Even the debate about the first presidential debate has been controversial and divisive. Just wait until Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump square off for 90 minutes Monday night.
The event at Hofstra University in New York will set the tone for the rest of the presidential campaign and help determine which person will win the White House on Nov. 8.
Or ... it’s going to be largely a bust, with each candidate spouting stale talking points, evading questions and trying to get off snappy one-liners.
Given the tremendous levels of unpopularity both candidates have with Americans, no one really knows yet whether the debates will move the needle much for Trump or Clinton.
Still, this much is certain: Many Americans will be watching to see how each behaves on stage.
Who will seem not only most in command of the facts (that’s actually boring to lots of viewers, according to some debate experts) but also appears to be a leader Americans can look up to — or at least follow in the tough times ahead.
Trump is the acknowledged expert in stage presence — but also the person whose flippant or mean-spirited remarks far too often get him in hot water with many voters. Can Clinton goad him into more unseemly behavior before an audience of 100 million people or so, especially by attacking his lack of political experience?
As for Clinton, her robotic approach in doling out detailed answers does not wow general audiences, so viewers will be looking for moments when she does something that appears unscripted and genuine (even if it’s likely not). Trump’s team knows this tactic is coming, so his responses will be closely watched.
But the substance of the debate will matter, too.
Viewers will benefit from hearing the candidates give clear answers on issues within the general topics already scheduled to be brought up by moderator and NBC news anchor Lester Holt.
▪ On jobs, Trump will get a chance to be more specific about his proposals to create millions more of them. He needs to get beyond the usual bluster about how the Chinese are killing U.S. employment or how he’s magically going to get the coal mines to open again.
Clinton will talk about the benefits of a higher minimum wage, but she has to more specifically outline what she can really do to speed up employment gains.
▪ Both candidates promote tax-cut plans, but nonpartisan groups have found huge differences in their approaches.
Trump’s proposal reportedly would cost the U.S. treasury more money and disproportionately benefit the well-off. Clinton’s approach would focus more on socking higher-income Americans.
Trump needs to address the expense of his tax cuts and how they could affect government services, including his idea that defense spending must be rapidly increased. Clinton needs to provide facts to answer the concern that her plan would stunt economic growth.
▪ Terrorism and foreign affairs will be front and center, posing what appears to be a huge challenge for Trump.
Clinton has years of experience dealing with foreign governments. However, Trump’s line about the world becoming a more dangerous place while she was secretary of state rings true with many Americans. As with many matters, Trump says he would do things differently on the world’s stage because “what have we got to lose?”
Clinton needs to have a ready answer to that. For example, Trump’s plan to defeat the Islamic State is little more than a vow to do so, with few details. Clinton must be ready to quickly tick off her own lines of attack against ISIS.
Many other issues deserve attention. Who can provide compelling answers on how to improve immigration policies and race relations in U.S. cities?
No matter how the debate turns out, Americans will have a chance to watch a brand new reality show on Oct. 9. That’s the next time Trump and Clinton are set to square off.