In politics as in life, context matters. If I’d watched last night’s debate from the media filing center, as I did the last one in St. Louis, it might have been hard to avoid the conclusion—which seems pretty much universal among the pundits this morning—that Trump’s refusal to promise to accept the results of the election should have disqualified him right then and there.
And if I’d watched the debate at home, I probably wouldn’t have missed—as I did—Clinton’s critical fail on abortion, when, instead of pointing out that Roe v. Wade only bars the states from forbidding abortion until a fetus is viable, she allowed Trump to claim “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the mother.” Though Clinton’s robust defense of choice cheered her supporters, it probably won’t move Catholic voters still troubled by her characterization of abortion as a “health-care decision” off the fence.
Instead, I was up on Sugar Hill in Harlem, where Trump’s complaint that “our policemen and women are disrespected” brought howls of derision. And where Clinton’s oft-repeated declaration that President Obama “doesn’t get the credit he deserves” prompted the loudest applause of the night. At the Barack Obama Democratic Club Debate Watch Party the audience—a roughly equal mix of black, white, and Latino faces that was easily the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at any event during this entire election—already knew, as treasurer Diane Lane-Hymans told me, that “Donald Trump is a lying sack of dung.”
This was a Hillary crowd, whooping with delight when she said that, instead of confronting the Mexican president over his famous wall, Trump “choked,” and erupting with laughter when, in the middle of a rant about how “we’re getting the drugs, they’re getting the cash,” the Republican nominee sniffed like Al Pacino in Scarface.
“Why stay home and shout at the TV when you can come and shout with us?” said the club’s invitation, a promise of a raucous good time that was more than made good. Afterwards Juan Rosa, the club president, said that for him electing another Democratic president is necessary, but far from sufficient. Despite the club’s name, “there has been some disappointment” with President Obama, particularly in relation to the economy. “Unemployment may be down,” said Rosa, “but black and Latino men continue to be pushed out of the economy.”