The first and potentially only debate pitting the two candidates for White House against each other revealed that only one, Hillary Clinton, is genuinely presidential. The Democratic candidate was able to show off her best qualities including a remarkable ability to grasp and retain even the smallest policy detail. Her Republican rival, Donald Trump, had come into the debate with a slightly less maverick image, sticking to crafted scripts and sounding almost reasonable on issues like immigration and Barack Obama’s supposed foreign birth. But he reverted to his original free-wheeling style and came out looking, both in temperament and in substance, as terribly unready to assume the most powerful political office in the world.
On foreign policy, Ms Clinton’s lead over her Republican rival was almost embarrassing. Which is why, as she noted, the idea of a Trump administration has unnerved US allies across the world. It is no secret that almost no government in the world — though Mr Trump’s admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin has earned him points in Moscow — would like to see him elected. Even governments that are not necessarily friendly to Washington would prefer a predictable figure in charge of the US nuclear arsenal and war machine.
And Mr Trump’s claims to have a “secret plan” to destroy the Islamic State would rightly be seen by the terrorist state as evidence that, in fact, he has no idea what to do about them. The fact is that given the paucity of talent in his campaign team, zero evidence that his more outrageous statements are just playing to the gallery and his controversial policy views, Mr Trump would be a disastrous chief executive for the US. His belief that climate change is bunkum, if translated into actual US government actions, would potentially put entire populations if not the planet at risk.
Yet the volatile state of the US domestic polity is such that most governments would prefer not to say this for fear of angering US voters and giving Mr Trump a fillip. In terms of the popular vote, the polls show Mr Trump eating away at Ms Clinton’s earlier lead. This need not translate into him winning the Electoral College, which decides the presidency. But that is not a definite certainty.
White working-class anger against the ruling establishment remains powerful — and it is this resentment that has allowed Mr Trump to reach the place he is today. Almost a quarter of US voters remains undecided or is looking at third party candidates. These are ‘floaters’ — undecided voters — who could easily swing the election one way or another. As voting day comes closer, traditionally this type of voter goes for the candidate who shows the most leadership ability. After the presidential debate on Monday, it is evident that this person is Ms Clinton despite her personal failings. The next step is to persuade the US voter that “presidential” is what their country and the world need.