The TV companies may as well build a boxing ring, such is the subtlety of the political conversation we're getting. The second presidential debate descended to the gutter almost instantly, never bothering to glance at the stars, and settled into a rhythm of threats, accusations and insults. The idea of 'policy' barely got a look in.
It was exactly what the TV stations had banked on, to get their audiences up for the debate itself and to fill news bulletins with soundbites and reaction shots. The two candidates traded blows, with Trump shooting from the lip, and Clinton struggling to keep cool in front of a man accusing her husband of rape and threatening to imprison her should he become president. The very peak of dignified democracy.
After the week he's had, Trump's advisors would have told the 'pussy-grabbing' candidate that he might as well come out firing, like Butch and Sundance in the final frames of the movie. Like them, he's likely to go down in a volley of returning fire from all sides, but there was no other way out. You can't give reasoned explanation over what Trump called 'locker room talk'. If Trump, the arch sociopath, apologises, then things have got bad.
The money shot in the debate was to centre around Trump's attempts to talk his way out of last week's lewd recordings. Plan A (and the way to Plan Z) was always going to focus on the both-barrels attack against the weaknesses in Clinton armour, her cavalier use of emails and her husband's own predatory reputation (and if your husband's sexual behaviour has its own Wikipedia page, then you have an issue). In doing so, then he might create enough diversion to get away with his 'what goes on tour, stays on tour' approach to women. Which, in itself, pre-supposes he's always on tour.
That was the plan. To an extent it worked - but not because he talked his way out of anything, but because the whole debate was so deep in the mire, it hardly seemed to matter. Look at what voters thought and you see Trump's views on women are just another hillock in a very bumpy landscape.
Social-media analysis company Impact Social looked only at voter reaction and conversation about the latest debate on social media posts and comments on open news forums, removing media and political commentators. And they did it somewhere where it mattered – in the key swing state of Florida, which has been neck and neck in the polls and has 29 electoral college votes. Verdicts reached here are significant, as is the methodology. Impact Social looked at reactions through the prism of gender.
Of the 59,000 posts examined, the overall conversation was held by 56% of women, 46% of men, but looking at their verdicts, the difference wasn't as dramatic as you might think.
There is a significant gender split – of men's conversations, 51% were pro-Clinton, 32% pro-Trump (the rest neutral), while among the women, 53% were pro-Clinton and 21% pro-Trump.
Which starts to suggest that Trump might have lost... yet Clinton didn't win. People are being turned off Trump, but his leering doesn't seem to have them heading to Hillary.
In fact, only 6% of social media conversations were overtly on Trump and women, although 18% talk on the not-unrelated topic of Trump's character and a further 6% consider him a 'disgrace' (and there's any number of reasons for that to be the conclusion...).
What was really striking was the low level of debate – and it split merely on different strands of abuse. Policy was barely mentioned. Clinton's supporters, for example, were simply 'anti-Trump' with no consistent theme as to why, with his perceived racism scoring almost as high as his misogyny and disgrace. And when you write that about a presidential candidate in the final weeks of the campaign, you know it's been an odd affair.
Strangely, only Trump supporters mentioned policy – that Clinton's had failed, rather than that Trump had any, but it interested 10% of them. Otherwise, they were heavy on covering fire – attacking Bill and Hillary, a perceived hypocrisy and backing the idea that she could be jailed.
In a race to the bottom, Trump's problem with women seems to be accelerating his descent, rather than causing it, with the likelihood of more revelations accelerating that fall and killing off his presidential chances. But his support isn't flocking to Clinton, and there's no sense that she's about to receive an electoral endorsement. In any other election, she would be in big trouble, but however badly she does, The Donald does worse. Clinton is simply the least worst choice.
Trump's travails should see her through to the White House, but it would be hard to think of a less enthusiastic electorate. This isn't the brave new dawn of Obama eight years ago. The only hope would be that she governs better than she campaigns.
Jimmy Leach is a digital consultant, working on platforms and communications for governments, corporations and start-ups.