By all conventional political standards (demeanor, content, ideological consistency, etc.), Donald Trump should have lost the debate tonight. But then again, by all conventional political standards, Donald Trump shouldn’t be the GOP nominee, and thus, by that measurement, he shouldn’t even be on the stage.
But we are not in a conventional political election cycle, and so until we see the polling results in the coming days, it’s much too early to call the debate for Hillary Clinton. What I can say with confidence, however, is that Trump’s performance was gruesome, cringe-inducing, and possibly, crippling. Trump eye-rolled, gas-faced and interrupted his way through 90 minutes worth of “debate,” and got suckered into responding to several things he should have let slide (e.g. the birther issue, the unpaid architect charge, etc.). He played the predictable role of an aggressive boar, reinforcing all of the negatives that undecideds have heard about him.
Even if Trump continues to defy gravity and manages to actually see a bump in the polls from tonight’s performance, he still missed a critical opportunity to knock Hillary Clinton out for good. All he needed to do was introduce himself to independent voters, look presidential, and reassure the not-insignificant numbers of conservatives who can’t stomach Clinton, but expect a little more from a Republican presidential candidate than we’ve gotten so far.
Since his convention speech, I’ve been waiting for Trump to give me a reason to vote for him. Any reason at all. Because I sure don’t like the idea of a Hillary Clinton administration, and that’s before we start a discussion of her very serious health problems.
And so I watched the first presidential debate, expecting (hoping for?) Trump to project some semblance of presidential confidence, authority and wisdom, and expecting to see Hillary cough her way through the usual lines we’ve heard her spout for the better part of the past three decades.
Instead, Trump merely lived up to his own caricature, while Clinton managed to accomplish exactly the opposite: she looked healthy and talked for 90 straight minutes without a cough, a seizure, or a complete blackout. By conventional political standards, tonight’s debate should be a huge win for Hillary Clinton.
Trump is doing better with undecideds than even with Trump-leaners.
He is actually winning. #DebateNight pic.twitter.com/MU1TyGImZf
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) September 27, 2016