Jack: The Poly Sci wisdom is that debates tend to reinforce the support among strong supporters; so it is the “undecided” voter, usually a moderate, that is the target of the candidates. Undecideds are still a large segment of the population, so this debate was important.
Jack: Clinton needed to reach out to where her favorability ratings were shaky or falling: young people who are interested in economic inequality and suburban white women who are concerned about whether Trump is “presidential.” Trump needed to present a presidential demeanor to reassure voters who would like to vote for him mainly because he is not Clinton. He didn’t accomplish that tonight.
Sasha: Given that, she succeeded. She presented as presidential while Trump interrupted her repeatedly, had several (albeit minor) implosions, and ended by saying she didn’t “look” presidential. He quickly changed the phrasing to a lack of “stamina;” or how he put it the second time he said it with emphasis: “stam-men-a” (code for testosterone?) Undecided women won’t like how he treated her; her base will solidify. She missed an opportunity, however, to remind voters that there are many female leaders of foreign countries and Trump will need a respectful demeanor to work with them.
Sasha: Trump avoided questions; he repeated himself; he sounded unschooled. However, his base likes that off-the-cuff, ready to rumble demeanor. But will this win him undecided voters? I don’t think so.
Final throw-in thoughts:
Clinton managed to act natural although she was obviously well-rehearsed, had control over her body language, and was very aware of how the camera was on her (and him) at all times.
Could Trump have been a bit ill? We thought he sniffled throughout the first half of the debate and his eyes looked almost closed, then he started to come around. But given that he has criticized Clinton’s health, he couldn’t very well claim illness, could he.
Finally, calling these performances “debates” is of course a misnomer. They are at best side-by-side press conferences. A serious debate consists of having a proposition (e.g., decreasing taxes on large businesses in order to create jobs), allowing each side time to argue for or against the proposition, questioning and challenging each other’s facts and analysis, and then giving closing statements. That presidential debates are in fact “debates” is debatable.