It was ladies night at the debate

3 x 2 clinton trump shake hands at debate
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

As the TV was warming up for the presidential debate, my mind was carried to previous great male/female face-offs.

I probably will be scolded for noticing that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are different genders because noticing sex is sexist. Isn't it? But if we elect Hillary that will be "historic." Why? Because she's a woman, so who are we kidding?

The first pair that came to my mind was Bobby Riggs challenging Billie Jean King for tennis bragging rights. He loses. Samson and Delilah. He loses. Larry Mendte and Alycia Lane. He loses. Do you sense a trend here?

Former friends in the Power Elite Galaxy, Monday night was the first face-to-face showdown between the Political Insider and the Rambunctious Outsider. In the run-up to the debate, political analysts wondered if Hillary could manufacture enough authenticity to be believable and likable, and if Trump could resist calling her something, well, deplorable, or challenging her to arm wrestle to prove physical fitness.

Fireworks were expected, or hoped for. There was a Roman candle or two. In boxing terms, no knockout, a knockdown or two, but not more than that.

Clinton has more experience and grasp of policy. It was the policy wonk vs. the vessel of emotion.

Comedian Greg Gutfeld likened it to tidy Lisa Simpson vs. bratty Bart Simpson, but both being millionaires.

The expected historic national audience will be won - or lost - by a combination of content and charisma. Debate is acting, as much as anything else. As your "critic," I look for both the intellectual content and the emotional atmosphere. Would you cast this person to play a president in the movies? After the debate, as before, I see Trump as presidential, but only in a film done by the Coen brothers.

Trump "won" by meeting his low expectations, while "Clinton" won points on poise and policy.

The debate began with a handshake, with Clinton smiling and saying, "Hello, Donald," with charm.

Trump dropped the "Crooked Hillary" and substituted "Secretary Clinton," which was polite. He tried to address moderator Lester Holt rather than his opponent, which is smart strategy.

But his inner Bart Simpson resulted in constant interruption of her answers, which will play to many as bullying. Clinton plowed through his interruptions without showing anger or exasperation.

Throughout the debate, when she was speaking he looked at her with a scowl, his eyes squinting. When Clinton looked at Trump as he was speaking, she often had a light smile that contained another element - pity? Condescension?

Trump was hitting the water glass regularly, while Clinton didn't cough once.

They played Ping-Pong with trade with Trump trotting out Mexico and China as usual, calling NAFTA the worst deal ever and laying it at the feet of Clinton's husband.

Clinton showed a flash of anger, quickly swallowed.

Neither had many specifics for creating jobs, but the economic talk produced a phrase you will hear again - "Trumped-up trickle down," from Clinton, on Trump's tax cut ideas.

Trump showed anger when she brought up his tax returns, saying he wouldn't release them because he couldn't release them because they were under audit. When Holt said he could release them anyway, Trump said he wouldn't release them and then said he would release them if Clinton released her emails. I was glad to have been strapped in my seat.

Perhaps Trump's best "new" line was directed to Clinton, a criticism of her policy on terrorism: "You have been fighting ISIS your entire adult life." Her entire life?


On race relations, Holt asked Clinton if she believes police have "implicit bias." She replied implicit bias is a problem "for all of us," which suggested we are all racist. I know some think we are.

On cyberterrorism and overseas operations, there was nothing new to anyone who had seen previous debates.

As Trump tried to explain his shifting position on the Iraq War, Clinton clasped her hands and had a very satisfied Cheshire smile as Trump dug a hole for himself. She practically cracked up when Trump volunteered he had a "winning temperament."

The debate closed with a back-and-forth over some of Trump's alleged misogynistic remarks. He portrayed himself as a victim. No, really, he did.

In the end, Trump didn't hurt himself much, or help himself much.

Same for Clinton.

Their acolytes will say their candidate won.

The important voices are the independents and the undecided.

The ones with more depth probably will be drawn toward Clinton. The question is how many there are.