The show has moved on, but the reverberations from the presidential debate on Long Island will dominate the campaign until the next one.
More than 80 million watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on television, millions more on the internet, and they largely lasted to the end. That’s how riveting, important and necessary it was to an electorate that is deeply divided and largely uncertain about the future.
But the remaining two debates must be more than great entertainment. Voters need more than scripted attack lines and witty rejoinders to help make up their minds in what might be the most consequential election of our lifetimes.
They need answers. Who would pay more taxes under Clinton’s plan? Why has she changed her mind about trade deals? How will Trump create jobs? He needs to answer legitimate questions about his business practices and release his tax returns. And the vanishing middle class, the core of our country, must get prime-time treatment.
Voters need to hear about the Clinton Foundation and Trump University, and they deserve a foreign policy discussion that goes beyond Trump trying to deny his initial support of the invasion of Iraq. They don’t need Trump praising himself for not dredging up Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities, then threatening to do so in the future. That would drag a soiled campaign deeper into the gutter.
Trump must exhibit more self-discipline and must be able to say he was wrong on something like the birther issue, that he has learned and changed. It’s an issue of character and temperament, a test he’s failing. Whether she is sincere or not, really means it or sees it as politically necessary, Clinton apologized for her email practices, saying that was a mistake. That counts for something.
We hope the next two debates are more illuminating. And that Trump shows up. Rudy Giuliani, whose comment that Clinton is “too stupid” to be president reflects his fading relevance, said Trump should skip them unless moderators promise to treat him fairly. That’s terrible advice. Following it would be a gross disservice to voters. Trump should focus on preparation, not phantom problems.
With six weeks to go, that’s not too much to ask.