Two things have been true throughout the debates. One is that Trump has been, at every turn, underprepared, undisciplined, and operating completely without a strategy. In one of the third debate’s most unintentionally revealing moments, Trump said, “I sat in my apartment today … watching ad after false ad, all paid for by your friends on Wall Street,” an inadvertent admission that he was inhaling cable news when he should have been prepping for the debate.
But the other reality is that Clinton has been, at every turn, prepared, disciplined, and coldly strategic. She triggered Trump’s epic meltdown purposely, and kept Trump off balance over multiple weeks that probably represented his last chance to turn the election around. She was ready for every question, prepared for every attack, and managed to goad Trump into making mistakes that became the main story the day after every single debate.
It is easy, now, to assume her victory was assured, to read Trump’s collapse as inevitable. But remember that he triumphed over a talented, 17-person Republican field in debate after debate to win the primary — one-on-one contests are unique, it’s true, but there was no particular reason to think Trump couldn’t use his bullying, blustering showmanship to take over the stage and expose Clinton as inauthentic and out of touch. The reason he didn’t is because she never let him.
We aren’t used to this kind of victory. We aren’t used to candidates winning not so much because of how they performed but because of how they pushed their opponent into performing. But the fact that we aren’t used to this kind of victory doesn’t make it any less impressive. Hillary Clinton has humbled Donald Trump, and she did it her way.
Ezra Klein, “Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins”, Vox (19 October 2016) [http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/19/13340828/hillary-clinton-debate-trump-won]