Paul Berman, with his first reactions to the presidential debate:
Toughness has been the issue all along in this campaign, and it has been Trump who insisted on making it so. Exactly why he has had a success in making this the issue is not entirely clear to me. Maybe it is because of a revulsion on some people’s part to President Barack Obama and his personal style—a revulsion not only because Obama is black but also because he is professorial and cerebral, unlike, say, his predecessor, George W. Bush. In any case, Trump with his rude behavior and outrageous remarks throughout the campaign has thrown down a challenge to one presumably tough character after another, to require everyone to respond. And no one has shown an ability to do so.
Trump said unforgiveable things to Jeb Bush about the Bush family and even about Jeb’s wife, and Jeb remained painfully courteous and placid. Trump’s insults of John McCain were preposterous; and McCain responded by endorsing Trump. Marco Rubio endorsed Trump. Paul Ryan endorsed Trump. The president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, having listened to Trump insult Mexico and the Mexican immigrants, responded by greeting him as if no insults at all had been said (to which Trump responded by returning to his insults later in the day). The only person to come under Trump’s insults who seemed to respond halfway admirably was Ted Cruz—and yet, in the end, Cruz, too, fell to his knees and endorsed Trump....
I do not know why the male v. female issue should be so much alive in the United States, when the world long ago underwent the spectacle of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and when Angela Merkel has for many years now been the most powerful person in Europe—even apart from the world’s experiences in observing Golda Meir in Israel and Michelle Bachelet in Chile and many other women leaders. But, for whatever reason, in America the male v. female issue has remained, in fact, alive. The election has been turning on this issue from the start, which is why Trump had his successes in out-machoing Jeb Bush and John McCain and everyone else. He was the Great Male Hope. And one hour ago—time has been passing—Hillary Clinton brought him down. At least, for the moment.