a hilarious @TrumpSniff thread on Twitter. Do yourself a favor and go there.

2. The taxes.

Clinton went after Trump's refusal to release his tax return, listing the reasons he might not be willing to divulge his taxes: He's not as rich as he says, not as charitable as he says, has business entanglements that would present conflicts of interest, or maybe he just doesn't pay income taxes despite his professed billions. While all of the above is probably the right answer, Trump decided it was a great idea to confirm the last one. He does not pay taxes because it would be "dumb." And he's not dumb. He has a very good brain, remember? Nothing says smart like bragging before an audience of 100 million that you're a tax cheat.   

3. The word salads.

Trump tossed some of the biggest word salads ever. He threw everything from the fridge and beyond in there. It was unbelievable. It was a yuuge salad! It was chopped! He was, in fact, mostly incoherent the entire night. One highly incoherent point came when he was asked about cyber security threats: "I don't think anyone knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia Russia Russia, but I don't. Maybe it was. I mean it could be Russia; it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?"

Want an even bigger word salad? There's this:

"As far as my tax returns, you don't learn that much from tax returns. That I can tell you. You learn a lot from financial disclosure. And you should go down and take a look at that. The other thing, I'm extremely underleveraged. The report that said 650—which, by the way, a lot of friends of mine that know my business say, boy, that's really not a lot of money. It's not a lot of money relative to what I had. The buildings that were in question, they said in the same report, which was—actually, it wasn't even a bad story, to be honest with you—but the buildings are worth $3.9 billion. And the 650 isn't even on that. But it's not 650. It's much less than that. But I could give you a list of banks, I would—if that would help you, I would give you a list of banks. These are very fine institutions, very fine banks. I could do that very quickly. I am very underleveraged. I have a great company. I have a tremendous income. And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocious way. It's because it's about time that this country had somebody running it that has an idea about money."

In addition to word saladiness, there is just the fact that Trump's world is pretty much a logic-free zone. This was exhibited in his reponse to whether he has renounced his racist birther campaign against President Obama, and what took him so long. The answer is he wants to move on, she started it, and he got Obama to produce his birth certificate, and he's very proud of that. It's an illogical, offensive non-answer. Truly Trumpian! The word salad stems from a brain salad.

4. The weird brags.

When Clinton said Trump cheered the 2008 housing crisis because he stood to profit from it, he agreed and said, "It's called business." There was also the brag about being smart because he does not pay his taxes. He bragged about getting Obama's birth certificate even as he blamed the Clinton campaign for starting the birther controversy. When Lester Holt reminded him that the birther issue is tied to the question of racial healing, and what does he have to say about that, Trump said: "Nothing. I say nothing about that." He then bragged again about getting Obama to produce his birth certificate. He bragged about settling housing discrimination suits with "no admission of guilt," several times, but never denied discriminating against people of color. He bragged about not being "braggadocious." At the end of the night, he bragged about not having said the really mean thing he could have said about Hillary Clinton's family.

Now does he get a cookie?

5. The privilege thing.

When Clinton went after Trump's much vaunted business success as the smoke and mirrors apparition that it is, she mentioned that he got a $14 million loan from his father to start out. Trump characterized that as a "small loan." Months ago, he was roundly mocked for characterizing a $1 million gift from his father as "small." Apparently, he did not receive that memo.

6. The blatant racism.

Trump's answer to the question of racial strife was "law and order" and "stop and frisk." These short terms work a lot better for him than actual sentences which are hard with those beginnings, middles and ends. Also he sees nothing wrong with boiling racial questions down to the conservative canard of black criminality. On the question of whether his real estate company discriminated, he did not deny it. He repeatedly said "there was no admission of guilt." That is the wrong answer, and it does not get any righter in the repetition. Trump's proof that he is not racist is that he lets blacks and Muslims into his Mar-A-Lago club. Huge extra points for that if it is in fact true.

7. The temperament thing.

On a night where Trump interrupted, yelled, smirked, was rude to everyone, and incoherent to the point of possibly having a brain aneurysm, he saw fit to claim that he has "the best temperament" of all. Just to clarify, to him this means "because I know how to win." He has the best temperament, because he has the "winning temperament," and "we don't win anymore." This little run-on sentence suggests it is possible that Trump does not know what the word temperament means.

8. The preparedness thing.

In the way of the schoolyard bully picking on the smart, studious girl, Trump made fun of the fact that Hillary Clinton did her homework and prepared for the debate. She clearly won the exchange by owning it and saying she'd also do her homework if she became president. As some pundits pointed out later, Trump's lack of preparation was also reflected in the weird petulant faces he made throughout the night while Clinton talked, and in the rare moments when he was not interrupting her. Is it possible that no one told him he would be shown on TV doing that? Or perhaps he just did not hear it, because it was not himself talking.

9. The misogyny.

Trump's misogyny took many forms throughout the evening with the endless interrupting and shrugging and saying "why not?" when Clinton said she might end the evening by being blamed for just about everything. For his last question, he was asked about his long record of blatantly sexist insults of women. Obviously, there is a right answer to this question when you are running for president, or just acting like a grown-up, expressing regret. But nope, Trump doubled down and mentioned how mean Rosie O'Donnell has been to him and how nobody likes her, and also how mean Hillary Clinton has been to him with all of those ads she keeps running that pretty much just feature Trump saying things he has actually said.

10. Trump's new mini-conspiracy.

After the debate, for some reason, Trump speculated there was something wrong with his mike. He did not really explain what he meant, but he did speculate that perhaps it was done intentionally. He also blamed his semi-bizarre and much-hammered case of the sniffles on the microphone, which makes no sense whatsoever. So, absolutely nothing crazy or paranoid about this new conspiracy theory. Very presidential. 

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