My expectations for Donald Trump are pretty low, so I felt like he did what he had to for Team GOP tonight: draw contrasts with himself on the right and Hillary on the left, and land some punches against her long record of failure and scandal and the threats she poses to causes conservative voters hold dear. This was not a great debate performance by any means; Trump’s discipline crumbled as he went along, and he did get sidetracked a few times. But he also didn’t go off-party-message sharply to the left or go down any rabbit holes as distracting as Alicia Machado. If you take as a given that Trump is losing this race and that the GOP just needed him not to drive down turnout, that’s a win. His answer on Hillary’s 30 years of failure was his best of the night, and her answer was prepared and premeditated yet unconvincing. I doubt this debate helps Trump, but it may at least avert any further reasons for free fall.
Hillary scored some serious debater’s points with Trump’s target-rich buffet of weaknesses, but only on a few occasions (notably her ire about sore losers, despite Al Gore’s status as America’s most famous election sore loser) did she show much genuine passion; her answers will read better on the page.
The real winner of the night was Chris Wallace, who kept the interruptions and editorializing to a minimum, asked some tough issue questions for both sides, and drew out answers that kept the focus on the candidates, not the moderator.