Michael Dobie Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

Newsday Opinion Columnists Michael Dobie and Lane Filler assess the performances of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Sunday night’s second presidential debate. Dobie writes on Clinton and Filler reviews Trump.

It couldn’t have been easy for Hillary Clinton to prepare for Sunday night’s presidential debate.

Donald Trump is unpredictable under the best of circumstances, and the last 48 hours have been far from that for the Republican nominee. The tape of him boasting of the sexual liberties he can take with women left his campaign in freefall. The cynical news conference he staged just before the debate with women who say they were sexually abused by Bill Clinton left everyone wondering exactly he would do during the showdown itself. And town hall formats with regular folks asking questions, no matter how many times you’ve done them, are a big unknown.

Clinton loves uncertainty like a cat loves a bath.

And then Trump came out blazing, all nasty offense, and stayed there for 90 minutes. As much as Clinton effectively parried some charges, and struggled as she often does with others, perhaps her best answer came in her first response, to a teacher worried about the tenor of the campaign.

Children will listen, Clinton said.

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And with that simple rejoinder, she reminded voters of the corrosive rhetoric and behavior of her opponent, and the discomfort he has created so often, while raising again the specter of his fitness as a leader. It was a theme she returned to later in the evening, to similarly good effect.

Clinton had other good moments in the event at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

She more directly answered questions from a Muslim American woman and an African American man clearly worried about a Trump presidency. But she had the usual difficulties with her emails and private server, and her response to a question about hacked portions of her Goldman Sachs speeches was cringe-worthy; asked about her apparent comment that one needs to have a public position and a private position on certain topics, she said she was speaking about Abraham Lincoln’s strategy for getting Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. No response would have been better.

That’s what she did with many of Trump’s charges, which he launched for 90 minutes with relentless fury.

No doubt her supporters wanted her to fight back harder but she often chose not to take him head on, most notably when he criticized Bill Clinton’s alleged abuse of women. Instead, she channeled Michelle Obama’s convention remark that “when they go low, we go high.” Nor did Clinton take the bait when Trump said that as president he would name a prosecutor to go after her, a staggering abuse of power against a political opponent, or when he said she had hatred in her heart.

Clinton always prefers policy over insults but Sunday night she seemed especially determined not to engage, to play it safe. She was betting that positivity will beat negativity, and optimism will triumph over pessimism — reasonable strategies when you’re expanding your polling lead in a slew of swing states.

So she ignored Trump’s relentless pacing, bordering on stalking, behind her, and mostly ignored his many interruptions. She stayed in her chair while he spoke.

She smiled incredulously at the onslaught of Trump untruths and twisted truths, and mentioned the impossibility of fact-checking everything. She remembered to address her questioners directly, trying to connect with them, trying for some semblance of normalcy on a dark and stormy night.

We didn’t learn much, but that wasn’t the aim Sunday night. Hillary Clinton played not to lose.

Time will tell whether she parlays that into a win in November.

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Newsday Opinion Columnists Michael Dobie and Lane Filler assess the performances of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Sunday night’s second presidential debate. Dobie writes on Clinton and Filler reviews Trump.