The morning after the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton claimed victory, while Donald Trump blamed host Lester Holt and his microphone for his performance. Clinton played up her serious preparation for the showdown, but she may have had another advantage: Trump's short attention span.
Unlike primary showdowns, general election debates are commercial free. There are also fewer candidates on stage to share the airtime. That means 90 minutes of focus. Was that too much for Trump to handle? According to Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Trump's breakout book, The Art of the Deal, Trump's defining personality trait is a short attention span. In a July New Yorker article titled "Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All," Schwartz claimed that Trump's lack of attention results in "a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance." Schwartz spent 18 months with Trump in the 1980s working on the book and told the magazine:
"It's impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . " Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump's inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. "If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it's impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time."
Clinton may have had another advantage: Donald Trump's short attention span.
Judging by the performance in the first debate, this lack of patience for the details and ability to concentrate for 90 minutes straight could already be hurting Trump. Clinton maintained better focus from beginning to end. Trump, on the other hand, started out hammering Clinton on NAFTA and her wavering positions on trade. He also drilled Clinton on her deleted emails. But as time went on, Trump became less coherent.
During a discussion about cyber warfare, he displayed the superficial knowledge Schwartz referenced, saying: "I have a son — he's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It's unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough." And he suggested that a 400-pound person hacked the DNC.
For his final question, Trump was asked whether he would accept the outcome of the election, and he gave a rambling answer, suggesting a lack of discipline: "The other day we were deporting 800 people and perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that it was corruption. But these people that we were going to deport, for good reason, ended up becoming citizens, ended up becoming citizens." We'll have to wait until the second debate on Oct. 9 to see if Trump addresses his focus, but if his ghostwriter is right, Trump won't change.