Politics

Handicapping the First Trump-Clinton Debate

LifeZette's 'Debate Squad' says what to watch for in the first critical showdown of 2016

LifeZette asked leading conservatives, debate experts, political scientists, and GOP consultants what they expect from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their first presidential debate showdown.

Most agreed Clinton, in one way or another, could suffer from over-preparation against a more unpredictable and nimble GOP nominee. But the experts urged plenty of caution for Trump: Tthe line between winning the debate and appearing too aggressive will be thin and easily crossed — particularly with a hungry media waiting for any slip to attack.

Trump dispatched … a number of the best and brightest the Republican Party had to offer. And he did it with ease. Expect unlikable and dishonest Hillary to emerge, be exposed, and lose.

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Some suggest Trump needs to bring out the policy detail, while others think he needs to solely focus on hammering Clinton on her weaknesses.

Everyone agrees, the showdown will have a huge implications for which candidate hits the trail Tuesday with momentum at their back.

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Grover Norquist
Donald Trump can win the election in tonight’s debate if he simply and clearly states this truth: He will reduce the tax burden carried by the American people, while Hillary Clinton has promised to increase the burden by more than $1.3 trillion.

Trump’s tax reduction will lower taxes on American businesses — which are now higher than even the 25-percent European average — to 15 percent. This will make America truly competitive again. Trump’s plan will cut taxes on people with children, people with retirement savings, people who are self-employed, and for the old and the young and for those who have health insurance.

Taking the country in the opposite direction would be Hillary Clinton, who will raise taxes on everyone. Clinton has promised to increase taxes on small businesses, on individuals, on people who die, on people who drink soda, on people who buy guns, and on people who earn a wage of any amount. (The last tax hike proposal being one she borrowed from Bernie Sanders, by the way.)

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For public transparency, Americans for Tax Reform has made the complete list of Hillary’s tax increases available at www.HighTaxHillary.com.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Brian Darling
Donald Trump’s anti-establishment message is a debate winner and he will be squared off against the poster child of the establishment – first lady, senator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump’s tough talk will be his biggest advantage. He can attack her from the opening bell and immediately point to Clinton’s accusation that half the Republican Party is made up of deplorable racists.

Trump can also make Hillary’s time at the State Department a liability because of Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation corruption scandal, and her mishandling of classified information. Expect Trump’s aggressive and politically unorthodox debate tactics to keep Clinton on the defensive. He proved to be a competent wrecking ball in the Republican primary, debate after debate. Trump dispatched Republican establishment darling Jeb Bush, scrappy Sen. Ted Cruz, and a number of the best and brightest the Republican Party had to offer. And he did it with ease.

Expect unlikable and dishonest Hillary to emerge, be exposed, and lose.

Brian Darling is a former senior communications director and counsel for Sen. Rand Paul.

Ron Bonjean
The first debate should be the most impactful and defining one of the series and could determine the outcome of the November elections. The stakes are so high that it feels like the equivalent of the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Heavy Weight Boxing Title match combined. Hillary Clinton will shine with her knowledge of policy and has surely memorized several soundbites to try and frame her opponent. However, Trump has the edge because she is defending the status quo of the Obama administration and her lack of transparency over numerous issues.

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Trump should be careful and not to overplay his hand like he did with Carly Fiorina and come across as arrogant or womanizing to the millions of female voters tuning into the event. He’ll need to make his case respectfully, even when he comes at her with one-line attacks that are outside the box. Trump must show the American people that he represents change they can trust and will be a positive alternative. He cannot allow Hillary to bait him into traps that paint him as a risky choice or the election could be decided without allowing a real chance for a comeback.

Ron Bonjean is a partner of the public affairs firm Rokk Solutions. He remains the first person to serve as the lead spokesman in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He has served as a strategist for the Republican National Committee in numerous senior communications roles for high-ranking officials.

Eddie Zipperer
This debate is expected to be a Super Bowl-level event. I’m the biggest Falcons fan there is, and even I’m skipping out on Monday Night Football. With so many eyes on it, everything that happens in this debate will be magnified, and it will have a way more pronounced effect on the polls than any debate in modern history.

Trump should be on his best behavior. He’s debated several times now, but this will be the first debate where he’s trying to attract a majority of the nation instead of a plurality of the GOP — two very different goals. He’ll still be Trump, but he’ll hold back enough to show the temperament swing voters are watching for.

Fair or not, everyone will be watching to see if Hillary Clinton can make it through the debate without collapsing. 90 minutes of standing is tough no matter what, but she’s supposedly getting over pneumonia which makes it much tougher. Will her legs give out? Will she have another hack attack? With the video of her collapse still fresh in the minds of voters, she desperately needs to come across as strong and healthy.

Eddie Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College and a regular LifeZette contributor.

Ben Voth
On Monday, Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York, records are likely to be broken regarding the U.S. presidential debate viewership ratings. The record is 80 million viewers in 1980 for the first debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The second largest audience was a vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in 2008. The unique dynamics of this election and radically different styles and personalities will likely draw an unusually large audience that would be a minimum of 50 million viewers. Some predict upwards of 100 million.

Clinton will argue that she has the best temperament and experience to be president. She will argue that her work as secretary of state and a U.S. senator makes her a relatively strong expert on both American domestic and foreign policy. She will also attack the temperament of Donald Trump.

