The political events of the last 15 months have ruined my confidence in my own ability to predict how the electorate will react to events.
So here are a few pieces of evidence, aside from my own impressions from watching, that Clinton got the best of Trump at Monday’s debate.
- Prediction markets moved toward Clinton during the debate. PredictWise, which aggregates odds from betting markets and bookmakers, showed her odds of winning the presidency rising from 69% before the debate to 73% after.
- TV news focus groups said Clinton clearly won. The CBS undecided voter focus group, run by Frank Luntz, gave it to her by a margin of 16 to six; CNN’s gave it to her by 18 to two.
- Trump’s own surrogates won’t argue forcefully that he won. The rules of this are usually simple: If you’re a surrogate, you go into the spin room after the debate and say your candidate killed it. Clinton’s supporters are following the usual script. But lots of Trump supporters can’t even bring themselves to do that. Laura Ingraham said on Fox News that Trump left a lot of material on the table and complained about Lester Holt’s topic choices. Even Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager who now works for CNN, would only say Trump won the first half of the debate.
- One focus group participant said something telling. A CNN panelist who gave the win to Clinton noted, approvingly, that she “took control of the situation.” This is true: She projected confidence and brought up topics that were difficult for Trump, while Trump failed to raise many of his strengths and her weaknesses. Trump spent 25 words on Rosie O’Donnell, yet said nothing about the wall, the Clinton Foundation, or Clinton’s comment about “deplorables.”
- Trump skipped a post-debate victory party he was supposed to attend and went straight home. Trump said he enjoyed the debate but didn’t seem too eager celebrate. Maybe he was sad, or was feeling low-energy, or lacked the stamina to greet his supporters.
My mind keeps sticking on point four. Clinton drove the debate. This was a big shift from the primary debates, of which Trump was the dominant star, and that undermines one of his big appeals to his fans — that he’s the strong guy in charge of everything.
We’ll have to see over the next few days whether the debate mattered at all for the polling, but those are a few signs she got the best of it.
This is an editorial. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.
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