One of the more confusing moments of Monday night’s debate came during a discussion about presidential temperament.
A lot of voters ― millions, probably ― have wondered if Donald Trump has the proper temperament for the job. People in the audience laughed when he claimed to have a better disposition than his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament,” he boasted. “I have a winning temperament. I know how to win.”
But as moderator Lester Holt tried to turn to Clinton for a retort, Trump didn’t step back from the microphone. He accused Clinton of having some kind of unpresidential meltdown in some way related to the AFL-CIO labor federation.
“The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don’t know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control,” Trump declared. “I said, there’s a person with a temperament that’s got a problem.”
At the time, nobody seemed to know what Trump was referencing. The Huffington Post, eager to learn more about Clinton’s heretofore unreported implosion, asked the AFL-CIO what Trump was talking about.
“Actually, we’re not quite sure what he was referencing either,” Jasmine Nazarett, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman, responded by email.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks was able to clear up the confusion. She told HuffPost that Trump was probably referring to a recent speech by Clinton that addressed “why she wasn’t leading by 50 points” in the polls.
That steered us to a clip of Clinton speaking by video last week to members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LiUNA, which has endorsed her. (Trump must have been confused on this point: LiUNA is not the AFL-CIO, although it is a member of the larger federation.)
In the video, Clinton urges union members to help her make the case against Trump, running through the reasons why she said he’d be a bad president for union workers.
“Having said all of this, why aren’t I 50 points ahead, you might ask,” Clinton continues in the video. “Well, the choice for working families has never been clearer. I need your help to get Donald Trump’s record out to everybody. Nobody should be fooled.”
Breitbart picked up on the video and paired it with a misleading headline: “Hillary Clinton Shouts At Camera: ‘Why Aren’t I 50 Points Ahead’ Of Donald Trump?” Of course, Clinton was not asking that question earnestly; she merely said that some LiUNA members might be wondering why she wasn’t up 50 points if Trump’s as bad as she claims. And whether Clinton was actually shouting probably depends on whether the listener was a man or a woman.
Like many female candidates running for high office, Clinton has had to negotiate male voters’ unforgiving line between “strong and passionate leader” and “overbearing and shrill crazy woman.” Speak calmly and seek common ground, and you’re not presidential. Speak strongly and forcefully, and they tell you to lighten up and stop yelling.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto wrote that Clinton came off as “bitter and angry” in her LiUNA speech. He urged Trump to watch the video ahead of the debate, “if for no other reason than to boost his confidence.”
Apparently, Trump did watch.