For nearly a decade I have professionally covered, among other things, the mainstream media, and in all that time I don't once recall writing an unkind word about Lester Holt, the moderator of Monday's presidential debate. That record is about to be broken because last night Holt made the disgraced Candy Crowley look like Edward R. Murrow.
If you recall, during one of the three 2012 presidential debates, Crowley "fact-checked" Mitt Romney with a lie. She claimed that President Obama had described the September 11 anniversary attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as an act of terrorism. The opposite was true. She would later admit as much. Nonetheless, Romney pretty much melted down during the exchange, and that was that.
Holt, impossibly, was worse. With only 90 minutes and a whopping 15% of the electorate still undecided (it was only 6% in 2012), he decided that issues such as ObamaCare, immigration, Syria, Benghazi, and the Clinton Foundation were of no importance. What he did find urgent were all kinds of issues numerous polls prove no one cares about: Trump's (smart) refusal to release his taxes, Trump's Birtherism, Trump's stated opposition to the Iraq War, and a comment Trump made about Hillary not looking presidential.
Holt didn’t just "fact-check" Trump, he argued with the businessman, something he did not do with Hillary -- even after she lied and said her illegal email server was a "mistake," even after she lied and claimed that her hands were clean in the birthing of Birtherism, even after she lied about her support for the trade deal known as TPP.
Holt also got a fact-check wrong when he said the policing policy known as "stop-and-frisk" had been declared unconstitutional. One local judge does not have the final say in such matters.
On top of that, Holt allowed Clinton to talk and talk and talk and talk uninterrupted, while Trump was constantly interrupted and told to move on.
By any objective measure, Holt dropped all pretense of objectivity.
By any objective measure, Holt dropped all pretense of objectivity. I have no issue with Trump or any presidential candidate being asked tough, even brutal questions. That's the game. But Hillary never faced tough questions. Not one.
Going back to Kennedy v. Nixon in 1960 (via replays), I have seen every single general election presidential debate. Lester Holt is by far the most biased moderator in our country's history.
Nevertheless, Trump didn’t do himself any favors. Had last night's debate ended at the halfway point, he probably would have been declared the winner. Unfortunately for him it didn't, and then for an interminable hour, The Donald was defensive and less than focused. A lot of people are saying that it is better to win the first half of the debate than the second, but Hillary did not lose the first half anywhere near as badly as Trump did the second.
One cannot proclaim such a thing without pointing out the following: other than a CNN (which is Hitler) snap poll with a very small (500+), Democrat-leaning sample size, Trump was declared the winner in every online poll (some with hundreds of thousands of voters), even at left-wing sites such as Slate, Time, Variety and CNBC. Also, these confrontations are won or lost in the days following the debate. Also-also, although I am one of the few who from the very beginning didn't underestimate Trump, there were times I thought he lost a primary debate only to be proved wrong.
Trump's primary problem was his unwillingness to let anything go. For some ridiculous reason, he felt the need to pedantically answer and refute each and every charge hurled by Holt and Clinton. This not only made him look defensive, it made him look unprepared. Responding wasn't even all that necessary. None of the attacks were new, so, as they say, they are already baked in the cake. Trump should have been prepared to shrug off this tired nonsense and pivot towards the issues Holt didn’t want to discuss, such as the aforementioned ObamaCare, immigration(!), Benghazi, etc.
Trump allowed himself to be wrapped 'round axle after axle, to lose complete control.
He missed endless opportunities to regain the offensive.
It was not a good look.
One area where I do think Trump trumped Clinton, an area that the MSM is overlooking, was in getting his message out.
The good news for Trump is that there were no fatal gaffes to be replayed over and over, and while he was defensive, he never looked like a Romney-in-the-headlights. His job was to look presidential, and holding his own on that stage with a 30-year veteran didn’t harm him in this regard.
One area where I do think Trump trumped Clinton, an area that the MSM is overlooking, was in getting his message out. You might walk away from that debate believing Trump lost, fair enough, but you also walked away with the impression that he's a smart businessman, an outsider disgusted with the way DC operates, stands for law and order in the face of the destructive political correctness attached to Obama's endless race riots, and is going to fight tooth-and-nail for jobs, especially in the swing states.
The only impression Clinton left is that she did her homework. Other than protecting the status quo, she did nothing to advance an agenda. And…
This is a change election. Voters want a change agent, not a debate winner.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC