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john ibbitson

Donald Trump was loud, angry, rude, boastful. He bashed China and Mexico, he constantly interrupted, he swaggered and strutted and jutted his chin. Most of all, he described a dying dystopian republic brought to its knees by Hillary Clinton and her friends that he alone could redeem.

Ms. Clinton was persistent, patient, steady. She defended her positions with vigour and didn't hesitate to call her opponent out on his misdeeds, including his vile comments about women. Most of all she described a republic recovering from hard times brought on by irresponsible greed, that was doing better but could do better still.

Could an honestly uncommitted voter, could any reasonable person, conclude after Monday night's debate that America would be in better hands with Mr. Trump as president? No. That conclusion is simply not possible based on the evidence.

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Are there enough angry, frightened people who see in Ms. Clinton the personification of everything that has gone wrong with their lives and who look to Mr. Trump for revenge? Who knows?

By any conventional metric, Ms. Clinton mopped the floor with Mr. Trump. She kept her cool and an even keel. She never once went for a blow too low, but fearlessly parried several of his baseless attacks.

She scored one of her best hits when she listed all the reasons Mr. Trump might be refusing to release his tax returns, concluding: "Maybe you haven't paid any income tax for a lot of years."

"They'd be squandered too, believe me," he shot back, essentially confirming the charge.

And she put to rest any concerns over her health. A case of pneumonia that came to light when she was caught on camera almost fainting after the 9/11 commemorations gave credibility to claims from her opponents that, at almost 70 and after having suffered a severe concussion, the Democratic nominee was too frail to lead.

But her calm, confident and eminently presidential performance over 90 minutes of strenuous debate should send questions about her health back into the dark places of the conspiracy theorists. And when Mr. Trump dared to raise the question of her stamina, she demolished him by pointing out that when he had travelled to more than 100 countries and spent years in public office and testified for hour after hour before congressional committees, as she had, then he could talk about stamina.

NBC anchor Lester Holt calmly rebutted several Trumpian claims, such as pointing out, for example, that police "stop and frisk" practices that Mr. Trump supported had been ruled unconstitutional.

By a "very against-police judge," Mr. Trump retorted, outrageously. But then, he was so often outrageous.

Mr. Trump had to answer a simple question in Monday's debate: Is he, as his critics maintain, truly a lying, racist, ignorant and authoritarian narcissist who, as a New York Times editorial declared, is "the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history," and who at all costs must not be given the nuclear codes. Or is he something else?

At times, Mr. Trump almost seemed like something else. He competently defended his positions on occasion, such as when he observed that American infrastructure was crumbling, even as trillions of dollars had been wasted on lost wars overseas.

At other times, though, he was Trump on steroids – rambling, bloviating, incoherent, shouting, interrupting, boasting, ridiculing, low-blowing – while rarely landing a single palpable hit.

And late in the debate, when asked by the moderator why he said he opposed the war in Iraq when in fact he had supported it in 2002, Mr. Trump went off on a rant of such length and violence of tone that millions could only have watched in horror, ending with the audience laughing when he pronounced: "I have a much better temperament than she does."

He disproved that, however, by then insinuating he knew some terrible secret about Ms. Clinton that he would not repeat, because he was above such things. Simply disgraceful.

But no matter what he tried, Ms. Clinton was more than ready for him. She raised the question of Mr. Trump's strange attraction to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. She assured America's allies that they would not be abandoned, even though Mr. Trump threatens to do that.

And when the Republican presidential nominee tried to falsely assert that Ms. Clinton's team had started the so-called birther rumour against Barack Obama, she forcefully reminded Americans that Mr. Trump "started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen."

It was so not a contest that only the most committed Trump supporter, or Clinton hater, could possibly be reassured by his performance or disconcerted by hers. Only the most blinded would prefer to see him as president as her.

To want Donald Trump as president, you would have to be as angry and bitter as Donald Trump was Monday night.

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