Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage with her husband former President Bill Clinton after the presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)


The worst falsehood presented to the American public by the first general election debate of 2016 was its bestowal of presidential credibility on Donald Trump.

By winning the Republican nomination, Trump automatically claimed an invitation to face Democrat Hillary Clinton three times before Super Bowl-sized television audiences.

For four decades, the system of dignified debates, overseen by a nonpartisan commission, has well served the U.S. by allowing the nation to measure the clashing ideas and the character of candidates who had well earned their places at the podium.

Trump is neither a man of ideas nor a man of character. After revealing the
recklessness, cruelty, dishonesty, ignoranceand worse that are his essence, Trump hired advisers who are teaching him to hide in plain sight.

To seem presidential by reading speeches about complex polices whose details are beyond his comprehension; by pretending to reach out to alienated African-Americans, and by traveling to Mexico to meet the president of an ally whose citizens loathe him.

In an election during which Trump has trafficked in lies and flip-flops, and has proposed fantastical policies, his presence with Clinton on the debate stage bolstered the insane premise that a fearmongering, unstable, secretive demagogue is fit for the White House.

But, appearing side by side on a split screen, Trump blustered and interrupted with no more claim to the presidency than a know-it-all on a barstool, while Clinton took command with coherent statements of policy and eviscerations of Trump’s business record.

“Why not?” Trump exclaimed after declaring preposterously that Clinton had failed at fighting the Islamic State group for all her life.

Pressed on why he refuses to release his tax returns, Clinton destroyed Trump’s bogus claim that he cannot do so while he is under IRS audit.

“There is something he is hiding,” Clinton said with dead-on aim, getting to the point that Trump had likely paid zero taxes, prompting Trump to interject, “That makes me smart.”

Up against a formidable debate opponent for the first time, Trump’s accusations came so fast and furious that Clinton declared with a laugh, “I have a feeling that I will be blamed for everything.”

She also reduced Trump to pleading that he was only taking advantage of the court system when he stiffed thousands of vendors out of payments for their goods and services.

Devastatingly, Clinton dissected Trump’s attempt to delegitimize Barack Obama based on “the racist lie” that Obama had been born in Kenya, again reducing Trump to nonsensical blather.

For good measure, she pointed out that the federal government had sued Trump for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans. Trump called the federal lawsuit “just one of those things” and then patted himself on the back for admitting minorities to a country club in Florida.

More than anything, thanks to Clinton, the debate denied Trump the opportunity to engage in the unchallenged demagoguery that is fundamental to his campaign.

Through outrageousness Trump has successfully distorted the election into a plebiscite on personality rather than policy — until now. With strength, passion, reason, command of facts and incisive humor, Clinton revealed the big lie at the heart of the debate: that Donald Trump is even remotely fit for the presidency.

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