I've just finished watching the #2 US Presidential Debate, chaired by Anderson Cooper - for whom I have a reasonable amount of respect as a more-fair-than-average interviewer - and Martha Raddatz, who was hopelessly out of her depth and showing awful bias. Coming out of the debate, I have one question for Hillary: how, with all the advantages you had two hours ago, did you manage to lose?
Going into this debate, Hillary had Donald cornered by the media after his not terribly edifying 2005 remarks about pussy-grabbing opportunities in showbiz were reported. Near-universal media agreement was that The Donald was fatally holed beneath the waterline. Even Trump's own Vice President pick, Pence, was publicly disapproving of Trump's comments. Republican senators and Congress critters were denouncing Trump and saying they wouldn't vote for it. In golf, this would be like being 2 inches away from the hole when your opponent is 200 yards away in a bunker, and it has just started to rain.
And yet... Hillary missed the putt, kept missing it, and Donald chipped his ball onto the green and snuck it into the hole before Hillary found her game.
Trump is not a great public speaker. His train of thought wanders as he speaks, and he assumes technical and factual knowledge in the audience rather than explaining as he goes along. These traits were in full display this evening. A great example was in the "birther" issue where Hillary accused Trump of asking the "racist" question about whether President Obama had actually been born in the USA. Trump (accurately) pointed out that this issue had first been raised by Hillary's consiglieri Sidney Blumenthal, but he did it in such an indirect way that anyone not substantially familiar with the people concerned would have had no idea what he was talking about and how it was tied to Hillary.
Still, somehow he did a better job of debating than Hillary herself. Tonight's debate format seemed to work better for him, because he's comfortable doing spontaneous exposition on topics. Hillary is awful at this, visibly working her way through pre-prepared points on each topic rather than going with the flow of the question and debate. Trump was prone to wander off the thread to include the attacks he wanted to make on Hillary (Bill's disbarring, Russia, black poverty, Syria, tax policy and of course her email server) but seemed to make most of it stick and force Hillary to respond.
Raddatz did her best to cover for Hillary's poor quality responses - Cooper, to his credit, did not - but it seemed clear to me that Trump had managed to bring up nearly all the Hillary dirty laundry that he had avoided in the first debate. Hillary did a variable job in responding to these points, but looked really weak on Russia/Syria, and her responses on the email server were strong but - frankly - flat-out lies. If Donald could learn to speak with more clarity and focus, he'd crucify her. As it was, this was a win on points only, but compared to expectations Donald killed it tonight.
Why was the pussy-grab tape such a non-event in this debate? I think it was because of the apology. Trump apologised for what he said on the tape a few hours after it was publicised, and did so again in the debate as soon as it was brought up. Once he'd done that, it was much harder for Hillary to use it as leverage. "He said these horrible things!" "I've apologised for that, you heard me." Where do you go from there? You can try "this shows what he thinks about women!" but Trump was willing to go on the offense about Bill Clinton and his bimbo eruptions - perhaps the lack of challenge in this area is a sign of how vulnerable Hillary thinks she is here.
By contrast, Hillary's mea culpa for the email server still had a whiff of "I'm sorry I got caught" - her assertions around "no evidence that anyone hacked the server" were incredibly weaselly. A responsible candidate would have agreed that it was quite likely that unfriendly nations had got at least some access to that server, and taken personal responsibility for any consequences arising from their decision to use it.
Conclusion? It's still game on for November 8th. Somehow Donald has mitigated the worst of the impact of the pussy-grab, and is challenging Hillary on the issues again. What other gotchas for him has she got left to leak? Are they good enough to be game-ending, or are they just "the same again"?