How Clinton won the debates: The rabid dog strategy

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at UNLV in Las Vegas

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at UNLV in Las Vegas

    In retrospect, now that the debates are blessedly over, it’s easy to see how Hillary Clinton shredded her clownishly ill-qualified foe and put herself on a glide path to victory. Call it the rabid dog strategy. She repeatedly poked at Trump until he frothed at the mouth.

    She and her debate preppers knew that the guy was pathetically thin-skinned, and that he would erupt at the slightest provocation — thus demonstrating his dearth of fitness for a job that requires steady temperament. The success of her strategy speaks for itself: She and Trump began the debates virtually tied in the polls; today, she’s decisively ahead and poaching on red states like Arizona and Georgia. Trump is so weak that he might even lose red Utah and its six electoral votes to a conservative home boy named Evan McMullin.

    The trap was set in the closing minutes of the first debate on Sept. 26, when Clinton assailed Trump’s notorious misogyny by invoking Alicia Machado, a ’96 beauty queen and victim of Trump’s body-shaming. Immediately, he began to froth. Three times he demanded, “Where did you get that?!” (Clinton got it from the world of factual reality.) And then, staying predictably in character, he spent the rest of that week stewing about Machado — culminating in a series of tweets in the wee hours of Sept. 30, calling her “the disgusting Alicia M,” and claiming that she’d made a “sex tape” (yet another lie).

    Provoked by Clinton, he’d put his character front and center — setting himself up for the next blow, which came a week later, on the afternoon of Oct. 7, when the “Hollywood Access” tape was leaked to the press (possibly by a lone-wolf Trump-hater at NBC; possibly by the Clinton campaign, having obtained the tape from a lone-wolf Trump-hater at NBC). That weekend, Trump’s boasts about sexual assault dominated the news — and what timing! Trump was forced to defend himself in the second debate on Oct. 9.

    That’s when Trump insisted the groping boasts were “just words,” that he’d never actually converted words into action. But a number of women who watched the second debate were so incensed by Trump’s remarks that they decided to speak publicly about what Trump had allegedly done to them. Which naturally prompted Trump to denounce the women as liars and publicity seekers. Those attacks, launched during his rallies, to entertain his credulous Trumpkins, triggered another week of damaging news.

    And during the third debate on Wednesday night, he assailed the women yet again: “They get their 10 minutes of fame. It was lies and it was fiction.” Clinton was ready for that. She poked him again, and, sure enough, he frothed again.

    Clinton: At the [second] debate, we heard Donald talking about what he did to women, and after that a number of women have come forward saying that’s exactly what he did to them. Now, what was his response? Well, he held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough —

    Trump: I did not say that.

    Clinton: — for them to be assaulted.

    Trump: I did not say that.

    Clinton: In fact, he went on to say —

    Trump: I did not say that.

    (More lies. At a rally, he ridiculed one of his accusers by saying, “Look at her, I don’t think so.” He ridiculed another accuser’s looks: “That wouldn’t be my first choice.”)

    And Clinton kept needling him: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere that doesn’t know what that feels like. So now we know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That’s who Donald is.”

    And that naturally provoked him to spout the most hilarious line of the night, a major audience laugher: “Nobody respects women more than I do. Nobody.”

    But the clincher — her last provocation — came late in that final debate. On Social Security reform, she said: “I am on record as saying we need to put more money into the Social Security trust fund. That’s part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.”

    It was a vicious jab at the rabid dog’s flank, a reference to the fact that Trump has weasled out of paying his taxes (“that makes me smart”), and has weasled out of paying small business vendors. He could’ve ignored Clinton’s jab, but, alas, as the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page laments today, “his Achilles’ heel” is “a thin skin and a petulant ego.”

    So he oafishly took the bait one last time. He leaned toward the mic and frothed: “Such a nasty woman.”

    Which in turn has given us the parody of the week, Nasty Woman Fragrance.

    Yup, this is what happens when an unprepared amateur with a damaged psyche goes into battle against a savvy, well-prepared professional. Robert Hazzard, a Republican pollster, said it well yesterday: “The presidential race is over.” The Journal editorial page said it well today: “The [election] result will be one that he has earned.”

    We can only speculate whether the debates would’ve gone differently if Clinton had faced a qualified challenger — someone with policy smarts, a thick skin, and a secure ego — but there’s no point in playing the what-if parlor game. Because the GOP’s self-detonation is already etched in the history books.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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