- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2016

NEWS ANALYSIS:

Donald Trump is the new “comeback kid” to the shock and awe of some — perhaps many — of his women defenders who had reservations about his capacity to show discipline in the make-or-break debate with Hillary Clinton in St. Louis Sunday night.

Trump is probably as relieved and surprised as Washington was when those creaky boats made it across the frozen Delaware,” said former Pittsburgh-area GOP activist and Reagan White House aide Mary Ann Meloy. “He lives to fight another day, having demonstrated far better depth and grasp of issues as well as skill in pivoting to his advantage than in the first debate with Hillary.”

Mrs. Meloy said The Donald won the night fight but not necessarily the war.

“Only time will tell if women can put the trash-talk tape aside on Nov. 8. I don’t think the shock or pain of that tape were erased tonight.”

Mr. Trump dominated the tense, riveting 90-minute encounter, taking the offense and keeping it — and not taking the bait Mrs. Clinton offered, to get him to go off on tangential defensive riffs.

Donald Trump pulled off what many in the media thought was impossible — he reset the campaign tonight,” Tallahassee attorney Mary Thomas said. “Tomorrow morning, the race will be dead even again.”

Whether it’s quite that smashing a comeback for him, it’s still a win, given that almost all pundits left and right had all but counted him out.

“When Hillary Clinton attacked, he attacked back even more forcefully, putting Hillary Clinton on the defensive, and he kept her on the ropes all night,” Mrs. Thomas said. “Clinton’s policies sounded like the same old liberal, politically correct pabulum, while Trump spoke from the heart, with feeling and with far greater policy detail than he has ever used. The bottom line is this, Donald Trump won this debate in a big way and at the same time, saved his campaign.”

Mrs. Clinton won the debate on detailed policy knowledge, as she did in the first debate with him. But once again being whip-smart on policy wasn’t what the evening was about.

“The Donald won this one, I think, because he moved the debate past clearly inappropriate comments he made 12 years ago and focused on jobs, national security, trade and health care — on making America first,” said Nevada GOP Assemblywoman Michele Fiore.

Khadine Ritter, a Washington County, Ohio, GOP Central Committee member, said that if “you’re looking for a winner, this was a far more balanced debate than the first one. Trump presented himself in a more sober and serious light with fewer circus acts.”

So was he the clear winner for Mrs. Ritter?

“If this were the first debate, I would say Trump won,” Mrs. Ritter said. “Given that we are forced to compare, I would say it was quite even.”

Some female Trump supporters thought he did way better than that.

“This debate definitely defined their differences and drew lines in the sand,” said Kansas Third Congressional District GOP Chairman Vicki Sciolaro, an evangelical Christian. “She wants to keep Roe vs. Wade, and that’s opposite Donald. Very impressed, and Trump won big!”

“This was Donald Trump’s best debate of the entire election cycle,” Mrs. Thomas said. “He came prepared and executed his strategy perfectly. He apologized in a contrite manner for the lewd comments and then he pivoted to issues.”

As to who gains going forward, Mrs. Ritter said it’s Mr. Trump hands down.

“He had the most ground to make up,” she said. And he certainly did make up lost ground, both in terms of substance and in terms of attacks, finally charging her with many of the issues his supporters want to keep in the spotlight.”

The most unexpected win of the night was Mr. Trump’s disagreeing with running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence over Russia and Syria. Open disagreement with a running mate during a presidential campaign is unheard of — or was until Sunday night. Mr. Trump did it without hesitancy or acrimony, showing he’s the presidential nominee, the top of the ticket, the boss and comfortable with the job.

The other big winner, for the moment, is the GOP and its possibly endangered Senate majority. Before the Sunday debate, panicked Republicans feared a Trump electoral debacle and with it a “down ticket” disaster for the party. That’s why the sigh of relief heard in local GOP headquarters around the country.

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