Peter Robinson and David Limbaugh on this week’s Ricochet podcast may have put their finger on what happened at Wednesday’s debate. After Limbaugh asked “Did not Trump act like a magnanimous adult last night?”, Peter observed, “He’s starting to believe he can actually become president, so he’s muting the whole act that carried him to the top of the polls in the first place. The more he thinks he can become president, the more he’s going to lose ground.” In other words, Trump may have been trying to rein in the bombast for the debate, but also ended up trimming on the substance.

As he figured out quickly, backtracking on substance – especially on immigration, which is what shot him to the top in the first place – will end his candidacy in a heartbeat, since he’s supposed to be the un-buyable anti-politician who speaks truth to power. The central question for Trump’s whole effort, then, is whether he can dial back on the braggadocio while still channeling the public’s anger at our duplicitous leaders and our failing institutions. As Peter put it, “If Donald Trump begins to present himself with a presidential comportment, while still holding on to the combative substance, this guy could go all the way.”

As we saw last night, that’s a big “if.”