Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why This Debate Is Not Your Typical Debate


Be honest. How many presidential debates can you remember? I'm one of the few people I know who's probably watched all but a few, including Gerald Ford's "There is no Soviet domination of Poland" faux pas and Ronald Reagan's "There you go again" swipe at Jimmy Carter.

My point, however, is that those were memorable moments from debates that for the majority of people - especially those with lives - are easily forgettable. Even the debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney four years ago have been relegated to the "who gives a shit?" bin. You and I may remember the look on Obama's face when Romney made his pivot in Denver, but I can assure you more people remember the look on Penny's face when Leonard proposed to her on The Big Bang Theory. If being a wonk were listed as a trait on a dating site, most of us would die old and alone.

That will not be the case this Monday. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump walk onto that debate stage, it's likely that a third or more of the country will be watching. And MOST of them will remember, quite possibly for a long, long time. In fact, I predict that this debate will become a seminal moment, not just in politics, but in entertainment for years to come. Think Peyton Manning's last Super Bowl and the Royal wedding. Yes, the ratings will be THAT good.

And that's why, unlike past debates, the stakes couldn't be higher. Most pundits will tell you a good debate performance will net a candidate maybe a point in the polls. You can throw that logic out the window. I think whoever wins this debate will likely win the election. That's how important it is.

Yes, I know there will be two other presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, and, yes, I know anything can happen, but my gut tells me that the winner of this debate will wind up with the lion's share of what little undecided vote there still is. And with Hillary holding a narrow national lead and an even narrower electoral vote lead, she's got a lot riding on her shoulders Monday night.

It's time to face the obvious. The fate of the entire country and perhaps the free world might well come down to what happens over those 90 minutes. And to make a scary situation even scarier, Clinton will have two opponents on that stage: Trump and the moderator. Trump has already put Lester Holt on notice that he doesn't want another Candy Crowley moment. Think about it, we now have a presidential candidate whose bar is so low he could step over it calling the shots for the biggest presidential debate since Lincoln - Douglas.

So how does Hillary Clinton prevail? What does she have to do Monday night? I think it comes down to three things.

First, be on the lookout for the long-anticipated pivot. Over the last few weeks, we have seen a glimpse of what a mild-mannered Trump would look like. I have a hunch that Trump plans on duplicating what Romney tried in Denver in 2012. Whether he can pull it off for an entire 90 minutes remains to be seen, but many believe it is his only chance at making the case that he is the better choice this November.

Hillary cannot let him get away with this. She must call him out whenever he goes Dr. Jekyll to his usual Mr. Hyde. Without losing her cool, which would be playing right into his hands, she must remind the audience of who he really is and what he has said throughout this campaign. She must make it clear that you don't get to rewrite 15 months of deplorable conduct in an hour and a half.

Second, since she is not likely to get any help from Holt on the fact-checking front, Hillary will have to assume that role. When Trump makes one of his ridiculous claims - like, for instance, his insistence that he was always against the Iraq War - she must rebut his claim immediately. Throughout this campaign, she has been tagged as the liar while he has gotten away with merely being called unhinged. The fact is he is a far more egregious liar than she could ever be, and Clinton will have her chance to prove it. For her sake, she must not fail.

And lastly, she MUST make the case for herself. Without sounding wonkish, which she does on many occasions, she has to lay out a clear and concise vision for why she is better suited for the job as commander in chief. She is already winning when it comes to temperament and experience, but she still hasn't sealed the deal with the voters. That's the principle reason for her slide in the polls. It's not that they trust Trump more, they just aren't entirely sold on her. While she has regained some of her once formidable lead, she is still precariously close to losing this thing.

But by maintaining her cool, putting him in his place when he starts making outlandish claims and reassuring the audience that she is worthy of their trust, she can ostensibly bury Trump and put herself on the glide path to victory this November. One thing is for certain: no one is better equipped for the challenge ahead. Indeed, there has never been a candidate, presidential or otherwise, who has been this vetted and scrutinized. That will be her greatest advantage over Trump on Monday. There's nothing he can do to her that the GOP hasn't been trying to do for years.

This is her moment; the one she has been preparing for her entire life. It's her election to lose. Trump may think he has the upper hand, but Hillary still holds all the cards. It's time for a Royal Flush.

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