However, in the days before the debate, team Carter found that a copy of the papers was missing. This was bad. The beating that Reagan gave Carter in the actual debate was even worse. The Republican methodically decimated Carter on all fronts, leaving him and his campaign little more than a greasy puddle on the studio floor. It was almost as if (foreshadowing!) Reagan knew exactly what Carter was going to say, word for word. Which, of course, was the case.
One of Reagan's staffers had "found" the missing strategy book and brought it to his boss. Offered this window into Carter's head, Reagan instantly adapted a new strategy: cheating like a boss. Reagan studied the material and rehearsed with a Carter stand-in until he knew precisely what Carter would say and how he should respond.
It made for a much more elegant debate than the cock-punch Reagan had planned to open with.
And it worked -- the Gipper tore through his opponent with a torrent of well-timed quips and counters. A week later, Reagan won the election. Although the truth of "Debategate" eventually came out, it never caused lasting harm to Reagan. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter still maintains the claim that this one lost book totally cost him the election, and presumably keeps his library in a locked vault.