Monday night, September 26, at 9 PM at Hofstra University, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for their first debate. The debate will run for approximately 90 minutes or so. I don't know that there are a whole bunch of undecided voters left out there but the latest polls show that the race is very close. I think for most viewers the debate will be more about trying to find some "gotcha" moment to rile up their base or confirm their own suspicions about their disfavored candidate. If you are convinced, as he has repeatedly shown in statements, that Donald Trump has no real understanding of foreign or domestic policy, constitutional framework or the workings of our government then I doubt the debate will do that much to change your mind. If you think that Hillary Clinton's theme song as she walks onto stage should be Ave Satani then no amount of displayed knowledge or executive command will serve to change your mind. Still, each candidate has weaknesses which the other will try to exploit. For Trump, as I've written before and everyone has noticed, it's his tendency to take everything personally and respond with ad hominem or in this case ad feminem attacks.This worked in the Republican primary debates because the Republican primary voters are highly unrepresentative of the larger electorate. Voting for Trump was a giant middle finger to the establishment from people who thought rightly or wrongly that they had been sold out by their country. They were looking for someone to hear their pain and give them someone to blame. Trump cannily exploited and amplified these fears to become the Republican nominee. But an angry numerically declining base which is already threatening violence and/or secession should Trump lose isn't enough to guarantee Trump victory. He has to convince more moderate Republicans, independents and a few conservative Democrats that he's not just a bully boy know-nothing with an out of control id. This debate is his first chance to do that. When Clinton attacks him will he deflect, defend and counterattack with facts or will he sneer and say "Look at that face!" ?
For Clinton this debate offers a chance to contrast her command of facts against someone who is pretty proud that he's mostly ignorant of relevant facts. Her job will be to bait Trump into swinging and missing. If Trump makes a few insane off the cuff statements Clinton can either skewer them on live tv in front of millions or just look at the camera and smirk. Clinton's weakness will be her involvement in foreign policy initiatives that haven't worked out well (Libya) and the fact that she's been around for so long. Many people do not like or trust her. There are millions of voters who aren't happy with the status quo. Clinton, despite being identified with the status quo, must convince those voters that Trump is a dangerous and even unacceptable alternative. I still haven't really heard Clinton express a compelling reason WHY she wants to be President. The debate should make for good television if nothing else. In my view it's too bad that one of these people will most likely be our next President. But that's the system in which we live.