We don't yet know exactly what, if any, effect Wednesday night's debate had on the state of the 2016 presidential race. Polls take a few days to complete, giving news media a larger role in shaping opinions of debate performances and defining what the takeaways are.
Many across the political spectrum were deeply troubled by some of Trump’s comments in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening, especially his failure to accept the election results. However, it was clear his debate performances have improved over time.
He got better at deflecting attacks from Clinton, until he couldn’t take it anymore. “No, you’re the puppet!” he sputtered, when Clinton spoke of Vladimir Putin's election hacking. His attacks on Hillary were stronger and more precise, until he went too far, “such a nasty woman.”
If Trump had a few cycles under his belt, this race might have turned out differently.
Before the first debate on September 26, Clinton and Trump were virtually tied 52-48 in FiveThirtyEight's NowCast projection. Barely three days later, Clinton’s odds of winning on Nov. 8 had shot up to 78% — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Third debates don’t usually have much of an effect on presidential races, and this last one will likely follow the trend. While Trump’s base may have been galvanized once more by the attacks on Clinton and a better-than-usual early performance from their nominee, Trump made no attempt to win over the all-important demographics of college-educated white women and minorities.
This might be the first time in more than 60 years that Republicans lose the college-educated white vote.
It has been clear all along that Hillary Clinton and her team prepared extraordinarily well for each of the debates. She had a whole primary cycle against one of the strongest debaters we’ve seen in a long time in 2008 and a hard-fought primary in 2016.
Trump had a reality-show-like primary cycle, where insults reigned and structured policy answers were mocked.
To paraphrase what I’ve heard these past few months: If Donald Trump was more malleable, less impulsive and had just listened more to his Republican colleagues, Clinton could have lost the race.
Instead, Hillary Clinton looks well on her way to being the “youngest woman ever to serve as president,” as she mused yesterday evening at the Al Smith dinner in New York City.