In baseball terms, Hillary Clinton led the best of seven series against Donald Trump three games to none going into last night’s second Presidential debate.
Here are Clinton’s three wins:
Win 1: the first presidential debate. Prior to the debate, Trump was surging and had overtaken Clinton in swing state and national polls. A prepared and poised Clinton stemmed the tide and was credited by pundits and voters alike with winning the first debate.
Win 2: her surging poll numbers. After the first debate polls started giving Clinton a clear lead nationally and in states giving her 260 out of the 270 electoral college votes necessary to be elected President. This morning, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, gives Clinton an 82.2% chance of winning the Presidency.
Win 3: the Access Hollywood tape released late last week. In response, dozens of prominent Republicans publicly renounced Trump and many called for his withdrawal from the race. On Saturday, Wisconsin Republicans disinvited Trump from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Harvest Fest and Vice-Presidential nominee Mike Pence cancelled all campaign appearances.
Rocked by the release of the Access Hollywood tapes, and with his campaign on the ropes, Trump fought back.
He gathered former accusers of Bill Clinton in a press conference before the debate and sat them in the front row during the debate. Though, as Megyn Kelly on Fox News pointed out, one of the accusers denied under oath for 21 years that anything had happened between her and Bill Clinton. The Associated Press reported one of the women was paid for her time by Trump ally Roger Stone.
He attacked Secretary Clinton and claimed she deleted emails after being subpoenaed to release them. He said Clinton possessed “tremendous hatred” in describing his supporters as deplorable. He repeatedly asked why she hadn’t done anything in 30 years in power on the issues she now claimed were important.
He also claimed the debate was 3-on-1 with moderators favoring Clinton, allowing her to run over her time by a minute, but cutting him off after running over by just one second (Politico reports that by the end of the debate Trump held a slight edge over Clinton in actual speaking time: 39 minutes to 38 minutes).
Post-debate analysis for Trump was mixed.
Interacting with a focus group of undecided voters in Missouri, Fox News pollster Frank Luntz claimed Trump’s performance put him “back in this race” with significant movement towards him among the focus group.
CNN’s poll of debate watchers, however, gave the debate to Clinton 57% to 34%.
Where Trump did score a clear win was in the expectations game. CNN’s poll found that 63% of viewers believed Trump surpassed their expectations.
Fox News Commentator Charles Krauthammer told Megyn Kelly that while the debate was a draw, that was probably a win for Trump given how low he had fallen. He referenced the clever headline that once appeared after Harvard’s underdog football team tied the powerful and favored Yale team: “Harvard beats Yale 29-29.”
Some Republicans considered this the worst possible outcome. He did enough to survive and continue. Many wished he would implode and give way for Mike Pence.
In their 86-year World Series drought, it was once said of the Boston Red Sox “They only win today, because losing tomorrow will hurt a whole lot more.” Did Trump do more than just win today in order to lose tomorrow? Many Republicans imagine a world of hurt on election day.
For the sake of argument, based on his ability to avoid a knockout blow, let’s imagine Trump earned Win 1 last night on his comeback trail. Where will the next three wins come from?
Win 2: an “October surprise” against Clinton. Wikileaks has promised the release of more emails that could be potentially damaging to Clinton. That being said, damaging revelations in the final weeks of the campaign are probably as likely for Trump as they are for Clinton.
Win 3: a decisive win in the final debate. More important than winning the final debate, Trump will have to convincingly win over any last undecided voters and earn back the trust of women. But Trump has publicly disavowed debate preparation. It’s hard to imagine him preparing a nuanced debate performance that would appeal to voters without turning other voters off in a nasty attack on Clinton.
Win 4: low voter turnout. Come election day, it is possible that key Clinton demographics may turnout in lower numbers than they have in past elections. It is generally perceived that the lower the turnout the better for Republicans. Clinton’s field organization, however, is recognized as far superior to Trump’s and some say this could provide as much as a 2-3% boost locally for Clinton in swing states. Additionally, Trump’s ground game relied on significant help from the Republican National Committee. After this weekend, some reports have hinted the RNC will begin channeling resources away from Trump and towards competitive House and Senate races.
Major League Baseball teams have taken a 3-0 World Series lead 23 times. They have won the World Series each time.