If Trump strategists feared a knockout blow in the second presidential debate, they need not have worried.
Donald Trump won the second presidential debate not because he performed much better than Hillary Clinton, but by virtue of the fact he was still standing at the end. With senior Republicans deserting his campaign over the weekend, he went into the auditorium with his campaign holed, and listing.
And he was shaky alright – veering in the self-same answer from half-hearted apology for his “locker-room” language to sweeping assertions about his ability to take on ISIS… wheezing and sniffing; pacing the stage restlessly.
If Trump strategists feared a knockout blow, they need not have worried. Hillary Clinton had decided not to engage. She did not shake his hand, she rarely looked at him (instead focussing on questioners), and she did not challenge him directly.
The stated desire was to rise above the dirt – “When they go low, we go high,” as she said, quoting Michelle Obama, but the lack of emotion or passion left her seeming oddly disengaged. She constantly referred viewers to the “fact-checking” on her campaign website – an approach that suits a discussion of fine policy detail. Here, though, the accusations could not have been more personal and grievous – among them that she covered up violent sexual misdemeanours committed by her husband.
It was a safety-first approach, understandable given the lead Hillary Clinton enjoys, but one that allowed the Republican candidate to grow in confidence as the debate progressed.
Should Donald Trump go on to win the Presidency, the Clinton team will look back at this debate as a missed opportunity – a moment when, at his self-inflicted lowest point, she failed to capitalise.