Donald Trump used the primary debates to dominate and often belittle his opponents and propel his candidacy. Polls provided his favorite rationale for his legitimacy. Regardless of how incorrect, ill-informed or inexperienced he appeared, the fact that one-fifth — climbing later to two-fifths — of Republican primary voters supported him was his main talking point for why he should receive the nomination and lead the party.
But in the three general election debates his candidacy crumpled. After nearly closing the gap with Clinton before the first debate, his poor performance, seen by 84 million viewers, reinforced his ill-preparedness and undisciplined mind and behavior. Any momentum he had built stopped, and he fell back four points in the polling averages in five days.
He lost the second and third debates as the national and battleground states’ polls continued to slide away. The main takeaway from the second debate was his promise to investigate Clinton (or as his crowds chant, “lock her up). And, in the final debate, he announced that due to the “rigged” system, he may not concede.
Trump’s debate performance, reinforced by polls, turned against him in the end.
Donald Trump’s favorite pollsters