With The Race A Statistical Dead Heat, How Important Is Tonight's Debate?

Debates in presidential races don’t matter as much as people think they might. Usually by this point in the election cycle, people’s minds are already made up. But this is 2016 and it is unlike any presidential race we have seen before.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton come into this debate as two of the least liked presidential candidates in the last 40-50 years. As such, the polls show a decent number of undecided voters up for grabs. Those people will be watching tonight. It remains to be seen whether or not Hillary or Trump can reach them.

For Donald Trump, this is brand new for him. He’s never debated a person one on one before. His “style” has been to sit back and watch as the rest of the GOP candidates went at each other and then throw in a few zingers for good measure in addition to his penchant for attempting to emasculate his opponents. He has trouble articulating policy because he’s ignorant at times of the details of his own plans and proposals. Not to mention, he makes stuff up as he goes along. Fortunately for him, this has the effect at times of tripping his opponents up. Trump so brazenly lies and shrugs off accusations of lying, it’s hard to corner him.

As for Hillary, she’s been on the stage before, facing a single opponent. Hillary doesn’t have the rhetorical flourish that helps in these kinds of televised debates, but she is always prepared and has an excellent grasp on policy and the issues (even if her positions suck). Where she might have trouble with Trump is with his unpredictability. She could be saying something about tax policy and Trump could easily shoot back with a remark about Benghazi. While Lester Holt will try to get Trump back on track, he will say his piece. And people will remember that.

It’s hard to predict who will win simply because there is no historical model to base it on. This is going to be brand new to anybody who watches it. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind heading into the debate tonight:

  1. How will Donald Trump fare in dealing with a woman on stage for 90 minutes? As much as people don’t want this to be an issue, it is. Trump can get away with being an ass to Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, but using similar tactics against Hillary Clinton will hurt him. Trump’s problem is his massive ego. Whatever little pin pricks Hillary can make will be done with the intent of making Trump go nuclear on her and if he does, his supporters will cheer. Undecided voters however, might be turned off.
  2. How will Hillary deal with an opponent sure to be all over the map? Trump is unpredictable. It was easier for Hillary to debate Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama one on one because she knew exactly what was coming. In that sense it was similar to a Revolutionary or Civil War battle with both sides lining up directly across from each other and seeing what was coming. It was only a matter of who was going to get hit first. Trump is like the Japanese kamikaze pilot mixed in with a dash of the Tasmanian Devil. Hillary has to be prepared for him to say things she’s not prepared for, if that makes sense.
  3. Whose narrative will win out? Based upon the ads Hillary has released thus far, I suspect her goal will be to paint Trump as she has in those ads – a misogynistic boor who is unstable and not qualified to be President. Trump will attempt to portray Hillary as incompetent (and criminal) insider who is completely out of touch with the country. Who lands bigger shots remains to be seen.

No matter what happens, Trump will declare victory. After all, he’ll be shown as the clear winner in the Drudge poll. The actual results, will remain to be seen.

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