If you tuned into the debate expecting to see Donald Trump implode, you have my sympathy. While no one will confuse him with a member of the Oxford debating team, he was a lot better than in the first debate, which, I know, may not be saying all that much. But given the low bar, he actually did okay.
The question, of course, is with less than a month before the election is okay good enough.
Probably not, is my guess. As David French put it in a post-debate on line piece for National Review, "All Trump did tonight was live to lose another day."
He had been on the ropes before the debate even began, given his poor performance in the first debate and the release a few days ago of that video where Trump can be heard making crude and vulgar remarks about women.
It was just "locker room" talk, Trump said more than once. But Hillary couldn't deliver the knockout blow. So Trump was able to stop his own bleeding. But it's not likely that anyone who wasn't in his corner before the debate is there now.
As for Hillary, she was her usual less than scintillating self. But political pro that she is she knows how to show empathy, even when it's just make believe. And in town hall debates, empathy matters. So she didn't simply answer questions from real people in the audience, she walked toward them. She seemed concerned about them. She came off as sincere - proof that George Burns was right when he said that to be successful you have to be sincere. And once you learn how to fake sincerity you've got it made.
Hillary learned that lesson a long time ago.
I think Trump missed a big opportunity to hammer Clinton over a leaked email that purportedly reveals a conversation she had with Latin American bankers, telling them that her "dream" is to have a hemispheric common market with "open borders."
Trump has accused her of just that for quite some time and has been hammered by the fact-checkers who contended Clinton never said she was for open borders. Well, she never said it publicly anyway.
Neither the moderators nor the undecided voters in the audience brought up the subject. Trump should have. It would have been a winner. Most Americans don't want open borders and all that the idea implies.
Hillary's dream would mean millions of poor people from Mexico and Central America would stream into the United States looking for work and driving wages down for other poor people. Her dream would mean that millions of kids who don't speak English would enter our already crowded public schools. Her open border dream would also make roads more congested, housing more scarce and life generally tougher for everybody else in the United States, including immigrants already here.
While there were no knockouts, there were a lot of punches thrown. At one point, Trump threw a haymaker, calling his opponent a "devil." She implied he was a bigot who didn't have the temperament to be president.
And when she said, "It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country," Trump simply fired back with, "Because you'd be in jail."
That round went to the underdog.