Trump didn’t stop the bleeding

The future remains bleak for Donald Trump. His performance at Washington University’s debate on Sunday night did nothing to steady the sinking ship of his campaign. After a tape was released of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women last Friday, numerous Republicans including New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and Arizona Senator John McCain publicly withdrew their support for the candidate. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus have issued statements condemning Trump. After Trump’s weak performance at the first debate and his subsequent controversies, such as when he tweeted to his supporters to “check-out” an alleged sex tape of a former Miss Universe, his poll numbers have taken a nosedive. On average, national polls showed Clinton ahead by six percentage points going into the second debate. Furthermore, those polls reported fewer undecided voters, which historically decreases the level of volatility in the race.

With all this in mind, Trump’s performance at the second debate needed to be game-changing. However, nothing Trump did at the debate helped his large polling deficit and lack of support from the Republican establishment. In fact, Trump looked uncomfortable in the debate’s town hall format. Hillary Clinton took advantage of an old Clinton trick which her husband famously used in his town hall debate against George H.W Bush in 1992. Hillary positioned herself such that Trump was in the background of the camera frame when she answered a question from the audience, which allowed the cameras to pick up on Trump’s awkward body language and pacing. Trump frequently encroached upon Clinton’s space and took a less personal approach when answering questions from the audience.

However, substance is more important than body language in a debate. In that category, Trump once again demonstrated little regard for objective truth. Trump reiterated stump speech phrases which fact checkers have time and time again proven to be wrong. For example, Trump stated once again that he did not support the Iraq War, despite the existence of a 2002 Howard Stern interview where Trump expresses his support for the invasion. Further, the candidate demonstrated a tenuous understanding of foreign affairs when he stated that the United States has signed a “peace treaty” to bring an end to the civil war in Syria. The Republican nominee also missed out on politically effective arguments against Clinton. When the moderators asked about leaked Hillary Clinton speeches to Wall Street, Trump rambled about his own business acumen rather than hammering his opponent for her apparent ease with Wall Street, a weak spot with Clinton among former Bernites.

Instead, Trump’s opening line of attack against Clinton was about her husband’s alleged sexual misconduct. However, this strategy has not paid off in the past. In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings rose when Republicans began impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. Attacks on her husband’s sexual life seemingly made voters more sympathetic to Hillary. In addition, rather than accepting the gravity of the sexually violent statements he made in 2005, Trump diverted the attacks to his opponent. This certainly will not help the candidate with suburban Republican women, a key constituency whom Trump frequently polls relatively poorly with and needs to win in order to ensure him an electoral victory.

The second debate was not entirely a disaster for Trump, however. Conservative pundits in particular have praised the candidates poise in the last 60 minutes of the debate, when Trump seemed to gain more confidence. Despite this, Trump had to be more than just mediocre. Rather, Trump had to prove to the Republican establishment and swing voters that he has the level-headedness and disposition to be Commander-in-Chief. His lackluster performance, however, means that his campaign remains in shambles. Ultimately, the second debate proved to be a Clinton victory.