AUSTIN - With a final debate and less than a month of campaigning left in the race for the White House, Republican nominee Donald Trump's campaign is on life support.
Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton squared off Sunday night in the second of three presidential debates, which Texas Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey scores more or less a draw.
"I think Clinton probably won it on points. Trump did a better job this time than he did the first time," Ramsey told KVUE Monday morning, "But in some ways, I think the debate was the least newsworthy thing in the presidential race in the last eight days."
The 2005 video which captured the billionaire reality television star's indefensible remarks about women was the subject of the night's first round of questioning.
Top-ranking Republicans raced to disown or distance themselves from the nominee after the video was released Friday evening, but Trump emerged from the debate with his campaign still intact.
"He was facing a revolt within the Republican party, pressure to withdraw, the possibility of his VP candidate backing out," said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. "Those things are now not really on the table, and so from that perspective in the short term it was a victory."
That said, Mackowiak explains Trump did little to expand his support to undecided voters, those in electoral swing states or demographics beyond his hardcore base.
"It's hard to look at that debate last night and think that he wasn't taking two steps forward and three steps back in terms of trying to win 270 electoral votes," Mackowiak told KVUE.
Clinton fielded tough questions related to remarks from leaked fundraising addresses and refused to engage in an exchange Trump initiated regarding past sexual misconduct allegations leveled at Bill Clinton. While prosecuting the case against Trump's character in light of the newly-released video, Clinton did not deliver the "knockout blow" many Democrats had hoped could finish Trump for good.
"There's not a whole lot of blows left that he hasn't already encountered," said Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza. "I think she just needs to keep doing her thing. She needs to keep running a strong campaign with a positive message for her issues and holding him accountable to the things that he has already said and done, and I think that this election is going to go her way comfortably."
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted after the video release and before the debate shows Clinton leading Trump by double digits, 46 percent to 35 percent in a four-way matchup including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. With more "Trump tapes" threatened, the big question for many Republican officeholders Monday remains whether to abandon ship.
"It depends entirely on whether you're in a competitive general election race or not," said Mackowiak. "You don't want to write off Trump supporters who would be likely to support a Republican candidate down ballot, but you also don't want to turn off the other types of Republicans and independents that you would need to win a general election. So it's a really, really tough spot."
Despite the ominous numbers, the campaign has been nothing if not unpredictable.
"You know, you can't say somebody's toast a month out," said Ramsey. "Ronald Reagan was way behind Jimmy Carter forty days out and became president of the United States. You don't know what's going to happen yet. You don't know how this ball's going to bounce. This has been a crazy race and there's nothing to indicate that it's going to be less crazy in the closing stretch."
The third debate is set for Wednesday, October 19. It will be hosted by the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and moderated by Chris Wallace from Fox News Channel.
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