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5 takeaways from the first presidential debate

There were a couple of not-so-very-subtle signals here inside of Hofstra University that Donald Trump lost Monday night’s highly-anticipated debate against Hillary Clinton, and badly.

The first was the audible sound of groaning by some of his supporters (picked up by my attentive colleague Steve Shepard) inside the debate hall as Trump meandered self-defensively through a succession of answers against a very focused, very energized and very well-rehearsed Hillary Clinton.

Another tell: After the 90-minute sparring match finished, Clinton’s team practically bounded into the spin room – more in glassy-eyed disbelief than visible elation that things had gone so much better than expected. The GOP nominee’s people, by contrast, dribbled into the media pen like surly seventh-graders headed for homeroom the day before summer vacation. “F—k, let’s do this,” a prominent Trump surrogate said before diving into a scrum.

Trump and his new-ish messaging team have labored mightily to turn the avatar of populist rage into a reasonable facsimile of someone who you could see sitting in the Oval Office. But this best-laid plan unraveled on Monday – amid Clinton’s steely assault and the dignified interrogation of NBC’s Lester Holt, who struck a deft balance between facilitator, BS detector and lion tamer.

Within minutes of the opening bell, Clinton’s attacks forced domesticated Donald to go feral – he bellowed, interrupted her repeatedly, grunted, and toward the bedraggled end, became muted and pouty.

 

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