All 3 judges say Hillary won. So Do I.
What the judges thought:
- Donald Trump came into this debate at a huge deficit, his campaign reeling from the release of a 2005 video on which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. So he had a big hole to climb out of, and he did not do it. He was snappish throughout, repeatedly interrupting Clinton and badgering the moderators. He repeated falsehoods -- that neighbors of the San Bernardino terrorists saw bombs in their apartment and said nothing, that he had never tweeted about a sex tape involving last week’s Trump target, a former Miss Universe. Trump’s target audience tonight -- the one that counted -- was small, composed of undecided women voters. If they’d wanted the unvarnished Trump, they would have been on his side already. They didn’t get much more tonight. Clinton, by contrast, was knowledgeable on policy matters and handled criticisms about her emails, her characterization of half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” and other matters more deftly than Trump dealt with a whole range of questions. It seems unlikely that he will benefit in any meaningful way from tonight’s debate, and it’s very possible she will benefit.
- This debate started with large segments of the Republican Party in full-scale flight from their nominee and polls showing him losing badly in almost every key battleground state. Trump’s only path to win was to somehow reverse that trajectory. That was probably an impossible task. Rather than tackle that challenge, Trump chose to indulge the anger of his most passionate supporters, who despise both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Nothing that happened over the debate’s 90 minutes seems likely to wipe away the multiple problems that have enveloped Trump’s campaign since these two last met on a debate stage; it may have made them worse.
- After all the predictions of fireworks, this debate dealt with the controversy over Trump’s brags of sexually abusive behavior toward women -- and his retaliatory revival of decades-old charges against Bill Clinton -- early and pretty quickly. What remained, by and large, was a repeat of the first debate: barrages of tough charges by each candidate against the other. But Clinton did a better job of laying out her policies and at arguing that her 30-year record proves that she can get things done. Trump, bent on relentless attacks, rarely remembered to explain his own policies or how he would be more effective. Both candidates appeared to be talking mostly to their existing bases of supporters -- Trump with his now-familiar talking points (many of them factually incorrect), Clinton by mentioning every interest in the Democratic coalition (climate change, gun control, LGBT rights). Bottom line: This wasn’t a game-changer -- which means it was a victory for Clinton. She’s ahead; she doesn’t need the game to change. Trump’s the candidate who needed to alter the direction of the race, and nothing he said or did suggests that he achieved that goal.