Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton squared off against billionaire businessman Donald Trump in the first head-to-head debate between the two presidential nominees on Monday night in New York. The feverishly anticipated encounter drew the largest audience ever for a U.S. presidential debate, nearly 81 million people, a number that does not include millions of others who watched on social media or in large groups, such as at bars and restaurants. Given the stakes, that number is understandable; and, given the stakes, Trump's performance was not.

There are two types of work that go into debate preparation: that of the candidates, who must anticipate questions and prepare answers — in particular, the one-liners that will be reference points for commentary and analysis after the event — and that of their surrogates, who seek to dampen expectations of their candidate so that they can claim victory when the debate is over. It is telling that in the runup to the event, Clinton was assiduously preparing, studying her opponent and holding several mock debates while Trump was said to be avoiding advance work, preferring to go with the off-the-cuff attitude and style that served him so well during the Republican primary debates. It is also worth noting that while this preparation (or lack thereof) seemed to match Trump's persona, news of it effectively lowered the bar for his performance: It implied that he did not have to master subjects so much as avoid horrific gaffes to win.

For most viewers in the United States, the debate was more entertainment than electoral fodder. The majority of voters have already made up their minds about who they will support in the November ballot and they watched the debate to confirm their views of each candidate. As Trump famously boasted at a rally in January, "I could shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." The words he uses, the claims he makes, are not important; it is his status as an outsider and a successful businessman that matter to his supporters — as well as their belief that Clinton, for whatever reason, is not fit to be president.