But Donald Trump appeared offended by the notion that anyone might think his appearance at a town hall in New Hampshire was in any way preparation for the next debate, a similar town hall format to take place this Sunday night in St. Louis.
“This isn’t practice. This has nothing to do with Sunday, ” he told the press.
Mostly, he seemed to react to the very idea of “preparation” as if it were somehow weak, female, and had cooties.
(Who wouldn’t want to be a prepper, too?)
Trump even reframed Hillary’s work in advance of Sunday: He told reporters that what she was doing was “Not debate prep. She’s resting.” And given that he likes to repeat his best lines, he added: “I want to be with the American people. She’s resting.”
It always gets a laugh. He doesn’t seem to grasp that tweeting venomously at 3 a.m. about an ex-beauty queen’s sex tape is not an encouraging show of Presidential vitality.
Furthermore, casting Hillary as the “grind,” the kind of teacher’s pet that no boy likes, seems to have appeal for Trump followers attracted to an outsider who can strong-arm the government and bring a hammer to business as usual. He’s not a polished politician, as his surrogates like to say, so maybe governing should be a spontaneous performance.
In addition, saying that she’s “resting,” another code word, like not having the “stamina,” means that Hillary is, uh, not erect. He continually claims that she has trouble “sitting up.” Recently, from the podium at one of his big rallies, he physically imitated her as bent over, zombie-like, attempting to get into the van on 9/1l when she had pneumonia.
Like “resting comfortably,” or near-dead.
This home stretch of the election has been a revealing time for Trump in terms of death, sex, and taxes. He has insulted women constantly, although this week, he recast that as coming out of a past life, when he was essentially going for “entertainment.”
He has also now recast his failure to prepare for the last debate — resulting in a devastatingly childish performance that Alec Baldwin replicated down to every tic on “Saturday Night Live” — as a clear win for him, despite the faulty microphone.
He won, he says, because he was proud of the fact that “I did hold back,” meaning he was too gentlemanly and high-minded to talk about Bill’s extramarital affairs.
“I’d much rather have it be on policy, and I don’t like getting into the gutter,” he told the crowd in New Hampshire.
Over and over, Trump the Presidential contender is able to reframe reality in such a stunning way that denying what he said, even though it has actually been captured on videotape, is just a small part of the art of his deal.
The real question for me is whether he is willing to change or learn anything. Can he grow?
Despite his earlier assertion about not wanting to get into the gutter, he seems constitutionally unable to go anywhere else. This week, while ostensibly campaigning for his wife, Bill Clinton handed the Republican candidate a gold-plated gift by describing the Affordable Care Act as “the craziest thing in the world.”
Still, in picking up on that quote, Trump really didn’t delve into the trouble with insurance companies or health policy, as Bill effortlessly did. Rather, Trump couldn’t resist telling a crowd, “I’ll bet he went through hell last night. Can you imagine? … Can you imagine what he went through after making that statement? He went through hell.
"Honestly, there have been many nights when he has gone through hell with Hillary Clinton.”
Big laugh. It was, as the Clintons once sold themselves, a “two for the price of one.” Not only did Trump get in an inference about Bill’s sexual affairs, but he also got to turn it into a wink-wink for husbands everywhere, a form of husband solidarity in the battle of the sexes, circa 1960.
Every night is a tough night for Bill, he was suggesting, because Hillary is noncompliant, not a supermodel, but a battle axe with a rolling pin. Poor Bill. Who would want to sleep with “that”?
Then again, Trump is a walking contradiction. He seems to have no personal boundaries, but his most effective campaign line is that he wants “to build a wall.”
Despite his unceasing assessment of women by their body parts, (face, breasts, legs) as if they were prize chickens or race horses, he’s not always stereotypically locker-room macho.
Rather, it strikes me sometimes that Trump is the wicked yenta stepmother, treating all women as Cinderellas, telling them they are too fat or too ugly to squeeze their bulky feet into the glass slipper. He also sees himself as the Prince, assessing whom he would allow into his glass and brass skyscraper.
This is his punishing side. And though I’ve written before that he’s popular with some followers because he brings back the time of the punitive authoritarian father whom everyone in the family deferred to, he also can be a nasty, jealous mother.
Others have noticed this female side too: After the first debate, writer Paul Rudnick tweeted, “Trump did one great thing: he proved that men are over-emotional, petty and silly creatures.”
In the end, in addition to the gender fluidity, Trump is an old guy using new media to spew old-fashioned insults.
But most of all, he’s a poignant case of arrested development.
He’s so easily parodied because he’s so not in on the joke: At this point, at the tender age of 70, perhaps he’s too scared to change, or face the truth, or learn anything new.