Donald Trump scored a gentleman's "C" in his first debate with Hillary Clinton. She was programmed, like one of those androids from the film "Westworld," spewing out well-rehearsed sound bites, smiling (sometimes condescendingly), and even tossing in a few wiggles. It was all designed to make her look warm and wonderful.
As the saying goes, if you can fake sincerity, you can fake anything.
Trump did best when he didn't focus on himself and this is the pattern he should follow in the next two debates.
As a seasoned debater, who has taken on professors and liberal thinkers on campuses from Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale in the east, to the University of California, Davis in the west, I think I can say without too much hubris that I know how to destroy a bad argument.
Let's start with the race issue. Hillary Clinton slammed Trump for comments she regards as racist. If she tries that again, Trump should extend the road he began to walk down Monday night. He was right to say that his opponent and her party have had decades to repair the racial divide (which President Obama suggested he would do), but that chasm has only widened over the last eight years. Real racism, Trump should say, is refusing to allow minority children in failing public schools to escape them in favor of better ones simply because many teachersâ€™ unions oppose school choice and contribute significantly to the Democratic Party.
Trump should take on the issue of poverty and propose a public-private partnership with churches and religious institutions that would be assigned an individual in need of help. These churches then would do all that was necessary to help that person escape poverty, including offering financial advice, access to education or even baby-sitting services so that this person could go to school. Retiring baby boomers could find new purpose in life by helping someone become independent of government programs, which have cost a lot, but have done little to reduce the number of poor.
Trump should ask Hillary Clinton why she thinks government is the answer to so many of the nation's problems when in reality it has too often caused or contributed to this country's ills. She wants to grow government even more, spending additional billions in borrowed money, mortgaging the futures of generations to come. Remember when Democrats decried debt? That was when a Republican occupied the White House.
Again, during Monday's debate, Trump started to make the case for success in business and in life, but he made it more about himself than others. Americans are inspired by stories of people who have overcome obstacles and Trump should not only tell their stories, he should start featuring them in his political ads and on stage with him -- as he has done with veterans. Inspiration has always been the fuel that ignites economic and personal growth.
One subject we didn't hear discussed in the first debate was the Constitution. Hillary Clinton said she believes in a "living Constitution," meaning it is open to interpretation by liberal judges to fit the times. What does Trump believe about our founding document?
On nuclear weapons, Trump needs to embrace Ronald Reagan's view (and that of President Obama) that they need to be reduced, especially in rogue regimes. Talk of using such weapons is irresponsible, though our adversaries must believe we would use them if attacked. The prospect of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War ensured nuclear weapons would not be used. Extremist regimes, like Iran, do not appear to fear a nuclear apocalypse.
Lastly, how about appealing to personal accountability and responsibility in the second debate? Let's hear about entitlement reform, entitlements being the main driver of debt. As I have argued, government should be a last resort, not a first resource -- a safety net, not a hammock.
More than missing emails and Hillary Clinton's character (which is already fixed in the minds of most people) voters want to hear about subjects that will affect their lives. It's about us, more than them. If Trump can close that deal, he is likely to score a "B" in the next debate. If he scores higher, he just might win in November.
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Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.