Ironically, Trump's best moments came in the first part of the debate, when he forced Clinton on the defensive on trade. Hillary Clinton was literally reduced to stuttering "that's your opinion" like The Dude from the film The Big Lebowski. She also dodged on the Trans Pacific Partnership and refused to blame Obama for pushing this policy. Trump actually seemed better informed on policy. But moderator Lester Holt was content to let these issues slip by.
Trump obviously was trying to come off as presidential and restrained. However, he may have been a bit too clever. Though it was partially because of Holt's slanted questioning, he was on the defensive for the entire night after a strong opening. More importantly, he let many opportunities pass him by. Every Republican in the country was screaming at the television for Trump to mention Hillary Clinton's email scandal when she started making outrageous claims about the perfidy of Russian hackers. If Hillary believed that these hackers were so dangerous, why didn't she use a secure server? But Trump let it pass.
Obviously, for immigration patriots, the bigger problem was that Trump allowed the same thing to happen with The National Question. When talking about the economy, foreign policy, trade, or wages, Trump should constantly bring back the discussion to immigration. He should especially force Clinton to defend her campaign's outrageous declaration that the entire world has the right to immigrate to the United States.
Obviously, the MSM would rather spend the debates talking about things which make journalists feel sad rather than talk about real issues. Trump needs to go on the attack next time, force these issues into the debate and make this election a referendum on immigration.
Still, Trump didn't self-destruct. He clearly won the opening segment before being tripped up on Birtherism and his taxes. And he showed restraint, which might have been the smart move in the first debate. There are two more debates. Trump simply being on stage legitimized him here. If he's going to be aggressive, he can do it in the next two.
It's worth remembering Mitt Romney decisively won the first debate in 2012, but Obama was able to reverse the damage. And there was no clear-cut winner here like there was in that case.
Trump supporters, especially the #AltRight, might have raised expectations too much by constantly talking about Hillary Clinton's health problems. Many seemed to expect Clinton to have a stroke on stage. (Ironically, it was Trump who seemed to be sniffling throughout the debate). Instead, she turned in a robotic but competent performance, albeit one enabled by not ever getting any hard questions.
We'll see how the polls shape up over the next couple weeks. But Trump will need to take the gloves off in the next two debates. He needs to push popular wedge issues like Official English. And he needs to make sure immigration is at the center of his message.
He can't talk about jobs, wages, education, national security, or even outreach to non-whites without talking about the massive invasion which is exacerbating every national problem.