DEBATE REPORT CARD: Trump Loves Inner Cities! Clinton Unveils “Be Good” Zinger! I Confess I’m “Kenneth Bone”!

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I owe you an explanation.

I was jetlagged when I arrived in Missouri to cover the debate for CAFE. This was a heady day, what with the blockbuster Trump tape and Hillary wikiLeaks. In the bus station bathroom I put on my most journalistic red sweater then marched the ten blocks to Washington University.

I may have indulged in a bit too much Twitter snark on my Blackberry while walking to pick up my press credentials, because I ended up at a service entrance, where an angry mustachioed waiter carrying a stack of plates yelled at me. The yelling of course made me frightened, so I ran into a service elevator and pressed all the buttons to get away from my antagonist. Naturally, the elevator malfunctioned, and I was stuck somewhere in the bowels of the auditorium.

An hour passed, and I resigned myself to another night of conserving my fluids and watching the debate on my phone. Then, just minutes before the start time, the elevator miraculously came online and delivered me to the stage floor.

I was a bit nervous not having my credentials, but I knew I had to cover the event of the century. When the doors opened I snuck into a gaggle of folks waiting backstage who looked like reporters what with their rumpled suits and lumpy demeanors. A P.A. ushered us to what I thought would be the press pen but turned out to be the main stage, where I was helped into a front row seat and handed an index card.

Fearing the retribution of two candidates I have angered with my truth telling, I used an old newsroom trick: I swallowed ten tablespoons of sea salt and drank two liters of water to bloat myself beyond recognition. For those tense hours, I was incredibly tense, but my disguise held up. Trump and Hillary both knew that the real Carl Diggler is svelte in a dignified, larger way, not round like his son. Even as I asked my show-stealing question about energy policy, the candidates were none the wiser.

While my bladder may have eventually failed, my resolve did not. Later, after the hall cleared out and I had destroyed my ruined khakis, I felt the kind of pride that only a father who has set an example for his son can feel. Did I write this on a Blackberry while my legs were completely soaked in urine? Yes. Did I have to field questions from my Uber driver about why I wasn’t wearing pants on a cold October night? Yes. Did I do the profession of adversarial journalism justice tonight? 100 percent, yes.

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Skeletons Dug Up Own Skeletons Disgusting Wonderful I Didn’t Do That I Did Do That FINAL GRADE
B+ D C+ C C- C C

Donald Trump came in tonight with nothing to lose. After making the admittedly understandable mistake of admitting to sex crimes in order to impress a lesser Bush family member, influential Republicans who Trump previously bullied into endorsing him by harassing their wives spent the weekend disavowing. Knowing that he had no path to victory without the full approval of beloved icons like Lindsey Graham and Dennis Hastert, the pugilistic Queens native came out swinging.

Trump set the tone by holding a Facebook livestreamed press conference with around 12 percent of the women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, a smart tactic that combined voters’ love of tech and the cynical exploitation of victims. This same desperate intensity was maintained in the first portion of the debate, as he told Clinton he would put her in prison and assured the audience he enjoys black people.

However, Trump is still a frontrunner. His strong start petered out, and he spent the rest of his time trying to time huge counters that he whiffed and complained incessantly about the moderators. A little tip to the doomed candidate: voters only respond to complaints about moderators when they come from proven alpha males like Jim Webb.

Trump may have stemmed the bleeding tonight, but it likely won’t be enough.

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I May Not Be A Gay Conversion Center BUT TONIGHT, I’m setting THINGS STRAIGHT I May Not Be, Eminem But TONIGHT, I will. STAND UP! I May NOT BE Ellen. PAGE! But “JUNO,” I’m ON YOUR SIDE! FINAL GRADE
A A- B B- A B B+

Hillary did exactly what she came to do tonight: deflect questions about her integrity and her husband’s crimes while praising America as being great. Her stirring line “America is great because it is good!” played well with the frothing jingoists who are still on the fence. It doesn’t hurt that her frequent admonitions to “check the facts on that one, buster” will endear her to the press gatekeepers who ultimately decide the winners and losers of the week. After tonight, most voters won’t know what the heck a “wikiLeak” or an “email” is, but they will remember the smiling woman wearing white and saying all is pretty okay in their Lake Wobegon lives.

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Having Their Say Talking Main Street, Not Wall Street Middle Class Issues Energy Voting IQs Vulnerability to Ponzi Schemes FINAL GRADE
A+ A+ A+ A+ Sub 85 A+ A+

As always, the real heroes are the moderate middle-of-the-road undecided voters who will actually pick the next leader of the free world. Move aside, partisans, because these informed citizens who need to hear a little bit more about Trump’s sexual assault strategies and Hillary’s profit projections for barrel bomb sales to Saudi Arabia before they make up their mind are in the pilot seat. These salt of the earth Missourians stole the spotlight with their incisive questions like “How will you be Good President?” and “I’m an LGBT Muslim with an adopted noncitizen son from Africa. Which one of you will not destroy my family?” I apologize for taking a question from one of them, but once again, it was not my fault, it was a medical issue. Nevertheless, these indecisive smooth-brained middle Americans are the real winners tonight.

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years and is the host of the Digcast, a weekly podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail himat carl@cafe.com or Tweet to @carl_diggler.