Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each delivered impressive performances on Wednesday night, but the night belonged to the Republican challenger, who stuck to a repeated theme: that Clinton is to blame for the very problems she promises to fix.
Clinton’s lines were well-rehearsed, but blunted somewhat by the fact that many of them were old. On several occasions, she was forced to filibuster — such as when moderator Chris Wallace asked her to explain her dream of “open borders,” which she revealed to a Brazilian bank in one of the confidential speeches released recently by Wikileaks. (Clinton’s response was to claim, rather implausibly, that she was talking only about “energy,” and then to claim Trump was helping Russian hackers.)
Wallace, in an understated way, was the star of the night: he was the only fair-minded moderator of the entire presidential series, who posed tough questions to both candidates and scolded the audience when it favored one side or the other. He also pressed Clinton on her conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation, refusing to allow her to wriggle away from the question by talking about the good work her charity does. And he challenged some of Trump’s inaccurate past statements on Syria.
With — finally! — a fair fight at hand, Trump showcased his strengths. He was, as one campaign source told Breitbart News shortly before the event, calm but aggressive, showing the fighting spirit that lifted him past the Republican field (though perhaps interrupting too often). Clinton, too, stood her ground on style, if not always on substance. She presented herself as a capable and experienced official with a flair for details — even if she deployed those details as often to obscure as to explain.
It was, in many ways, the slugfest that millions tuned in to see. There were no knockouts, though the challenger won on points, and showed improvement over the three debates.
Whether that is enough to catch her in the polls remains to be seen.