Why Tonight’s Debate is Make or Break for Trump

In the third and final 2016 Presidential debate, the stakes couldn’t be much higher. Really. Political commentators are prone to hyperbole about the importance of Presidential debates. But, this time they’re right. Tonight’s debate is the political equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier, the Battle of Waterloo and D-Day wrapped into one.

It has been, to put it mildly, a rocky couple of weeks for Donald Trump. After revelations of a decades-old audio recording of “locker-room” banter with then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush seemed to signal the wheels were falling off of Trump’s Presidential bid, many political commentators all but left him for dead. But, after a respectable showing in the second debate steadied Trump’s wobbling campaign, the Republican nominee goes into tonight’s contest a clear underdog, but still in the fight.

Trailing rival Hillary Clinton by about 6% on average in recent polls, tonight’s debate will be Trump’s last best chance to recapture the momentum before voters cast their ballots in 19 days.

If things go his way tonight, Trump will likely emerge behind but still plausibly within striking distance. A strong debate performance could yield a 3–4% bump in the polls for Trump by my estimate — roughly half of what he’ll need to close the gap with Clinton. No other event left on the campaign schedule will provide an equivalent opportunity to reshape the dynamics of the race favorably for Trump. Yet, a repeat of the disaster Trump suffered at the first debate could bring the curtain down on Republicans’ hopes of keeping Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office once and for all.

Programming note, I’ll be joining BBC Radio Five for analysis before and after the debate at just past 8pm ET and immediately following the debate at around 10:30 am. You can listen online here.