“I have a much better temperament than she does, you know,” Donald Trump said Monday night, referring of course to Hillary Clinton.
The audience laughed, which is rarely a good sign. But he plowed on.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not know how to win.”
But based on the evidence that was presented to some 100 million Americans that night, Clinton does know how to win. She does have the temperament. Based on that same evidence, Trump does not.
Winning at this level requires the willingness to prepare, to study, to do the work, to master the issues. Because if you are too lazy or unfocused or arrogant to spend the time to prepare for a debate, if you disrespect the office that you seek that much, then you’re likely to behave the same way when it comes time to do the work required of the presidency. So it’s better that voters know that about you, and now they do.
And if you lose your cool under pressure, if you can’t keep from turning angry and truculent in front a national audience that is already dubious about your ability to keep a rational head under pressure, then again, you’re likely to do the same in the Oval Office. If you act that way, if you let your emotions drive you to do the very things that you know you should not do, then the temperament that you embrace as your strongest asset may instead be the trait that makes you most unfit.
When you attempt to prove that yes, you did publicly oppose the invasion of Iraq, despite all the evidence to the contrary, you really should have a better argument than a claim that you whispered something to that effect to your pal Sean Hannity back before the war, yet somehow neither he nor you happened to mention it to anybody at the time. You’re gonna want to do a little better than that.
When you are challenged on your strident support for birtherism, which continued long after Barack Obama’s birth certificate was made public, you really should be able to offer something other than nonsensical babbling that confirms rather than refutes the notion that you’re one tin-foil hat short of a loon.
When you’ve presented yourself to the country as a strong guy, as a tough guy, then it really shouldn’t be necessary to resurrect your feud with Rosie O’Donnell as evidence of your manliness. Yes, she starred in “A League of Their Own,” but Vladimir Putin doesn’t play in that league. Neither do Xi Jinping of China and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. They’re not going to be impressed that you dared to call an actress a fat pig.
When you’ve spent this entire campaign attacking your opponents’ character, both in the primaries as well as in the general election, when you’ve delighted in name-calling and the belittling of others, you really shouldn’t whine about the “not nice” things that people say about you in return. Tough guys don’t whine.
And finally, at the close of the debate, there was this:
“I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, I can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.”
You don’t earn points for charm, grace or restraint by making threats like that. Quite the contrary. Because people know that people with a winner’s temperament — they don’t talk like that. Losers do.