Fighting against a backdrop of terrible polls, Donald Trump desperately needed a gamechanging, momentum-reversing performance in last night’s third and final debate.
He didn’t produce it.
Compared to the two previous debates and perhaps above expectations, Trump actually performed pretty well. Focus groups of undecided voters on both CNN and CBS said he edged it and, live-tweeting for Betfair, I felt he earned at least a draw.
1) Another contentious debate but higher quality, less abusive than the last one. Trump held his own and did better than expectations.
— Betfair Exchange (@BetfairExchange) October 20, 2016
There were other positive indicators from the snap verdicts. CNN’s debate-viewer poll – which they acknowledge is slightly skewed towards the Democrats – showed a closer margin than last time at 52-39 to Clinton. On issues and authenticity, he earned a virtual tie.
However other key measurements indicated that Trump’s efforts were in vain. Asked whether the debate made them likelier to vote for either candidate, 23% said Trump, 22% Clinton and 55% no change. A huge 61-31 majority considered her to have better understanding of the issues. On being prepared for the presidency, Clinton dominated yet again, 59-35.
Therein lies Trump’s fundamental problems – he has never been regarded as qualified or temperamentally fit for office. I wrote before the first debate that he had a brief window to reset that image and improve longstanding unfavorables. Instead he reinforced it, doubled and tripled down afterwards – dealing fatal blows even before the groping tape and sexual assault allegations destroyed his credibility and candidacy.