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'Donald Trump's path to the presidency got a lot steeper'

Break out your climbing boots, Donald.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's chances of winning the White House might have taken a hit Monday night after a debate performance against Hillary Clinton that left many political media observers underwhelmed.

That included anchors on Fox News, which is Trump's preferred site for interviews, and which has been promoting his candidacy for months.

There was a similar view on CNBC. "Look, I think the bottom line is: Donald Trump's path to the presidency got a lot steeper tonight," CNBC's chief Washington correspondent John Harwood said on-air after the showdown at Hofstra University.

"This was not a good night for Donald Trump. He appeared rattled by Hillary Clinton. He interrupted her several times. He appeared flustered by questioning about his taxes, his bankruptcies, the lawsuit which he was sued for racial discrimination," Harwood said.

"Let me go through a few of the things that were not helpful to Donald Trump," the correspondent said. "When he said in reference to whether or not he failed to pay taxes in previous years, he said the money would have been 'squandered.' I'm not sure the ordinary taxpayer is going to feel reassured by that."

Harwood also noted that Trump has said, "Well, maybe they didn't do a good job," when Clinton mentioned a lawsuit accusing him of "stiffing ordinary workers." And when asked about the federal investigation that accused the firm run by Trump's father of discriminating against African-Americans, Trump did not make a stern defense" of that claim, but instead noted that "We settled that lawsuit with no admission of wrong-doing."

CNN's lead anchor Wolf Blitzer and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper likewise were underwhelmed by Trump's performance, which they suggested was the result of a laissez-fair approach to his debate preparation.

CNBC chief international correspondent Michelle Caruso-Cabrera said she agreed that Trump, at several moments, "was weak."

But, Caruso-Cabrera added, "I don't know we hear this debate the way the electorate hears this debate. I'm not sure those weak moments are going to have that much of an impact, actually."

"I would disagree with John a little bit," she said, referring to Harwood. "I think the bar for Donald Trump's success was low tonight."

"Did he become the wandering Donald like he does frequently? Yes, he did it on occasion, not nearly as often as has been in the past."

"I think it was a better performance than we've seen from him in a long time," Caruso-Cabrera said. "Remember, it was unscripted for 90 minutes."

Caruso-Cabrera also noted than there was a loud cheer from some in the debate hall when Trump said that the idea that he might not pay federal income taxes "makes me smart."

"I think that was very Trumpian. I think some will find that very, very funny," Caruso-Cabrera said.

The correspondent said that in her opinion, Clinton "used the word 'plans' way too often."

"She's got a plan. 'I've got a plan for this, I've got a plan for that.' At times, it sounded like she was lecturing, which has been a criticism of her," Caruso-Cabrera said.