I’ll leave calling the horse race to other writers, but I had two small, specific reactions to the chunk of the debate that I watched.
1. When McCain brought up John Lewis’ remarks, here’s what I would have said back if this was a conversation and not a political performance. “Senator, if you respect and admire John Lewis, shouldn’t you care a bit more about what he said about you? What does ‘respect and admire’ mean to you if the first time someone says something you’re bothered by, you want to repudiate that person? If I respect someone, then I take his disagreements with me more seriously rather than less so.”
2. McCain’s emotional demeanor for most of the debate looked like a really bad combination of rage and a desperate need to go take a piss.
Debates of this kind are always performances: they’re really not a good source of information about substantive policy positions that candidates are likely to pursue. Like almost everyone, I pay more attention to affect and mood. McCain comes off like the quintessential cranky old bastard senior professor who comes to talks and says something disproportionately mean and angry to the speaker, who is choleric and petty to grad students, who has that feeling of entitlement to being unpleasant that crops up in academia at times.
Basically, he came off like an asshole whenever he wasn’t speaking, and sometimes when he was speaking. Assholes can be useful in organizations, but not at the top of the org chart: then they’re one-person wrecking crews.