There was a level of anticipation like the lead-up to a sport final. Trump kept his nerve. But that doesn't mean he "won." Yet neither was Clinton the brilliant victor that many had hoped for, writes DW's Ines Pohl.
This debate was even less about policies than the first head-to-head between the presidential candidates. This was a psychological battle.
How was Trump going to react to the release of the video showing him to be a misogynistic macho? And what would Hillary Clinton do if her opponent accused her of being responsible for her husband's sexual encroachments?
The battle began even before the starting whistle was blown. A good hour before the live broadcast Trump held a spontaneously improvised press conference. Four women pledged their support for him, amongst them three who claimed to have been sexually abused by Bill Clinton.
Surprise attack before the broadcast
Without doubt it was intended as a surprise attack on Hillary Clinton. It was a last-minute attempt to put her off her stride. In this way Trump was trying to reclaim some of the enormous loss in territory that he has suffered since last Friday.
It was almost spooky to watch how the spouses of both the candidates entered the arena. The disgust they felt when doing the obligatory handshake was obvious even through a television screen.
This was an evening of contempt and hatred. And while the facial expressions and body language left no doubt about their mutual dislike for each other, both candidates were so controlled that there were none of the verbal attacks that millions may have secretly waited for.
This was to be expected from Hillary Clinton. And not only because in her career spanning decades she has had to weather so many situations that required extreme discipline. It is also because she wants to use the debates to outline her issues-based agenda. She never tires of explaining to her supporters, and also to the undecided voters, why she is best qualified to be president and what her political plans will be if she moves into the White House.
Trump lacking substance
It may seem unfair that there is nothing she actually could have done to win this second debate because a clear victory for her was entirely dependent on Trump misbehaving.
And that is what he didn't do. Of course he again didn't give a consistent answer to a single question nor could he back up any of his promises with an actual plan. His staunch supporters won't hold that against him. They share his open hatred of Hillary Clinton. And without a doubt they will applaud attacks such as his statement that as president, he would put Hillary Clinton in jail. At every Trump rally there are countless T-shirts that show exactly this message: Hillary for prison.
Trump certainly lost when it comes to the undecided and independent voters, who will be the decisive factor in this bizarre election. It is possible that Clinton won them over with her clear explanations and a new, warmer presence.
But it was not the clear victory that some had hoped for. The spectacle will continue. And the only really good news of the evening is that the 8th of November is now one day closer. Then people can finally vote.