Joe Henderson: 5 post-debate points to ponder

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The unmoving needle: It generally is conceded that Donald Trump’s fervent base will be ecstatic with his performance.

Breitbart.com, for instance, declared in a giant headline on its home page – Clinton Crash: Trump dominates. It highlighted a quote from Rudy Giuliani declaring, “Biggest knockout I’ve seen in a presidential debate.”

Breitbart ran one of those quick-click polls asking “Which debate moderator was more shameful?” When I checked Monday morning, there were 50,744 votes. Martha Raddatz, if you’re curious, was the runaway “winner.”

But Brietbart and, I’ll wager, the people who favor that site aren’t the ones who needed to be convinced about Trump. By repeating the same stuff he has been saying for weeks on the campaign trail, what did we really learn about Trump – or Hillary Clinton, for that matter? Well, Trump did say he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s alleged misdeeds. The base loved that, I am sure.

Clinton, though, seemed prepared for this flurry of punches from an opponent trailing badly on points in the late rounds. If there is a bombshell out there about Clinton that could mitigate some of the nuclear fallout from his widely reported vulgar comments over the weekend, Trump probably should consider rolling it out very, very soon.

The real takeaway from Sunday night is that Clinton got one day closer to being elected president.

Numbers don’t lie: NBC ran a collage Monday morning of high-level Republican lawmakers and party leaders who rebuked or abandoned the party’s nominee after those remarks. It was a striking image that was overwhelmingly white and male. Of the 76 headshots on the screen, I counted two people of color and 12 women. The rest were white males.

That has been the GOP’s problem all along, especially with a flame-throwing, race-baiting candidate like Trump. Sure, those Republicans – especially those on the November ballot – are condemning Trump. That’s because they understand the electorate is large, diversified, and can translate the code words coming from Trump’s base about immigration and crime.

If Republicans don’t understand that after the beating it looks like they’re about to take in November, they never will. They love to talk about the “base” of each party. The GOP’s core ideal is lower taxes, less regulation, and smaller government. That message has been obliterated in a waterfall of hate, misogyny, and lies.

We’re not electing a debater-in-chief: Debates are important and it can be rationally argued that Sunday was a draw. Trump played the only card he could, essentially turning the evening into a misdirection play to obscure his own real problems related to the now-infamous audio tape he dismisses as “locker room talk.”

For what it’s worth, I have been in a lot of locker rooms and they can be places where the faint of heart should not tread. But I also remember a high school coach from my small Ohio town who would have had his players running until their tongues dropped if he heard the kind of chatter that has landed Trump in trouble.

Back on point though, as a nation (and media), we are obsessed with “winners” and “losers” in settings like this. It generally was conceded that Clinton “won” the first debate. The bounce seemed to help her in the polls.

It still should be more about policy, though, and less about debate skills. One of these two persons is going to be president of the United States. When that day comes, we won’t care about how they did in the debates

Oh dear! They don’t like each other: Much was made about that the candidates didn’t shake hands after being introduced. It set Twitter afire. The honor of the best tweet in my highly unofficial survey (based solely on my reaction) goes to POLITICO Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen: “No handshake! … Overheard: “Even Ali and Frazier touched gloves” #FightNight.

They did shake hands briefly afterward, but put it this way: The moment was about as warm as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick after losing to Rex Ryan.

One final question to ponder: After all this, do we really need the third and (yes!) final debate on Oct. 19? I suppose if there is a big news story between now and then that one candidate or the other has to address (WikiLeaks maybe?), it could be intriguing to see what happens on the stage.

The format will be the same as the first debate. At this point though, Trump looks to be trailing by two touchdowns, out of timeouts, and Clinton has the ball. Absentee and mail ballots have already been distributed in many states, so millions of Americans may already have voted by the time the two candidates meet again.

Oh well. The pundits need something to do, I guess.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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