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What I learned from the debate, or the night of a thousand sniffs

She doesn't have the look of a president, quoted Lester Holt. She doesn't have the stamina. That, he told Donald Trump, is what Trump had said about Hillary Clinton.

So what did Trump mean by saying those things?

Trump tried to answer. He dropped the "look" observation as quickly as possible and went for the stamina remark. She doesn't have the stamina.

You try visiting 112 foreign countries, said the woman thought to be the most well-traveled Secretary of State in American history. Or testifying all day and into the night before a Senate committee. Quietly and concisely, she said "I've got stamina."

Some in the the audience at Hofstra University Monday night broke the rules and applauded.

"She's got experience," conceded Trump. "But it's bad experience."

Some in the audience, breaking the rules again, couldn't contain themselves, again.

At the end of the night, Chuck Todd of  "Meet the Press" fame called the first presidential debate of 2016 "the most abnormal event I've ever witnessed."

That was an understatement.

Trump started drinking a lot of water 15 minutes before Holt brought the proceedings to a close. (Stress is dehydrating.) Clinton was the one who had a wobbly run-in with pneumonia this month. Yet during the debate, it was the sharp snorting intake of his breathing you could hear. I watched the debate on two channels, NBC and Bloomberg. The sound of Trump's breathing on Bloomberg was enough to make you want to get a quick gander at his most recent medical records. (Allergy season, I'm guessing. Nasal spray might have done wonders.)

He was able to keep his blood pressure down for the first half hour but as the evening wore on, he seemed to grow more demonstrably irate. When he criticized her for lacking a presidential temperament and praised his own temperament as his greatest asset, you could hear the audience - breaking the evening's rules once again - laughing.

Trump seemed to have the rudeness of a spoiled teenage boy defending himself at the dinner table. Clinton seemed to have the composure of an older sister who suspects she's going to grow up to be president of the United States.

All through it I couldn't help but think "100 million people are said to be watching this."

I find that fact disgusting.

There is a level of behavior that I want to see from those on both sides of a political debate. They're running for the presidency of the United States, not hyping Wrestlemania. When Al Gore couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes and scoffing while George W. Bush talked in 2000, I sat on my couch practically screaming at him to behave himself if he wanted to be elected to the job. Nobody wants to vote for a 16-year old. You might feel as if you have to but nobody WANTS to.

Trump's camp no doubt will be delighted at his interruptions, demonstrations of pique and rants in the second half of the evening. The Establishment is against him, as he'll be the first to tell you. None of their newspapers will endorse him, even some that have gone Republican for more than a century. He wants to be seen as the bad boy persona that the good guys have to call in to clean up Dodge City.

If he knew how to play the role, he could have made a Western anti-hero out of the part. But he came off Monday like a motormouth narcissist who wanted to keep on talking because he didn't want to hear what anyone else had to say.

Maybe he should have prepped better - not with facts and figures and mock debates the way Clinton did. Maybe he should have gone to the movies and taken a look at "The Magnificent Seven." If you're going to be the anti-hero riding into town to clean up all the evil and corruption, you don't spend your time in front of a hundred million people yammering and whining. You don't complain that America would understand your attitude toward the Iraq War so much better if only it could have heard the arguments you had with Sean Hannity.

Competence for anti-establishment anti-heroes requires the use of a lot fewer words, a lot less self-praise and a lot more believable resolution.

The words to keep remembering are "President of the United States."

Lester Holt's gig refereeing the brawl is over. He can go back to being the anchorman smartly chosen for that job by NBC because he didn't make stuff up like his predecessor, Brian Williams. If you have anything against how he did Monday, try to remember that he's clearly a well-mannered grownup.

Then remember one more thing: We've got two more of these things to watch before the election.

It's going to take stamina.


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