Last night I stayed up to watch the second Clinton Trump debate. I really wish I hadn’t. It was truly awful. It did not merit the word debate. There was no engagement or exchange of ideas or views. Even as a blood and gore spectacle it failed as it delivered neither.
Instead, there was a tired and turgid trading of insults, charges and counter charges. The “Town Hall” audience went largely ignored, though Clinton did at least make some attempt to engage with them.
As some illustration of this, in the space of the first 30 minutes only one audience member got a chance to ask a question.
Indeed, when the moderators finally moved to bring in a question from a second audience member, Donald Trump exploded, protesting how he had not been given a chance to explain himself fully, going so far as to accuse the moderators of ganging up with Hillary against him.
Though Clinton won the debate on points, Trump did succeed in his baseline objective and has probably halted the decline in his campaign, the question though is for how long?
The furore over the Hot Mic recording of Trump’s vulgar comments about women had even moved his loyal VP running mate, Mike Pence, to cancel some campaign appearances and say that Trump’s remarks could not be condoned or defended.
Only a few hours before the debate started it seemed as if the GOP leadership was set to abandon him and focus on the tight House and Senate race.
Their nerves were not soothed two hours before the debate start by Trump’s surprise press conference where he appeared with four women, including three who have accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them.
It was the classic Trump response. Accused of saying or doing something wrong, double down on that something. His reducing core base will love it, but it will not help him move a single vote out of the undecided into his column.
Hillary’s response, both before and during the debate, was to follow the advice offered by Michelle Obama at the Democratic Convention, when they go low, you go high. And when Trump goes low, he goes really low.
Not content with comparing Hillary to Satan he went on to threaten that he would move to have her prosecuted and thrown in jail if he was elected.
It was a low point, not just in last night’s debate, but in the history of US Presidential debates. But it is something that will likely come back to bite him in the coming days. And it’s not the only thing.
Not content with claiming powers that no constitutional president could or should have, he also threw his running mate under the bus on the topic of military intervention in Syria.
At the VP debate, Pence had spoken of the possibility of safe, even no-fly zones for Syrian civilians – Trump flatly contradicted Pence, dismissing any humanitarian intervention. This despite Trump himself having previously spoken of the possibility.
And, as if policy making on the hoof was not enough, Trump also seemed to openly admit that he had used a $900m loss to avoid paying income for decades, putting his “that’s smart” tax strategy front and centre in the final weeks.
So perverse and depressing is this campaign that you can say that a guy who made those three debating errors still had a good night. Expectations and standards are now so low that not imploding is an achievement.
The Hillary Clinton on show last night did not seem as sharp and edgy as the one who showed up in Debate one.
Perhaps it was the “we go high when they go low” thing, but she seemed less interested in baiting him, indeed she even allowed him land a few punches, particularly in areas where he is especially weak, like trade deals and her email servers.
This was not due to a lack of stamina however. It seemed almost to be a deliberate strategy as if the prospect of Trump crashing out of the race now was not an outcome she relished.
So, my verdict? Clinton shaded a win on points. Neither candidate won anyone new over to their cause. Trump, at best, may have stopped others abandoning him for a day or so.
In the meantime, we wait to see if there are any more Trump hot mic recording out there, Geraldo Rivera suggested yesterday that he knew of some and I resolve to give Debate III in ten days time a miss.