In the three days since the first presidential debate, Donald Trump’s critics have become increasingly shrill. They have taken what was, to a plurality of viewers, a narrow win for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and they have tried to inflate it to a massive victory.
Their agenda is obvious: voters like winners, so making Clinton an even bigger winner could be a way to improve her poll numbers. But the hyperbole is helping Trump set expectations that guarantee he wins the next two debates.
As this author predicted, Trump would lose the first debate, largely because Clinton’s health problems lowered expectations for her, even below where they had been for Trump. Initially, Trump faced lower expectations, because he is less experienced at debates. But after Clinton collapsed at the 9/11 memorial, some observers wondered whether she could stand through a full 90 minutes of debating. She did that — with nary a cough. Moderator Lester Holt also weighed in heavily in Clinton’s favor.
Yet, as this author explained after the debate, Trump’s loss in the first debate made it likely that he will win the second and third debates. There are five reasons. First, Trump will now benefit from low expectations in the second debate that carry over into the third, since his first win will still be seen as a fluke. Second, the moderators will be under pressure to be less biased than Holt was. Third, Trump will benefit from the town hall format in the second debate, because he has spoken more often to real voters than Clinton has done recently. Fourth, Trump has home field advantage in Las Vegas for the third debate. And fifth, Trump’s improvement over time will show that he can learn on the job, as he will have to do in the White House.
Had Trump actually melted down on Monday, as the New York Times‘ Charles Blow pretends, any mistakes in later debates would have reinforced that first impression. But because he was competent, even while losing, Trump set himself up for wins.
Perhaps fearing a comeback, Trump’s critics are trying to squeeze every possible advantage out of Clinton’s win on Monday. But they are setting him up for even bigger wins — and setting Clinton up for a fall.
Take, for example, Paul Waldman, writing at The Week. He predicts that Clinton will win the second debate — and his reasons come down to preconceived notions of the candidates: Trump as a blustering fool, Clinton as not only smart but also empathic. Waldman actually declares, without any irony, that “relating to other humans one-on-one is something Hillary Clinton is actually very good at” — something that we know from opinion polls is not true, and which her campaign also knows is untrue, since they do not allow it to happen often.
Waldman also argues Trump is incapable of learning or improvement. That flies in the face of Trump’s improved polls since mid-August, when he became a more disciplined candidate.
It also sets expectations so low Trump is certain to clear them.
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.