Did Trump win this debate? Yes, if you ignore everything he said

It was one of the most outrageous debate performances of all time.

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher
CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

As soon as the presidential debate ended everyone wanted to know: Who won?

For some the answer was, clearly: Donald Trump.

A panel on CNN, immediately after the debate, declared the debate a “draw.” Others, including Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, declared Hillary Clinton the winner.

But at the very least, there was a heated debate about the outcome.

The debate about the debate belies what took place over 90 minutes. Donald Trump’s performance was far outside the norms of American politics. The fact that people are even talking about whether he won shows how severely Trump has distorted American political discourse.

There were at least three moments during the debate that would be virtually unthinkable in any other year.

Trump threatened to jail Hillary Clinton if he wins.

In democracies, political opponents compete for votes until election day. Once a winner is declared, the losers concede, and the campaign is over.


In dictatorships, however, things can work differently. Political opponents are routinely jailed as the winner seeks to consolidate power.

Tonight, in front of tens of millions of people, Donald Trump pledged to jail Hillary Clinton if he becomes president.

It was a stunning moment that effectively rejects hundreds years of American democratic tradition.

Trump admitted he has paid no federal income taxes

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Trump’s 1995 tax return revealed he filed nearly a $1 billion loss in a single year. The New York Times noted that Trump could have avoided taxes for nearly two decades using this loss.

Tonight, Trump admitted that he did, in fact, use that loss to avoid paying taxes.

COOPER: You claimed a $916 million loss which means you could have avoided paying personal income taxes for years.

You said you pay property taxes, real estate taxes. You have not answered a simple question. Did you use the loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes?

TRUMP: Of course I do.

He also talked about how he accumulated such a huge loss. One possibility was that Trump suffered an actual $1 billion loss. The other possibility is that Trump created a “paper loss” just to avoid paying taxes. Trump said it was the latter.

COOPER: Have you paid personal federal tax?

TRUMP: A lot of my write-off was depreciation and that Hillary as a senator allowed. The people that give her all this money want it. I understand it the tax code better than anybody that’s run for president.

Counting “depreciation” as a loss is a loophole that real estate investors can use to avoid paying taxes even though these losses may be invented. As ThinkProgress’ Bryce Covert has previously explained:

Developers are allowed to assume that the buildings they own lose value over time, or depreciate, and deduct that potential reduction against their income, no matter whether their buildings may be rising in value or not. They can also borrow money to buy more real estate properties and then deduct the interest they have to pay on that debt.

These tactics are not available to ordinary homeowners.

Confronted with a video of him bragging about sexual assault, Trump told a blatant lie.

The major controversy entering the debate was a video of Trump from 2005 bragging about sexual assault.

Anderson Cooper was very direct in his description of the video: “ You called what you said locker room banter — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women.”

“Do you understand that?” Anderson asked Trump.

“No, I didn’t say that at all,” Trump replied.

But that’s exactly what he said.

Many Republicans have withdrawn their support for Trump over the video. Others who haven’t yet done so nevertheless called on him to apologize and show contrition.

Trump did the opposite. He refused to even acknowledge what he said or why people are upset.