Previewing the Clinton-Trump debate

From Hempstead, New York –

As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton get set to meet in the first of their three debates, all sorts of different story lines are possible tonight on stage at Hofstra University.

Let’s take a look at what might – and might not – happen in this high stakes political showdown.

1. Which Donald Trump will debate? – This is a serious question. Do we get the calm and measured Trump that we have seen on the campaign trail and in other events of late? Or do we get the free-wheeling, loud and off-the-cuff Trump, who has delighted so many of his supporters by taking big swings at his opponents, whether on the debate stage or at a campaign rally? In the GOP debates, Trump alternated between low-key and swinging at his opponents any chance he got, as he used a bevy of personal insults to keep his opponents off guard. For the most part, it worked.

2. How does Clinton handle Trump? – She has met him many times before. He’s given money to her campaign for U.S. Senate and the Clinton Foundation. She went to one of his weddings. He’s said nice things about her in the past. But this time it’s different. Hillary Clinton faces an opponent who has befuddled candidates in both parties for over a year, and shown that he can do well in the debates. Is this time different because only the two of them will be on stage? Clinton has a lot more experience as a debater, and with people who have come after her as well, like Rick Lazio in the U.S. Senate race in New York in 2000. But is Trump just something different?

3. How are things different on the stage? – For months, Clinton and Trump have lobbed verbal shots at each other from long distance. But will it be different from just a few feet away? If there was one GOP candidate who gave Trump the most difficulty during the seemingly endless number of GOP debates, it was Carly Fiorina. She won a series of skirmishes with Trump in various debates, but was never able to capitalize on that in any meaningful way in the polls. Can Clinton learn anything from how Fiorina mixed it up with Trump in the primaries?

4. What will Lester Holt do? – The NBC News moderator has the worst job in America tonight. No matter what he does, someone won’t be happy, someone will charge that he’s biased against their candidate, or just say that he did a terrible job. One thing is for sure, no matter who is in that moderator seat, it could draw a lot of negative attention (e.g., my neighbor Candy Crowley). Here are the topics that Holt has chosen for this first debate:

5. Everything matters tonight – Do you remember Al Gore sighing? George H.W. Bush looking at his watch? It’s not just what the candidates say, as their body language will be very important tonight as well. The camera can catch almost anything, and both Clinton and Trump must be aware that their every move is being tracked by millions. This is not just about what they say or how they say it. Remember, many people argue one good way to watch the debate is with the sound off.

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