Both candidates came out in full force tonight. This was clearly the best debate of the three. There was substance, thanks to moderator Chris Wallace, and discipline. While I and a lot of other people expected Donald Trump to slash and burn tonight and throw everything at Hillary Clinton, the format just didn’t allow too much of that. His problem with his lewd videotape and charges of assault made by 9 women. Trump claimed they were all liars – and he did not go after any lurid charges against Clinton or her husband. He was right to not do that. It would have backfired.
I think both candidates gave their supporters enough to latch on. Trump probably helped himself by making up at least some of the lost ground of the past two weeks. He raised serious questions about Clinton as a candidate who lack good judgment and instincts – and let both John Podesta and Bernie Sanders do the talking via Wikileaks. For her part, Clinton said that Trump refused to condemn Vladimir Putin and Russia for evidence of their involvement in hacking her and her staff’s emails.
The differences between the two candidates were predictable. Trump evolved into the traditional conservative on guns, abortion, and strict construction on the Supreme Court. Clinton was the liberal/progressive on all those issues. She took the high ground effectively calling for inclusion and the better angels of our nature, setting the table to attack Trump once again for his divisive message. They argued over who should pay for our alliances, NAFTA, over Syria and ISIS – things we have heard before. He got in a good shot at her by being disingenuous on the Trans Pacific Partnership and several times he charged her for talking for 30 years but never getting anything done. He reminded viewers that Bill Clinton intercepted the US Attorney General on a plane right before the FBI decision to not charge her over her destroyed emails. And he said a four-star general will probably go to prison for something far less egregious.
The Clinton and Trump Foundations were raised but there were no knockout blows.
Trump clearly hurt himself by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the election results if he loses. “She should not even have been allowed to run”, Trump said.
But the night belonged to Clinton. She was credible, modulated yet forceful, and prepared. While Trump may have made up some of what he has lost, his capacity to grow his constituency was already wounded before tonight. He could only raise serious questions about Clinton. He did but probably did not do her any damage.
So where do we stand and where will we stand after tonight? I am a big fan of the Investors Business Daily/TIPP Poll. Today’s numbers showed Trump leading by one. Rasmussen has Trump up by one and the LA Times/USC Poll has it tied. Other polls show Clinton with a big lead. The truth is that we pollsters just do not yet know who is going to show up to vote. The internals in each of these polls show differing levels of support among Millennials. But some things are clear. Young women hold the balance in this race just as they were critical in re-electing Barack Obama in 2012. Trump did not sufficiently raise enough questions about Clinton to rule out their voting for her. But Clinton clearly made a strong case for why they should.
The night belonged to Hillary Clinton.