The first presidential debate of the season may have gone a long way in answering two mysteries about Donald Trump.
Media Matters, created by "former right-wing journalist-turned-pro-Clinton crusader" David Brock, last month summarized five reasons Trump has not released his income taxes. They "could show," it noted, his ties to Russia, that he is not as wealtthy as he claims, has paid nothing in taxes some years or at least less than the Clintons, has committed tax fraud, is hiding offshore bank accounts, or is not contributing much to charity.
They might show also his wheeling and dealing with La Cosa Nostra. However, in a climate fostered by success of "The Sopranos," the coziness Trump previously enjoyed with organized crime of the Italian-American sort might be considered a virtue.
We now know with near-certainty, however, that at least one of the explanations cited by Media Matters, and mentioned by anyone looking at the matter, is valid. Mrs. Clinton at Hofstra University stated that her opponent
owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.
Trump could have accused his opponent of "throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks" or of having spoken "a damnable lie," or maybe asserted "I have paid federal income taxes, and quite a bit more of them." (For extra, disingenuous points, he could have added to the last remark "which has allowed me to understand what damage your plan to raise taxes would do to America.")
But he didn't. Instead, he spoke over Clinton and charged "That makes me smart."
Paying no income taxes might have been smart; admitting it was not.
That was not the only thing, however, we learned about Trump last night. We learned also how he captured the GOP presidential nomination. MBC News reports
When asked by reporters after the event what he thought of moderator Lester Holt's performance, Trump said: "I felt he was fine."
But he then lamented having a "defective mic."
"My mic was defective within the room," Trump told reporters.
He added: "I wonder ... Was that on purpose? Was that on purpose?"
Trump was heard adequately through the television screen. Few if any viewers, projected to be roughly 100 million, had any trouble hearing or understanding what the candidate was saying. While it's tempting to say that his message and lack of ideas, not his microphone or voice, were the problems, Trump's concern over his microphone highlights the difference between this debate and the multitude of debates he participated in while winning the nomination.
Trump probably was worried that individuals in the arena did not hear him. And although that audience was but a drop in the bucket compared to the 100-150 million people who will be voting for President, it is critical for this candidate. Through the primary season, he fed off the reaction of debate attendees as they cheered him and booed his opponents. That was his adrenaline, more effective than the cocaine some tweets (and Stephen Colbert) implied was at play on Monday. It also gave the home audience of Republican viewers the sense that this guy is not only making good points but is a credible candidate for President of the USA.
With audience reaction discouraged last night, Donald Trump was denied a major advantage. Attention was placed on his ideas and prior comments, implausible with a format that included many rivals. Those are his Achilles heels, focus upon which illuminates his extreme sensitivity, sometimes known as "political correctness."
At Hofstra, Donald Trump was chewed up and spit out. Fortunately for him, the first debate rarely matters, as Presidents Kerry and Mondale could tell him.