Monday night's highly anticipated presidential debate was a misfire for Republican candidate Donald Trump, and his final debate remarks didn't do much to change that perception. After a generally unpolished performance filled with lots of stumbles and callouts from opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump's answer to moderator Lester Holt's last question ended his night on a flat note, showing that he still has a lot of work to do if he wants to win the election.
Holt's final question of whether or not the candidates would support the eventual winner of the election didn't give the candidates a chance to trot out extra rehearsed closing statements, but it did give the audience a final chance to see how unfocused and unprepared Trump really was. His initial answer to Holt's question was a rambling non-sequitur about immigration that required the moderator to interrupt him and bring him back to some semblance of a salient argument. "I want to make America great again. I'm gonna be able to do it, I don't believe Hillary will. The answer is if she wins, I will absolutely support her."
Most of the night was characterized by the type of overly general and uninformative rhetoric that characterized Trump's least effective campaign moments over the last 15 months. Although he did take a slightly softer tone than he did in the primary debates, he still used a lot of the low blows that were meant to wound Clinton rather than actually bolster his own candidacy and potential presidency. However, Clinton effectively parlayed almost all those moments into solid impressions for her, so that Trump wasn't even effective at antagonizing her. Trump relied on his trusty truism "Make America Great Again" in the final question to cover the fact that a lot of his talking points throughout the night were little more than unsupported and often false claims, and just generally, it wasn't a strong performance for Trump.
Now that Trump is polling neck and neck with Clinton, his debate performance could be a serious negative influence on his chances in the election, coming up in just over a month. Debates get a ton of media coverage and can be seen and talked about as huge factors in how the public votes. That's not always the case, as some of the prevailing political science about previous debates and elections shows, but this debate was broadcast and followed in a totally novel fashion, thanks to the breadth and depth of traditional media and social media coverage. Some of the older ideas about the importance of debates might not be 100 percent applicable this time around, because not only is this is a particularly idiosyncratic election, but the technology used in this cycle is pretty much unprecedented.
The final question is an especially important part of the debate because it's the last impression viewers get of the candidate before the debate ends. In Trump's case, his statement wasn't what he needed it to be, and it might be an essential part of how the debate gets spun in the following days. Whether or not the debate ultimately influences the results of the election, Trump's overall performance and his last impression will be one of the most talked about topics throughout the rest of the election.