Partly for that reason, there was another unofficial, offstage winner: the Republican party, and Trump in particular. The debates saw Trump’s main challengers falter (Biden) or fade (Sanders), the second-tier perform strongly (Warren, Harris, Buttigieg), and some new challengers emerge (notably Castro and Booker). This increases the chances for a long, internally divisive, Democratic primary – allowing the Republican party to look stable and united in contrast as well as benefit from free opposition research as the Democratic candidates try to tear each other down.
The debates also gave disproportionate attention to the plight of non-Americans, notably asylum seekers at the southern border and undocumented immigrants throughout the country. While this is understandable and even morally admirable, given the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies and the salience of the issue at this moment, it provides an easy opening for Republicans.