Trump will argue that he is the best change agent for the nation. He will argue that he is dramatically needed change. The points of change will likely focus on economic strength and the risks of terrorism at home and abroad. He will argue that Clinton is an emphatic reflection of corruption.

The critical question for the viewing audience will be the extent to which they believe change in American politics is in fact necessary. If the audience concludes that change is necessary, then Trump will likely be judged the winner. If the audience concludes that change is not necessary, then Clinton will be deemed the winner by most.

Clinton tends to be more reserved and will try to be a calm contrast to Trump. Trump will also try to enact a more calm presidential persona. Both will try to provoke the opponent to act out in a manner that can be understood as “un-presidential.” That will not likely prevent both sides from becoming quite animated and even frustrated over the 90 minutes that the debate will last.

Historically, debates tend not to score decisive results on who will win the election in November. The largest polling change in the month of October as measured by Gallup was the 2000 election where George W. Bush went from -4 to +8 in relation to sitting Vice President Al Gore. Most poll positions change in a significantly smaller range at the end of one month of debating.

Incumbents almost always lose the first debate. 2012 debate #1 was the worst loss in history — with Gallup scoring Obama’s loss at roughly 70 to 20.

It is difficult to predict who will win this debate. The role of the moderators is important and not given enough scrutiny. If the moderators intervene heavily, this will lead to more preference for Trump. If there is less intervention, Clinton would likely prevail. It would be best if candidates fact-checked one another instead of the moderator. It will also be important to see whether each is given the same amount of time to speak.

Clinton’s lower amount of campaign activity and debating compared to Trump will be a preparation limitation she will need to overcome in order to win the debate.

Dr. Ben Voth is director of debate and associate professor at Southern Methodist University.

Cleta Mitchell
Donald Trump should demonstrate through his demeanor the false narrative painted of him over the last several months by Hillary Clinton, her super-wealthy allies, and the liberal media.

Three ways: Smile (no frown lines, be friendly to the viewers). Be calm (this isn’t a campaign rally, and people don’t like yelling from presidential candidates). Reiterate his values and principles.

Hillary is a policy wonk but presidential campaigns are about values and principles, not just issues. Trump must stand firm for the principles that made America great to begin with, and will make America great again — safety at home and abroad. Secure borders. Legal immigration. Strong military. Economic growth for more than the elites. Constitutional judges. Weave the story of his life’s success as a result of America’s great opportunity society, compared to Hillary’s wealth built upon cronyism, and her family’s vast influence-peddling enterprise. Donald Trump just needs to be true to his principles in a way that reassures the American people that she is lying about him, as she lies about everything.

Cleta Mitchell is an attorney for several conservative organizations.

Robert Kaufman
Clinton would make a huge mistake underestimating or condescending to Donald Trump in tonight’s debate, as his Republican opponents in the primaries he demolished could attest. She has the added burden of defending an indefensible record as secretary of state, just as domestic terrorism and foreign defiance of Obama’s weakness has surged. If history offers any guide, the experienced Clinton will lose the debate if she does not win; whereas the challenger wins if he does not lose. Think of the Nixon-Kennedy debates, where the public construed Kennedy holding his own as a victory. Think likewise of the Reagan-Carter debate of 1980 where Reagan reassured an anxious nation in a neck-and-neck race that he offered a safer, saner, alternative to Carter’s domestic and international vacillations and incompetence.

Whether Trump can sustain his momentum and exploit Clinton’s mounting problems on multiple fronts depends on his ability to appear more plausibly presidential than usual. Trump would benefit enormously from ending his flirtation with Putin and by acknowledging America’s vital role in the world, including our alliances in East Asia to contain China’s bid for hegemony in the most vital geopolitical region of the 21st Century. He should also stop referring to himself as an America Firster, a term associated with the execrable legacy of Charles Lindbergh, isolationism, and opposition to America’s entry into World War II. Instead, Trump should cast himself as a realist without illusions, as someone who understands the importance of American power and the dangers our enemies pose, while at the same time demanding our allies do more and insisting on fair trade as the condition for free trade.

Trump can expose Clinton as the first mate on Obama’s foreign policy Titanic — the advocate of a dangerous doctrine that has weakened America by shrinking the military precipitously, conciliating our adversaries, undermining our democratic friends, and treating American power as a greater danger than ISIS, Putin, Iran, or China.

If Trump squanders his opportunity in this debate to create inexorable momentum for victory, he has only himself, his imprudence, and his lack of self-control and seriousness to blame.

Robert G. Kaufman is professor of public policy at Pepperdine University and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America.”

Heather Richardson Higgins
“Fascinating” is opposite things occurring simultaneously. This year’s presidential debates have that: fun AND deadly serious. Trump has turned presidential debates into appointment television.

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The media says they want a focus on policy — and I personally would love it if Trump would point out how Obamacare is collapsing and we will get single payer if Hillary wins. But hey, that’s me.

Those are crocodile tears: The networks know that dull debates won’t drive viewership. And the candidates know that this is about winning the audience.

Their real concern is:

For loyal fans — How do I give you what you want and expect, plus some surprises to remind you why you like yourself for having supported me?

For those on the fence — How do I help you answer: “Who can I vote for and still like myself?”

So bring out the popcorn, and let the deadly serious games begin!

Heather Richardson Higgins is president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice.

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