Toward the end of the first galactically anticipated and unsparingly promoted debate between presidential hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Republican’s standard bearer tried to inject a bit of levity that received little attention but may have capsulized his entire candidacy.

Trump was making a pitch for his new luxury hotel scheduled to open soon just blocks away from the White House—a remake of the historic 1899 Old Post Office.

With typical bravado, Trump snorted, “So if I don’t get there one way, I’m going to get to Pennsylvania Avenue another (way). But we’re opening the old post office under budget, ahead of schedule.”

If we are to put credence in a majority of those polled after the debate, indications are that this may be the closest he ever gets to the White House. Of course the candidates will have two more televised smack-downs that might move us further toward settling that issue.

However, this barely noticed attempt at humor may speak volumes about Trump’s entire approach to what is a deadly-serious enterprise and certainly a bit nobler than the non-stop accumulation of glitzy real estate.

Trump boasts that his principal qualification for assuming the presidency is his success as a businessman —which prompted Hillary Clinton to say, “If your main claim to be president of the United States is your business, then I think we should talk about that.”

Which is exactly what took place with Trump doing most of the talking.  In doing so he keeps digging a deeper hole for himself with comments not likely to please the middle class voters and blue collars that he is counting upon if he is to have any chance of winning.

After Clinton alluded to comments Trump made in 2007 about how “excited” he was for the impending housing market crash the real estate tycoon retorted, “I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.” And just to be sure nobody missed the point he added, “That’s called business.”

Such a cavalier rejoinder like so many similar jibes which have become a Trumpian trademark may be a sincere reflection of his inner-most views.  If so how does it help to capture the hearts of the millions of workers who were thrown out on the streets and lost their homes as a result of the Great Recession?

How can it be that those cheering most lustily for him cannot see that any cures he may have for their legitimate grievances in being left behind which he has so far failed to articulate are likely to make them only poorer while Trump continues to prosper.

How do we judge the sincerity of one’s convictions if their underlying motive is ego-inflation and self-aggrandizement at the expense of those whose pains are genuine and their needs very real?

These are questions the voters will want to sort out before they cast their ballots.

Candor and unswerving honesty is an admirable trait for which—to be candid– both candidates have been accused of shortage even if a quick survey will show numerous examples of whoppers told by presidential aspirants throughout our history with no edge to any party.

Both Chester Arthur (R) in the early 1800s and Gary Hart (D) in the 1980s lied about their ages; In 1880, James Garfield (R) Arthur’s successor, denied taking a bribe (which he had) in the infamous Credit Mobilier bank scandal;

William Henry Harrison (Whig Party) in the 1800s labelled himself the “log cabin” candidate and man of the people though he came from great wealth. And in 1828, Andrew Jackson (D) blamed a “corrupt bargain” never proven, on his failure to win the first time he ran.

In this century, Jimmy Carter (D), the self-described “peanut farmer” oversaw a giant agribusiness and had a graduate degree in engineering though he sported the title of nuclear physicist; Richard Nixon and Watergate need no explanation.

Ronald Reagan (R) was dissembling about the so-called Iran-Contra affair; John Edwards (D) lied about an extra-marital tryst which once exposed ended his troubled presidential bid.

And so it goes.

In a presidential race where lack of trustworthiness has taken the spotlight, the honesty factor should not be easily dismissed but needs to be examined in the context in which it is portrayed.

Clinton’s failure to release certain emails, notwithstanding the absence of any evidence that harm was done, and her belated acknowledgement of that fact showed an egregious lapse in judgement.

She has been exonerated of any serious wrongdoing by no less a guardian against lawless behavior than the FBI and in the debate she once again admitted the “mistake.” Continuing to pound that episode into the voter’s conscience will not make it into something more and its effectiveness is now questionable.

Still, it hardly reaches the level of mendacity associated with Trump University, the now defunct institution which is being sued by New York’s Attorney General for outright fraud. Trump has denied any responsibility and has instead attacked the Mexican judge hearing the case.

However if Trump and his advisors see any connection between ethical business practices and smart campaign strategy, they are doing a good job of masking those insights.

Instead in the debate he appeared to be not hearing what he was saying, doubling down on the insensitive aspersions which carried him so well through the primaries and apparently mindless of any damage he is doing to his own cause.

When Clinton slammed him for failing to release his tax returns theorizing that perhaps he had not paid his fair share of federal taxes, Trump responded, “That makes me smart.”

It was probably at about that moment when a group of “undecided” Florida residents gathered together at a CNN studio to watch the debate concurred overwhelmingly that based on this performance they were now inclined to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton.

Based on early word coming out of the Trump camp which has now undergone a third managerial make-over with the hiring of Stephen K. Bannon, a former executive imported from the ultra-right wing Breitbart News to run the campaign, the plan is to re-introduce an even more aggressive and combative Trump at the second debate scheduled for Washington University in St. Louis on October 9th.

If Trump takes off both gloves and unleashes a steady stream of invective once again devoid of any substance, Clinton may want to say even less than she did in the first go-around as the Democrats look on cheering.

If he makes the attacks more personal as he hinted he might do at the conclusion of the Hofstra debate bringing up her husband’s infidelities and tries to rehash Whitewater, Vince Foster and the usual hot button topics to the delight of his more rabid supporters, the distance in the polls where her slim lead remains troubling could begin to widen.

The pure entertainment phase of this extraordinary election cycle is coming to an end and the uncommitted voters have begun taking a hard look.

It boils down to a stark choice between two very different skill sets and temperaments:

One features a hard-boiled businessman with zero knowledge about the nature of governance and the complex, highly nuanced rules by which it is conducted who sees politics as just a more exotic version of a high stakes card game in which the one with the stronger hand must undoubtedly come out the winner.

For Trump it’s all in “the art of the deal” regardless of how, to whom or what you are dealing.

The alternative is an individual whose life’s calling has been trying to discern and implement what takes priority on the public agenda—sometimes missing the mark. Clinton is certainly not infallible (name a single politician who is), may hold views that are disagreeable to many, and comes off preachy and even arrogant.

But those things do not earn big demerits in a profession where few angels are hoping to get in.

She at least understands that with the accrual of vast power come solemn responsibilities for one’s own actions for which she is prepared to be held accountable and is well-tested.

In Trump there are seemingly no rules or laws that cannot be bent. With Clinton, rules and laws mean something and she accepts that you can only lead within the parameters allowed or face the consequences.

The great writer and political philosopher, Walter Lippmann, wrote at the beginning of the last century,

“Unless democracy is to commit suicide by consenting to its own destruction, it will have to find some formidable answer to those who come to it saying: I demand from you in the name of your principles the rights which I shall deny to you later in the name of my principals.”

That observation may be worth heeding as we approach November.