The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s a little secret: Donald Trump is not a good debater. And it doesn’t matter.

Donald Trump

Quick, tell me Donald Trump's best moment in the first five Republican presidential debates.

Chances are, you can't. Which is sort of remarkable, right? After all, Trump is the guy in this race who makes news. He says things about policy (we need to temporarily ban Muslims from coming to the U.S.) and about people (Jeb Bush is "low energy) that always make him the story.

Except at debates.

Here's how the arc of Debate Donald usually goes. Positioned in the center of the stage -- it's where he's been in almost every debate -- Trump is active, if not overwhelmingly aggressive, in the first 30-45 minutes. When answering question during that time, Trump tends to avoid any policy details and has, on occasion, shown a remarkable lack of knowledge on issues. (He had no clue what the "nuclear triad" was in the fifth debate, for example.)

But then, Trump -- and I can't believe I am writing this -- tends to fade into the background. He answers the questions asked of him and hits back when someone attacks him.  Beyond that, however, he tends to look somewhere between disinterested and sleepy.  He does very little to inject himself into the conversation. He is, rather transparently, just waiting for the whole thing to be over.

That's not good!, you might think. After all, more than eight in ten Iowa Republicans in the new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll said a candidate's debate performance was important to them!

Well, not really. At least not as it relates to Trump, whose support seems entirely disconnected from any objective handicapping of his debate performances (or anything else he does). He might be good, he might be bad -- he's much more often the latter in debates -- but the people who are for him don't care. Or Trump is able to convince them -- using his megaphone via social media and cable television -- that he actually won the debate no matter what the "pundits" say.

Trump has created his own reality for much of this race, never more so than in insisting how "everyone" says he won "every" debate. He hasn't. But it hasn't mattered. And probably won't again tonight.