The debate last night was fairly mild. There were no real bombshells. There were no great fireworks; a town hall format lends itself to a more reserved debating style. Conservatives undoubtedly expected more from Trump. But hoping for a knockout punch was hardly realistic. They're rare in debates. Trump and Clinton both played to their bases primarily. Both made solid points in that regard. But it was no game changer.
Overall the race has settled into a status quo situation and the debate helped cement that. Changing the races in the battleground states is only going to be tougher now simply because time is running short. The real question now is how accurate the polls are. As soon as Trump caught up and was nosing ahead, suddenly there was a Clinton surge and it pre-dates the first debate. There was no reason for a momentum shift at that point. Several of the polls there was reason to suspect in terms of methodology, and I did write about them.
Thereès a lot of indicators that the polls may not be reflecting the electorate accurately this cycle. Some of the polls used a 2012 turnout model for predicting likely voters. That's pretty suspect because a great deal of voters who turned out for Obama - namely youth and African Americans - will simply not turn out in the same numbers for Hillary Clinton. This could turn out to be a very low turnout election. In addition there's an unknown Trump surge factor in the anti-establishment, anti-corruption voters. Some are predicting it could be as high as a 5% surge which would provide Trump a blowout win. That's not going to happen but it could be as high as 2% or 3%, which would be enough to push him over the top. It's an unknown and the polls don't reflect it. Or perhaps they do reflect some or all of it. There are alsos a lot of Sanders voters who still feel cheated by a DNC that moved to ensure he didn't win. Many will stay home or vote for Gary Johnson as a form of protest. Some may take the protest further and vote for Trump in a more meaningful protest. That remains to be seen.
But let's not delude ourselves. Many pieces of evidence about the polls are simply anecdotal and wanting to feel good about the race from conservatives and from Trump supporters. The polls show Clinton taking a lead and a Trump and this race is still either Clinton's to lose or neck-and-neck and a decisive debate would have helped either candidate. That didn't happen and it leaves one debate that could, unusually, decide things. Trump can't hang his hat on a devastating WikiLeaks scandal on Clinton because (1) the sex scandal on him probably didn't change much and (2) there may not be one on Clinton at all, and if there is, it also might not matter. If Trump is going to win this election he is going to have to count on his own success, not silent voters, not WikiLeaks and not another debate like round 1 or round 2. A solid debate from a man who 15 months ago hadn't really done any, and seemingly prefers not to prep for them, might be asking too much. However, he did seem better prepared in debate 2 in terms of polish and readiness. He's going to have to do even better next time around if he wants to be president.