Donald Trump was terrible

Story highlights

  • Debate coach Todd Graham: Trump failed in five ways at the first debate
  • He says Trump came across as thin-skinned, prejudiced, and unprepared

Todd Graham is director of debate at Southern Illinois University. His teams have won a national championship for the last three years, and he's been recognized twice as the national debate coach of the year. See his Facebook page. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Wow, that didn't take long. Trump is officially a joke. Not a funny ha-ha joke. Not even a knock-knock joke. Trump's a horrifying, petty, selfish, racist, sexist joke. Many people thought Trump's pomposity was cute, but after this first debate, we simply can't think that anymore.

Todd Graham
He's not a jester, he's the kind of fool who can do real damage.
As it turns out, Trump being Trump, in a new, official, public policy setting, is much more frightening for America than imagined. He's not funny anymore. And if you think he is, then go on with your bro self and high-five your buds, but for the rest of you I have a suggestion: Take down your Trump sign (something most of Chicago would love to do), and remove that bumper sticker. It's making you look stupid.
    Trump had five problems in the debate:
    First, his prejudices. The first full question exclusively to Trump quoted his language about women, having on record called women "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs," and "disgusting animals," and commenting on women's looks, telling a contestant on "The Apprentice" that "It would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees." After another insult, (but this time specific to Rosie O'Donnell), he admitted his insults were not just about her, saying he was "sure" it was well beyond Rosie O'Donnell.
    Trump's war on women was right there, plain and simple, for everyone to see. His response? To say that the "big problem in this country is being politically correct." As if that "supposed" negative label would justify his nauseating rhetoric. How about this: The big problem is that in 2015 we still have open and overt misogyny. That's a real problem, not some made up PC war. Trump thinks it's only his "tone." But he missed the point
    It's more than his tone, it's his rhetoric. And it's his cavalier attitude about it. I've coached my debate teams that you can lose a vote (or voters in this case) much faster than you can gain one. These rhetorical choices by Trump are a debater's (or politician's) worst nightmare.
    Beyond that, Trump told Megyn Kelly (who was asking the question) that if he wanted, he would "not be nice to you, based on how you treated me."
    Ahh. Now we get to see problem two: Trump is a child. He can't stand being criticized. But that's pretty much a key job requirement anymore running for president. Thick skin. Later, on a different question Trump didn't like being criticized, so he naturally blamed the messenger, calling reporters "dishonest" in how they cover him. Nobody wants to vote for a childish president, and our president must be able to withstand criticism. Trump can't. Plus, it seems as if Trump forgot the format. In all debates, you should expect to be criticized. That's part of the activity. Learning how to handle criticism and turning it to your advantage (backward-step-pivot-forward) is what makes the difference.
    Third, Trump appears to know less about how to govern than most of the audience members. His answers were either vague or he didn't attempt to answer the questions at all.
    In my line of work, I hear the phrase "That's a claim without a warrant" on a regular basis. In other words: Prove it. Good debaters always come prepared with research and evidence for their points. This reality is lost on Trump.
    Chris Wallace asked not once, but twice, for Trump to "prove" the Mexican government is sending, as a policy, their worst people across the border, which Trump has claimed on many occasions. Trump ignored the question and instead rambled on about how we would not even be talking about immigration absent him bringing it up. Huh? It was central in the debates four years ago, it was central in Congress since then, it's been a daily news item for both Republicans and Democrats, and it's one of the most common topics I hear in intercollegiate debate. Heck, everybody's talking about it. Where's Trump been?
    When asked about how to get a better deal with Iran, he said he'd do it differently. That was pretty much the extent of his specificity. This went on and on. No specifics on how he'd fix Obamacare other than to say he'd get rid of artificial lines between states, and so on.
    Fourth, where he should be strong, he was weak. Trump is a businessman. But instead of coming across as economically gifted, he appeared selfish. The question about four of his companies going bankrupt was on point, stating that his investors lost a billion dollars. His answer was that he's worth more than $10 billion (perhaps in part because he got to declare bankruptcy and make others pay the bill, which was the whole point).
    Trump said he was "very proud" to leave Atlantic City, and his investors were not "sweet people," making him seem dangerously selfish. He then had the audacity to say he could fix the nation's $19 trillion debt. But how Donald? By having federal government declare bankruptcy? Examples win debates. I've said it time and time again to my teams. Examples assist in supporting a point and proving an argument. Trump needed more.
    Finally, somehow, Trump doesn't realize he needs the Republican base to win (either a Republican primary or a general election). The troubles began with the first question to the whole group. It was a "Trump-trap" and the billionaire fell inarticulately into it. Bret Baier asked if everyone on stage would pledge to support the Republican candidate, and refuse to run as an independent, no matter who won the Republican nomination. Of course, Trump was the only one who said no.
    Rand Paul attacked him, and rightfully so, as somebody who hedges his bets and buys and sells politicians. Later, on a similar topic, the questioner said that Trump sounded like a Democrat, and Trump missed the general point, finally to say that he lived in New York. (So therefore, I guess, he is forced to be liberal?)
    Trump never apologizes. And that's a mistake. Especially when you act like Donald Trump. A good place to start? Admitting he was wrong when he said he didn't need a debate coach. I've never seen anyone who needed coaching more.