The first presidential debate is tonight at Hofstra University.
Hillary Clinton’s debate team is likely spending most of their time and effort trying to manufacture moments where she causes Donald Trump to become ‘unhinged.’ Clinton must prove that Trump is unqualified and lacks the temperament to be president. Trump only needs to prove he is capable of handling the pressure in order to win the debate.
Some infer this means Trump will be ‘graded on the curve.’ He will be. This is completely fair given that he has just 18 months of political experience compared to Clinton's nearly 40 years. He is respected for being genuine (even if abrasive). She is anything but genuine.
As many as 100 million people will watch this debate. Many will watch for Clinton to have a ‘short circuit,’ or to see if she is capable of surviving a Trump assault. Few will care about her typical policy diatribes. If she starts preaching (or yelling), she will lose.
By contrast, Trump simply has to find a way to litigate her record (emails, Benghazi, failed campaign promises, jobs, Syria, Iraq, Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, etc) without appearing as a bully. I’ve heard it said he needs to be ‘a hammer with velvet.’
In the last two months, Trump has intentionally throttled his advertising, attacks and outreach so his campaign can save resources for the final six weeks. Trump has raised over $200 million which he has not spent. Expect him to ‘lend’ his campaign more funds and run an aggressive assault on Clinton beginning tonight.
Clinton's team has been painstakingly preparing her to ‘get under Trump’s skin’ so that he will have an outburst. I believe he will shock us with what he actually does. In fact, I believe Clinton has spent so much time focused on Trump, preparing to antagonize him, that it could result in the worst political moment of her career.
Clinton must not only find a way to be likable, she must reveal to the American people what drives her in public service. If she fails either of these tasks, she will not be able to win (even if she’s more effective than Trump on policy).
If Clinton has a coughing fit during this debate it would almost certainly be the end of her campaign (in terms of a chance to win). She needs plenty of cough medicine prior to the debate just to be sure.
Trump will be best served to allow her to ‘rant and rave’ with loud policy filibusters. Once she begins boring the audience, it will be easy for a ‘hard hit’ by Trump to resonate loudly. For Trump, less is more.
Clinton will likely launch an assault against Trump regarding the Trump Foundation, Trump University, his four hospitality/casino business-bankruptcies and international business-interests. In doing so, she’ll invite an open door for Trump to exploit her biggest weaknesses. He simply needs to point to the facts of Hillary Clinton's email servers, obstruction of justice, unprecedented meetings with donors to the Clinton Foundation (while secretary of state) and the fact that she is a career politician with no practical economic experience. “Hillary, you’ve never run a business, made a payroll or built anything. You’ve always lived off the government. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them; you never have.”
If Trump breeches the topic of her health, her husband's affairs or in any way a attempts to re-litigate the Clinton scandals of the 1990s, it could be devastating for his chances with undecided voters. Those are the topics he has to avoid unless/until Clinton attacks Trump over his marriages or comments about women.
Trump needs to be convincing that Clinton bears responsibility for the fact our country is stagnant in terms of wage growth, the economy and jobs. Moreover, he will need to convince voters that he has better solutions for minorities, poverty, crime and terrorism while contrasting Clinton as being part of the reason we are struggling.
Given his unpredictability, Trump is likely to win this debate. I suspect he will display several different stylistic approaches, which will make it nearly impossible for a very ‘robotic and scripted Clinton’ to be able to play any offense. It will be Trump’s game by his rules.
Lester Holt will likely be a fair moderate but incapable of handling these two wild personalities Trump will need to take over for the moderator on issues that Clinton distorts (especially those that speak to his business record).
I’m hopeful that Trump will ask Clinton (as I don’t anticipate Holt will) the questions she has been avoiding by not holding press conferences. This will likely be the first time Americans have ever truly seen Hillary Clinton interrogated for her illicit behavior.
Conversely, many pundits are predicting that Donald Trump can only remain calm for 45 minutes until Clinton will have baited him into an emotional eruption. I suspect they will both end up in verbal altercations (several times) by the end, regardless of how much debate preparation they’ve conducted to the contrary.
Most presidential debates are a tie between the candidates. This can be different. If Trump prosecutes Clinton’s legal troubles, explains why she cannot be trusted as president and properly articulates why she is dangerous for the country, he will win this debate.
If Trump wins this debate on those terms, he will win the election.