As this author predicted, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the first presidential debate on Monday night, but without knocking Donald Trump out of the race.
The good news for Trump fans is the Republican nominee is likely to win the next two debates — the town hall at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 9, and “Fight Night” at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Oct. 19. The only question is whether those later debates will affect early voting.
There are five basic reasons Trump will win the second and third debates.
1. Expectations. The candidate that beats expectations by the widest margin wins the debate. As I explained in previewing the first debate, Trump originally had far lower expectations. But Clinton’s health problems, which theoretically should have made the debate more difficult for her to endure, helped her by lowering expectations to her benefit: all she had to do was to stand up straight for 90 minutes and she would win. Now that she has won Round 1, Trump is the underdog for the next two.
2. Moderators. Lester Holt was terrible — more biased against Trump than CNN’s Candy Crowley was against Romney in 2012. (Crowley intervened to save the Democrat once; Holt did so at least five times.) Holt will face well-deserved criticism from the right, which will serve as a warning to the remaining moderators. Moreover, no one else is as inexperienced as Holt. The second debate will feature Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper — both on the left, but with experience asking Hillary Clinton about issues Holt ignored, like Clinton’s e-mail scandal. The final debate will feature Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who is typically fair. CBS News’ Elaine Quijano, who will moderate the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 4 in FarmVille, VA , is new to debates, but is a straight shooter who will leave the candidates alone. (Full disclosure: she went to my high school.)
3. Town hall format. Trump is simply better than Clinton at facing real, live voters. While Clinton’s campaign has carefully curated her interactions with the public, Trump has been mixing it up with rough crowds for more than a year. Moreover, it is clear from the first debate that Clinton is focused on attacking Trump, while he focuses on the bigger picture (when he is not defending himself). The town hall format will allow him to “go high when they go low,” to paraphrase Michelle Obama.
4. Las Vegas. Trump has home field advantage in the final debate. Arguably, his best debate of the Republican primary was in Las Vegas, a city that is a second home to the Trump family. No one knows a Fight Night like the Donald: he will come out aggressively, regardless of where he stands in the polls by then. This will not be a repeat of Mitt Romney’s wilt-to-the-finish.
5. Bonus for improvement. He may not have won the first debate, but Trump removed the risk that he would implode. And as he sharpens his performance over the next two debates, Trump will enjoy an additional benefit: voters will see him improve in real time, providing a demonstration of how quickly he would learn to do his job in the White House.
Provided he combines his new, calm demeanor with a sharper focus on his best issues, like immigration, Trump will finish on top.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.