For political pundits, the carnival they watched last night was an enlightening affair. Trump aside, they say, the Republican Party’s presidential aspirants performed admirably. The marginally tuned-in voter who watched the debate last night saw something quite different. This was a raucous event, a reality show with little redeeming value beyond its most entertaining aspects. That’s not necessarily a fair assessment, but it is an honest reflection of what they have come to expect from the Dadaist performance art that is Donald Trump’s campaign of self-promotion masquerading as a presidential bid. The pundits are, however, pundits for a reason; they understand the mechanics of an election cycle in a way that the casual observer does not. On the left and the right, political professionals and opinion leaders know what they saw: the beginning of the end of Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination. It is true that his staying power in the race has shocked everyone, but the debates mark the beginning of a different phase of this campaign. It’s coming, perhaps later rather than sooner, but the celebrity candidate’s deflation is a virtual certainty. As such, the tempo of the Democratic effort to ensure that Trump comes to be viewed as the face of the GOP will accelerate in the coming weeks. They know that time is not on their side.