Conservative media figures have succeeded in setting the bar so low for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that they were astonishingly able to champion his October 9 debate performance as a success despite his threat to “jail” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, his admission that he evaded paying federal income taxes and that he hasn’t spoken with his running mate on crucial foreign policy issues, and his claim that his caught-on-tape sexual assault boasts were just “locker room” banter.
Many right-wing media figures have spent the entire election aiding the Trump campaign by lowering the bar for Trump to declare success -- saying that so long as he doesn’t “vomit all over himself and [he gives] a decent” performance, he’ll succeed.
The October 9 debate at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, was no exception. Right-wing media figures declared Trump’s debate performance a “win” despite numerous low points:
Trump threatened to imprison Clinton -- telling her that if he was president, “you’d be in jail,” and that he would “instruct [an] attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into [Clinton’s] situation” if he is elected.
Trump “unprecedented[ly]” threw running mate Gov. Mike Pence “under the bus” by admitting they had not discussed Syria and that they “disagree” on the issue,
Trump admitted to evading paying millions of dollars in federal income taxes.
It's not just right-wing pundits. Even CNN’s Jake Tapper called the debate “a wash” immediately afterwards, saying that Clinton won on policy and temperament while Trump was “erratic,” and CNN’s Michael Smerconish asserted that “the night belongs to Donald Trump” because “he was able to pivot away” from the tape of him boasting about committing sexual assault and was “barely controlled.” Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz said that “when you consider the sheer media hell that Donald Trump has been through in the last 48 hours, [his debate performance] has to be considered at least a moral victory.”
Several conservative media figures championed Trump for “exceed[ing] expectations” of a “crash and burn,” saying he won because he “stayed alive,” and “did well enough to not drop out”:
One way of looking at it is that Trump found a really unorthodox way of winning the expectations game.
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) October 10, 2016
Trump fights back, winning first 30 minutes. Second 30 minutes a draw. Final 30 both lost, no highlights. -BO'R
— Bill O'Reilly (@oreillyfactor) October 10, 2016
Importance of this debate: Americans inundated w vicious, armageddon attacks on Trump, yet he not just survived, he prevailed. That matters
— Tammy Bruce (@HeyTammyBruce) October 10, 2016
Think Trump won that debate, but that just means we're back to where we were 5 days ago in national polls. Which still isn't good for Trump.
— Mark Hemingway (@Heminator) October 10, 2016
Expectations were that Trump was toast after tonight. He isn't. But the toaster is still warm. https://t.co/YYXyjnIEbv
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) October 10, 2016
Trump may have proved that, as terrible as that video was, GOP might have overreacted by all but dumping him off the ticket this weekend.
— Sarah Westwood (@sarahcwestwood) October 10, 2016
Let's face it: Most of us expected a crash and burn, Hindenberg-type disaster. That did not happen. #Expectations
— Heather Wilhelm (@heatherwilhelm) October 10, 2016
Trump stayed alive tonight. No question about it. #debate
— Brent Bozell (@BrentBozell) October 10, 2016
He improved, exceeded expectations, decisively won several exchanges. She could have landed a death blow tonight and did not. #debate
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 10, 2016