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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Donald Trump cannot be chastened

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016 in St Louis, Mo. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson

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.

Maybe the campaign motto ought to be “Trump 2016: You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Because Donald Trump has never met a bar for spectacle or outrage that he cannot hurtle over, including the high levels he sets himself.

Trump’s act never stops getting more unfocused, more alarming and more offensive, even when he finds a manner, as he did in the second half of the second presidential debate, that will please his supporters and apologists.

Sunday night, the Republican presidential nominee kicked off the madness with a pre-game show. He held a news conference a few hours before the second presidential debate to try to spin a campaign suddenly focused on the sexual behavior of powerful men, and reeling from a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape released Friday on which Trump bragged about grabbing the genitals of women powerless to stop him.

In that context, an argument can be made that Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick have a place in the conversation, and their presence at the news conference made sense.

That event in St. Louis, Missouri, was both a grotesquerie and a message to anyone who thought he might be chastened by last week’s events into moderating his response and tone. The three women previously accused former President Bill Clinton of varying degrees of sexual assault, and the idea that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has attacked and demonized them is an article of faith among many Trump supporters, although there’s no evidence she did any of them any harm.

But even if those three have a part to play, Kathy Shelton most certainly does not. Shelton was 12 years old in 1975 when she was allegedly raped by Thomas Alfred Taylor in Arkansas. Hillary Clinton, then 27, represented Taylor as part of a legal aid clinic for the indigent. Taylor pleaded down to unlawful fondling of a minor and ended up serving less than a year in jail.

Shelton’s inclusion in the news conference was horrible, not just because she so clearly seemed uncomfortable and out of her depth, but also because the Trump people seem to imply that Taylor deserved no legal defense, and Clinton should be penalized for providing him a strong one. Both ideas are in complete conflict with our system of justice.

The first 40 minutes of the debate, when he tried to deflect accusations about the “Access Hollywood” tape with the idea that the Islamic State and Bill Clinton are both a lot worse, were disheartening, frightening and childish.

Trump cannot be chastened, no matter how wrong he is. He cannot or will not moderate his tone. And what seems to matter to the New York billionaire more than anything else is a towering need to have the last, loudest word. Trump made that clear early in the debate when he could not stop interrupting Clinton or making the childish accusation that the moderators were against him. His manner toward her was both menacing and bullying.

By 9:40 p.m., the talk seemed to have turned mostly away from accusations about his taped missteps on sex and toward policy. Perhaps the oddest turn in this election thus far is that for the first time refocusing the conversation toward policy, a huge weakness of Trump’s, was to his advantage.

At least in comparison to a focus on character and personality.

And once the attention turned to real issues, there were aspects of Trump’s performance that will be applauded by his supporters and media surrogates.

Trump’s tone and body language toward Clinton were extremely aggressive as at times he seemed to get a bit too close to her space. If elected president, Trump said he’d appoint a special prosecutor to look into her email troubles, essentially implying that if he’s the winner he’ll jail the loser, a downright despotic plan. And he repeatedly hammered home the idea that with 30 years in the policy and governance world, Clinton is more the cause of whatever is wrong than the solution. He was calm and persuasive in arguing this, and in repeatedly pointing out her links to wealthy and powerful donor. These were by far his strongest moments.

But asked what he would do to alleviate the humanitarian crisis of refugees caused by the violence in Syria and destruction of Aleppo, he had no answers.

He also failed to provide a vision of his presidency as one that would represent all Americans. And his kneejerk response to a question from a black man that seemed to presume the man lived in a crime-ravaged ghetto, as he has often asserted or implied about blacks and Hispanics, was both insensitive and ignorant.

We are now a nation so divided that opposing factions saw Trump in two different debates Sunday night.

Those who oppose him will say he offered no plan for the nation and no excuse for his behavior. Those who favor him will think he got in Clinton’s face and told her off, that he was “strong” and “didn’t back down.”

All these things are true. It’s just that many voters might think his lack of a plan and dismal character really are good reasons to oppose a Trump presidency. And they’ll think his ability to stand tough even when he’s wrong, and to tell women off in an intimidating manner, are terrible reasons to support one.

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.


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