There was high drama last night because Donald Trump was on the ropes.
The vulgar tape and the wall-to-wall reporting of it had the Republican candidate in a very bad place.
But Trump somehow against all odds won the debate.
He won because Secretary Clinton could not knock him out and after the first 30 minutes Trump went on offense, regaining at least some momentum.
Here's how it went down.
The debate opened with no handshake.
Then Secretary Clinton fired the first round:
CLINTON: "What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women. And he has said that the video doesn't represent who he is. But I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is. ((EDIT)) But it's not only women, and it's not only this video that raises questions about his fitness to be our president, because he has also targeted immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, POWs, Muslims, and so many others."
Trump answered with a strategy he has used before.
TRUMP: "Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them here tonight. One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped at 12. Her client she represented got him off."
The story here is that in 1975 an Arkansas judge appointed Hillary Clinton to represent accused child-rapist Thomas Taylor.
Counselor Clinton was successful in raising doubt and Taylor pled out to unlawful fondling, serving just one year in jail.
The victim Kathy Shelton appeared with Trump in a press conference prior to the debate saying the way Mrs. Clinton treated her when she was 12 damaged her for life.
Trump then pounded home the theme that Mrs. Clinton's past record makes her a hypocrite on the woman abuse issue:
TRUMP: "When Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it's disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth."
Secretary Clinton jumped on that, saying that Trump is never contrite.
CLINTON: "He never apologizes for anything to anyone. He never apologized to Mr. and Mrs. Khan, the Gold Star family whose son, Captain Khan, died in the line of duty in Iraq. And Donald insulted and attacked them for weeks over their religion. ((EDIT)) And he never apologized for the racist lie that President Obama was not born in the United States of America. He owes the president an apology."
Mr. Trump seized upon the Obama reference to lob this grenade:
TRUMP: "Michelle Obama. I've gotten to see the commercials that they did on you. And I've gotten to see some of the most vicious commercials I've ever seen of Michelle Obama talking about you, Hillary."
That reference is to the Clinton-Obama primary race in 2008 when Mrs. Obama said this:
MICHELLE OBAMA, 2007: "One of the things, the important aspects of this race, is role-modeling what good families should look like. And my view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. Can't do it."
So after about 30 minutes of personal attacks, Trump was still standing a win for him.
Then came more personal attacks:
TRUMP: "If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we're going to have a special prosecutor."
CLINTON: "It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."
TRUMP: "Because you'd be in jail."
That quip angered some on the left.
A CNN reporter compared it to something Hitler and Stalin might say, a bit hysterical to say the least.
After one hour it is was obvious that Donald Trump had done enough to survive to live to fight another day.
It's not that Hillary Clinton did anything poorly but she has a tough road with the chaos overseas, the impending collapse of Obamacare, the email fiasco and her attachment to Barack Obama's policies.
With about two-thirds of Americans believing the country is going in the wrong direction, Secretary Clinton is a soft target on policy:
TRUMP: "If she's president of the United States, nothing's going to happen. It's just going to be talk."
But Mrs. Clinton does have a record in Congress which she pointed out:
CLINTON: "Four hundred pieces of legislation have my name on it as a sponsor or cosponsor when I was a senator for eight years. I worked very hard and was very proud to be re-elected in New York by an even bigger margin than I had been elected the first time."
As the debate drew to a close, two things were apparent to fair-minded people.
Hillary Clinton did not hurt herself and will remain the front-runner.
But Donald Trump in a very difficult spot was able to stand his ground, defend himself and make some policy points that resonated.
He's still in it, and that in itself is a major victory for him.
And that's the memo.