Column: Trump needed to be an 11, was barely a 4
Donald Trump knows how to work a Republican room. Give him that.
Give him a gym packed full of yahoos wearing backward baseball caps and he'll bring down the rafters.
But give him a debate crowd where they let Democrats and independents in and, well, he doesn't play so well.
Some candidates give energy to the crowds, and some get energy from the crowds. Trump is more of a getter. He needs the crowds.
And when the people are not yelling and shouting and stamping their feet for him, he just seems to dry up.
Give him a crowd where the audience actually wants to hear what the two candidates for president have to say and Trump is at a disadvantage.
He is used to audiences that are already primed and ready. They shout the lines to him. They shout "wall!" and he goes into his bit about building a wall on the Mexican border.
They yell "Benghazi!" and he goes into his bit about how Hillary Clinton was asleep at the switch.
But it wasn't Clinton who was asleep Monday night at the first presidential debate, at Hofstra University in New York. It was Trump. He turned out to be a snooze.
He needed to be an 11, and he turned in a performance that ranked about a 4. Nothing he said seemed to work.
"It's terrible what's going on in Chicago," he said. "I have property there."
Nothing like keeping your priorities straight, I guess.
He was so off his game that he didn't even remember to bring up the wall or Benghazi. Maybe it was his health.
Trump had not been onstage for two minutes before Twitter lit up with mentions of his sniffling into the microphone – which he did on and on and was interrupted only by his sipping water and rubbing his nose with his index finger.
A nonsensical "issue" to bring up when talking about the presidency? If so, why did the Trump campaign make such a big thing out of Clinton's recent – and fleeting – bout of pneumonia?
Who knows what Trump really has? If, like a lot of germophobes (he hates to shake hands, but campaigning has forced him to do so), he is also a hypochondriac, then his life must be a psychological hell right now.
He knew this first debate was going to be tough. Before it started, I heard a TV reporter say, "Arguably, this is the biggest night in modern American political history."
(One tip: Whenever you hear a reporter say something is "arguably," the answer is always, "No, it's not.")
But it was sure to be important. And Trump could have used a strategy that wouldn't have cost him the millions of dollars he has been shelling out to the dopes around him.
He could have studied up. He could have practiced, just a little.
And the need for practice is hardly a secret. These 90-minute slugfests are difficult. It's difficult just to stand up for 90 minutes, let alone stand up for 90 minutes and talk and make sense.
Hillary Clinton knew that. She is married to the best debater I have ever seen. And Bill Clinton practiced so hard for his presidential debates that he drove his staff batty.
Though most campaigns stage mock debates to prepare, they rarely do full 90-minute mock debates every day. It's just too draining. But Bill would insist on full mock debates and then make everybody sit down and watch the debates on tape and evaluate every word he said and every gesture he made.
So Hillary did not just prepare for Monday night; her staff told reporters she was "over-preparing." How did she spend the morning of the debate?
By holding a mock debate.
During the real debate, she hit virtually all her talking points. She didn't hold back. Trump, she said, started his presidential career with racist lies over birtherism, and "he has a long record of engaging in racist behavior."
There was only one argument, in fact, that I thought she blew.
"I have met a lot of the people who were stiffed by you," Clinton said. "Do the thousands of people that you have stiffed over the course of your business not deserve some kind of apology?"
Actually, they are owed more than an apology.
They are owed money.