The Democratic line, courtesy of the Cajun Rattlesnake himself, James Carville:
I can’t imagine that after what we saw tonight the needle doesn’t move some.
He was just bad.
I’ve talked to a lot of people that have done a lot of research and these sort of instant things, these dial groups. I think what you hear around this panel is pretty much shared by the research that I’ve seen tonight.
Yeah, she was prepared, she was solid, she did a good job. He just kind of — as he went further into it… He just — the further they went, the worse it got. They almost wanted to throw the towel in after 90 minutes. That’s enough.
The Neocon take, as per Charles Krauthammer:
It was not exactly the knock out fight that we thought. It was a spirited fight. I think in the end it was something like a draw. But I do believe that the draw goes to the challenger in the sense that Trump did not go over the line. And the very fact he could go 90 minutes on the same stage ultimately elevates the challenger, that’s just automatic for any debate of that support.
I think he did allow himself to get very defensive and she exploited that. She kept coming back for things where he wasted a lot of time on taxes, on some of the other issues he felt personally about, and, as a result, he missed a lot of opportunities. She presented herself as she always does. Solid, solid, knows her stuff, not terribly exciting but reliable. I think that is the best she can do. Likable, she couldn’t but that is not something within her reach.
He contained himself in the sense that I don’t think he committed any gaffes but he allowed himself — she could find out something personal about him that would make him down rabbit holes at a time when he had wide openings to go after her on e-mails and other items, and let them go.
The Master Persuader impression, from Scott Adams
Trump only had to solve one problem at the debate: Seem less scary. He did. Think about it. Clinton won the debate on points but looked like a recently turned zombie learning to smile for the first time. Trump was Trump. Tie.
My perspective, which should be largely discounted because, as is my habit, I did not watch a single moment of it. Partly because it’s not worth staying up for, but also because I think I get a better take on the reaction to the debate by not having any personal impression to discount.
My verdict: a minor Trump victory that will not get in the way of the polls continuing to gradually move in his favor towards the predicted Trumpslide.
This is a testable conclusion. If I am correct, the polls will continue to move modestly Trumpward. A minor Hillary win will arrest the polls at the virtual tie point that was reported pre-debate. A big Hillary win would start gradually reversing them, and a big Trump win would trigger the preference cascade and see Trump rapidly move into an unassailable lead.
The important thing to remember is that the substance of the debate, the actual words, the stuff that the media discusses, is only about one-third of the effect of the debate. Hillary clearly won the words portion thanks to Trump allowing himself to be distracted and failing to take advantage of the numerous openings she gave him. But with the non-verbal aspect, the candidates each had to meet a separate objective. Trump had to appear convincingly presidential and look as he merited being on the stage. Hillary had to appear healthy and sane.
Trump did the former. While Hillary didn’t collapse, go on a coughing jag, or go into full bobblehead mode, words such as “creepy” and “zombie” and “weird”and “Nixon” appeared often enough in reactions to the debate that it is clear she failed the optics element.
Remember, people’s reactions are cemented at distinct and unique moments that vary considerably from one person to the next. I was both mystified and amused by the reactions of some people to my debate with Robert Murphy; I couldn’t relate to their perceptions of either party and I was not only there, I was one of them! So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s even possible to isolate two, or three, or ten factors that will trigger the decision response in a viewer, as it could be a weird smile, a convincing phrase, or a momentary look of confusion that does it.
Peter Grant wasn’t impressed with either candidate’s performance, but noted a substantive distinction between the two:
What did strike me was the contrast between the candidates’ approaches to the rest of the world. Donald Trump was emphatic about protecting American jobs and our national economy, if necessary by renegotiating international trade agreements, restricting immigration, etc. Hillary Clinton was much more globalist in orientation, looking to admit more refugees, work together with other nations (whatever that means), and so on. She basically saw the United States as just one nation among many, whereas Donald Trump saw it as the ‘first among equals’ with the right to put its own interests first.
And Scott Adams’s considered conclusion:
The most interesting question has to do with what problem both of them were trying to solve with the debate. Clinton tried to look healthy, and as I mentioned, I don’t think she completely succeeded. But Trump needed to solve exactly one problem: Look less scary. Trump needed to counter Clinton’s successful branding of him as having a bad temperament to the point of being dangerous to the country. Trump accomplished exactly that…by…losing the debate.
Trump was defensive, and debated poorly at points, but he did not look crazy. And pundits noticed that he intentionally avoided using his strongest attacks regarding Bill Clinton’s scandals. In other words, he showed control. He stayed in the presidential zone under pressure. And in so doing, he solved for his only remaining problem. He looked safer.