The clash of the titans in the first general-election debate at Hofstra University on Monday, September 26th, wasn’t a contest.
Trump came out like a dervish, yelling and badgering Clinton, seeking to knock her on her heels. He didn’t succeed. Clinton, in a fire-red power suit, weathered Trump’s opening barrage with a smile. Then in her course, proceeded to stick him with daggers as if she were Arya Stark.
While Clinton was – even in the estimation of GOP-allied focus-group maven Frank Luntz – “presidential,” Trump was erratic. And sniffly. And thirsty. And he kept making unforced errors. Trump was casually cruel to overweight people, he defended his misogyny toward Rosie O’Donnell, and he praised his own smarts and business acumen for stiffing the IRS of his tax dollars and stiffing working people the money he’d agreed to pay them.
Trump, who loves to talk about stamina, flagged visibly toward the end. (Low energy – sad!) Most damaging: he lost the crowd, which laughed, loudly, when he insisted his temperament was far superior to Clinton’s.
This debate was not just spectacle, however. There was a significant, if haphazard, airing of substance, underscoring wide differences on policy — that cannot be obscured no matter how much Trump tries to lie about his positions.
The most important exchange of the night came on climate change.
Clinton, after outlining her plan to make America a clean-energy superpower, hit Trump as a denier: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese,” she said. “I think it’s real.”
Trump then lied. Flat out lied. In a night full of lies, Trump’s attempt to disavow climate denial was “bigly” the biggest.
“I did not. I did not,” Trump said, overtalking. “I do not say that.”
But Trump did say that. In a tweet in November of 2012, Trump insisted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
This is not the only time Trump has blasted climate change as a myth. Indeed, climate denial is a drum Trump likes to bang nearly as much as the racist birther lie.
In 2013 he tweeted, “We should be focused on clean and beautiful air-not expensive and business closing GLOBAL WARMING-a total hoax!”
In January 2014, he built on this conspiracy theory, tweeting, “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps.”
In his 2015 book, Trump wrote, “The whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is caused by carbon emissions. If you don’t buy that – and I don’t – then what we have is really just an expensive way of making tree-huggers feel good about themselves.”
On the presidential trail, Trump’s denial has been bald. “I don’t believe in climate change,” he told CNN in September 2015. That same month, he told Hugh Hewitt, “I’m not a believer in man-made global warming. It could be warming, and it’s going to start to cool at some point.” And he insisted on Morning Joe, “I think it’s weather. I think it’s weather changes.”
Trump’s climate denial is not simply a matter of personal opinion. He has plans to implement that denial official state policy – to disastrous consequences for the planet.
In an energy speech in May of this year, he outlined a plan to “rescind … the Climate Action Plan,” to “save the coal industry,” to “ask TransCanada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline” and to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement.”
In the spring Trump insisted of the Environmental Protection Agency, “We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left.” And this week he introduced the man he’s putting in charge of his transition planning for the EPA, Myron Ebell, one of the most notorious climate deniers in America.
Ebell has long run the climate disinformation campaign at Competitive Enterprise Institute, supported by Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute. He has been a top shill for oil company lies on global warming since the Bill Clinton presidency. Using industry-favored talking points, Ebell has sought to undermine “global warming alarmism” and has insisted that manmade climate change is “nothing to worry about.” (I wrote about Ebell’s destructive role in the climate politics of the Bush years for Rolling Stone in 2007.)
Under Trump, Ebell would become the quintessential fox guarding a henhouse. It is staggering that to imagine that would be determining what “tidbits” of environmental protection would remain in a Trump presidency. Almost as staggering as the fact that Trump would lie about his long record as a climate denier in front of as many as 100 million people.
Watch WTF moments from the first presidential debate.