We all know The Donald. We know his catchphrases, we can mimic his vocal intonations, and we’ve all seen those vines of him just making nonsensical noises over and over. When The Donald speaks, we all get outraged for about two minutes, and then we forget about it as the spin team comes to say “He didn’t say that” or, “What he meant was…”
As Hillary Clinton has shown, Donald Trump’s soundbites will haunt him for the rest of his campaign, and provide perfect fodder for attack ads and news reels. But I would argue that even these short clips of Trump don’t do him justice, and aren’t as revealing and damning as the good old fashioned transcripts that show Trump in all his blithering glory.
There’s a multitude of transcripts from Monday night’s first presidential debate floating around, but I recommend the one compiled by NPR, which is helpfully annotated with fact checking of both candidates. If you missed the debate, it’s great way to catch up without all the shouting, but it’s also the best example you can find of how different the two candidates are.
There was a joking accusation that Clinton was being nerdy for holing up and studying for her debate, but the joke kind of turned on Trump. When you sit down and read his actual words, it doesn’t sound like a politician—it sounds like a 14 year-old kid asked to write an article on political analysis. Honestly, that comparison is actually probably unfavorable to a lot of overachieving 14 year-olds.
Side by side with Clinton, the debate transcript shows what so many of us want to ignore—when you strip away the “charisma” and the body language and judge the candidates as clearly as you can, Trump appears like a complete idiot. There’s no other word for it. Here’s a prime example, pulled directly from the debate transcript, of Trump’s rambling:
We’re losing our jobs, people are pouring into our country. The other day we were deporting eight hundred people and perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that it was corruption. But these people that we were going to deport, for good reason, ended up becoming citizens ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800 and now it turns out it might be 1800 and they don’t even know.
This was from Trump’s closing question, where he was asked whether he would accept the outcome of the election if he lost (he didn’t respond). Shockingly, Trump is actually skirting around some fact here, and referring to a report that shows a discrepancy in fingerprint files may have resulted in approximately 800 immigrants being granted citizenship, and an additional 150,000 records were found of immigrants who may be eligible for deportation. The individuals in question slipped through the system because they used different names and information, and many of them are believed to have criminal connections—though there is not proof linking the mistake to corruption, as Trump alleges.
This is actually a big deal, and something that Trump could have used effectively to drive home his policy points on immigration and national defense – but he didn’t. He didn’t even introduce it properly. The average American doesn’t know this fact off the top of their head, and Trump didn’t bother to accurately explain it to us.
And so I return to my earlier point: it feels like a student writing a paper. He knows what the teacher is looking for and what points need to be hit, but instead of having a true understanding of the subject, he’s going to wander around the point in vague circles in the hope that his teacher picks up what he means and gives him partial credit.
So that’s how eloquent Donald Trump is when he’s actually trying to discuss national policy. Let’s look at this train wreck of a speech, from when Trump unnecessarily dug himself so much deeper into the hole of chauvinism that he sometimes crawls out of.
You know Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials, some of it’s entertainment, some of it is said somebody’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said tough things to her and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her but you want to know the truth, I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate, it’s not nice. But she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me many which are absolutely untrue. They’re untrue and they’re misrepresentations. And I will tell you this, Lester, it’s not nice and I don’t, I don’t deserve that. But it’s certainly not a nice thing that she’s done. It’s hundreds of millions of ads and the only gratifying thing is I saw the polls come in today and with all of that money, over two hundred millions of spent and I’m either winning or tied.
Can you imagine that being said at the State of the Union? Can you imagine our children having to read about these debates and reading a mess of a statement like that—where the leading candidate of the Republican party is congratulating himself on not bringing up his opponent’s (decades-old) marital problems?
It’s one thing to compare him side-by-side to a seasoned politician, a “Washington Insider” who has such an image problem that she could read facts all day and we’d still accuse her of lying. So let’s judge Trump on a more even ground, when he’s in interviews and one-on-ones. But it’s still staggering to see how ineloquent and unorganized the man is in his speech, content, and arguments. In an interview with the Washington Post following his visit to Virginia, WaPo chose to simply publish his transcript raw, rather than try to pull out nuggets and polish it into something acceptable.
Presented without artifice, without spin, this is the raw Trump, one who can’t hide his statements behind accusations of a “biased press.”
RUCKER: Whoever wins Loudoun wins the election.
TRUMP: Is that what you think?
RUCKER: It’s one of the swing counties, yeah.
TRUMP: Hey, George! Come here. He just said whoever wins Loudoun wins the election. This is Loudoun.
GEORGE GIGICOS, Trump campaign aide: We’re in Loudoun County now.
TRUMP: You got 800 acres in Loudoun.
RUCKER: Loudoun, Fairfax —
TRUMP: What about Fairfax? Same thing?
That’s just a small segment, where Trump—who has just completed a speech in Loudon County, Virginia (one of the richest counties in the nation)—is shocked to discover that they hold a crucial voting bloc. Either he hasn’t been told these things, or he was, and simply forgot. Here’s another excerpt from the same interview about the Gold Star Khan family, and the war that Trump waged against them.
RUCKER: Do you think they’re somehow trying to, the Khan family, are they on TV to try to help Hillary?
TRUMP: People have to form their own opinion. I’ve said everything I can say about it. I was viciously attacked from the stage, and I have a right to answer back. I’ve said everything I could say. I was viciously attacked on the stage, and I have a right to answer back. That’s all I have to say about it.
This is a tame response, but it’s indicative of his larger speaking pattern: When cornered, Trump repeats his sentences and words over and over. He thinks he’s driving home a message, but it makes him sound uninformed and blustering.
RUCKER: Have you endorsed Paul Ryan?
TRUMP: His opponent sent me a nice letter and I merely thanked him.
RUCKER: Do you support Ryan?
TRUMP: Nobody has asked me if I support Ryan.
RUCKER: I’m asking now though.
TRUMP: I’m giving it very serious consideration.
RUCKER: To supporting Ryan?
RUCKER: But you haven’t decided?
TRUMP: No. I never said I’d support him. I’m giving it very serious consideration.
It’s like reading a transcript of a conversation with your niece, who’s developing her speech skills and avoiding telling you about whether she did or did not in fact eat all four cookies.
Those who like Trump aren’t going to be swayed by transcripts or reason, or even by the knowledge of how absolutely bonkers they appear to the rest of the nation. But there are undecided voters, or those on the fence with Clinton, who need a push to get to the polls. Let the facts speak for themselves. How can you respect a man like this? I would almost prefer to vote for a 14 year-old, because I think they would have a better control of their temper. And I’m pretty sure they could deliver a better speech. So turn off the TV, put down the videos, and just look at his words. Please, just look at his words.