Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bounced back in the second presidential debate Sunday, hammering Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and setting up a decisive third debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas next Wednesday night.
Under a mountain of pressure, and facing two hostile moderators, Trump pounded Clinton on the issues.
The former Secretary of State was visibly rattled as she spoke with reporters on her campaign plane after the debate — the surest sign that she knew she lost.
Other signs of a Trump victory were that critics of Trump grudgingly admitted that he had done well, or conceded that he had at least fought Clinton to a draw — a “wash,” said CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
The network’s own “scientific” poll, which is weighted heavily Democratic, showed that Clinton won the debate. But it also showed that Trump exceeded expectations, which impressed undecided voters.
Frank Luntz’s focus group of undecided voters on Fox News saw a massive shift away from Clinton and towards Trump, prompting him to declare: “Tonight was so significant that Trump is back in this race.”
Pollsters and pundits debate whether presidential debates actually affect the outcome of elections. Republicans took heart in 2012 when challenger Mitt Romney handily defeated President Barack Obama in their first debate. But the Obama campaign’s data mining team claimed to have the election in the bag already, and Romney’s poor performance in the remaining debates may simply have sealed his defeat.
Still, Trump’s strong showing on Sunday left a far different impression than Romney’s performance in the second debate in 2012, when he yielded to Obama and moderator Candy Crowley on the Benghazi issue.
The Las Vegas debate will be the candidates’ last chance to make a strong impression on voters on a national stage. Once again, Trump will likely enjoy the benefit of low expectations, since the media are determined to deny him an outright victory in the second contest.
But Las Vegas is home turf for Trump, and a gambling city loves the underdog. Fight Night awaits.
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.