Donald Trump went into tonight’s debate bleeding support from within the Republican party, and free-falling in the polls. In order to stanch the wounds, he needed to knock out Hillary Clinton, figuratively speaking. But at best he fought Clinton to a tie, and in the process offered American voters another glimpse of his tendency to become unhinged.
Where Trump appeared to lose control was in physically stalking Clinton across the stage, crowding her as she replied to questions, and speaking in a discourteous, bullying manner toward her throughout. Trump also threatened to prosecute and jail Clinton if he wins the White House, an unprecedented vow in a US election.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Trump went into the debate with only a 22.4% chance of winning on Nov. 8—and that was based on polls taken before the release of a 2005 tape in which he speaks of grabbing women “by the pussy.” After the video surfaced, more than two-dozen prominent Republicans, including several sitting US senators, called for him to withdraw from the race. Republicans began to panic that not only was Trump headed for defeat in the election, but that many down-ticket candidates were, too, in a way that could cost the party control of the Congress.
In order to turn all this around, Trump needed a categorical victory tonight. With a clear advantage, Clinton only needed to tie.
Trump did push Clinton into a corner with an attack about the deletion of 33,000 emails from her personal server after her term as US secretary of state. He also appeared to fight Clinton to a draw in an exchange over the lewd Trump tape, by dredging up the infidelities of her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and a decades-old case in which Hillary Clinton defended an accused rapist of a 12-year-old child.
As a consequence, Trump did show that he is still in the game, arguing that the tape scandal should be forgotten and offering plenty of fresh material to help ensure that this happens. But he did not land a knockout punch. This does not arguably reverse his slide.
If it was a tie, it goes to Clinton.