The first thing to say is that Hillary Clinton won this debate. She won the debate when it should have been almost impossible for her to do so.
Why do I say it should have been impossible? The answer is that Donald Trump faced a super low bar of expectations. Basically, all he had to do was to appear calm, decent, and rational. Despite that, he tripped over a bar sitting at ankle height.
He had moments. Hillary referenced her vast experience. He made out a case that much of it was bad experience for the country. When she offered a short treatise on the implicit racism of police officers and systemic racism in the nation, he responded with a call for law and order for the benefit of people in the inner cities who have to live in unsafe conditions. I thought that was reasonably well done.
He missed a big opportunity. Hillary talked about how he had been very fortunate to have a rich father. I thought he could have responded that she “had the great fortune to marry the future president of the United States.” But he missed that.
In addition, let’s face it, he was a boor. He frequently interrupted Hillary during her turn to speak. When it was his turn, he often rambled and struggled to make a point. There was a low information density to his answers.
But what about Hillary’s performance? She betrayed no sign of ill health. The concentration was there. So was the patience and endurance. I have to give her credit for being alert enough to tweak Trump at virtually every opportunity. She knew what the points of attack were and she pressed them relentlessly.
And how about the email controversy? Hillary was asked about it and made no attempt to excuse or explain. She simply said that she made a mistake and takes responsibility.
Trump attempted to push that point, but he would have been wise to follow her example. When she pointed to issues regarding his taxes, bankruptcies, etc., he put forward long, windy rationalizations that just made him look untrustworthy. It would have been better for him to say that he has spent his life in an ultra-competitive business environment and often competed in a cutthroat way. He might have regrets, but you’d want somebody as tough as him looking out for the country. Something like that. And again, he may have tried to basically say that but it was lost in the meandering mess of rhetoric.
By the end, Trump seemed deflated and beaten (and so was I). He walked off the stage with his family while Hillary stayed up front shaking hands and smiling. She knew she’d thrashed him.