Donald Trump probably "won" Sunday night's debate because he was expected to implode, scattering tiny pieces of his candidacy all over the stage, and he did not. Instead, he changed the subject - with a wrecking ball.
Rather than expressing contrition for his taped vulgar boasts of forcing himself on women and getting away with it because he's a celebrity, Trump promised to jail Hillary Clinton if he is elected, accused her of enabling her husband's sexual victimization of women, and said she was the devil, full of "hate in her heart."
It is unlikely, though, that anything in Trump's performance will persuade the moderate and independent voters he has to win over in places such as the Philadelphia suburbs to have any hope of winning the presidency. An NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday, for instance, found Clinton leading Trump in Pennsylvania 49 percent to 37 percent among likely voters, her largest lead in recent state surveys.
She was crushing Trump in Philadelphia and its suburbs, among college-educated voters, women and minorities.
Trump's poll numbers were already tumbling in battleground states and nationally, but the leak of the video caused dozens of Republican officials across the country to desert him. The talk turned apocalyptic, as party leaders fretted their nominee would not only hand the Senate to the Democrats but also would drag the House majority down with him.
"This candidacy, the magnitude of its disgrace to the country is almost impossible, I think, to articulate - but it has exposed the intellectual rot in the Republican Party," GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's campaign manager in 2008, said on Meet the Press Sunday morning.
The quick consensus among Republican strategists seemed to be that Trump had a good debate. He put Clinton on the defensive as he repeatedly made the case that she had failed in a quarter century of public life - as first lady, senator, and secretary of state - to deliver the fixes she was promising now for long-standing problems. Even so, many were skeptical it would make much difference in the trajectory of the race.
Some Democrats may fret that Clinton did not seize the chance to destroy Trump once and for all. But she more than held her own, and the truth is that, with only 29 days left, the GOP nominee may not have enough time to erase the impressions left by the Access Hollywood tape and months' worth of attacks and insults.