LifeZette asked leading conservatives, debate experts, political scientists, and GOP consultants whether Donald Trump could mount a strong enough debate performance Sunday to, as he has many times before, come back from what seems certain doom.

It has been a rough two weeks for the GOP nominee. A poor performance in the first debate was followed by a media onslaught over past comments Trump had made about Venezuelan Miss Universe Alicia Machado. On Friday, a leaked tape of Trump making extremely lewd comments in 2005 sparked a mass run on Trump among many high-ranking Republicans.

The newly dumped tape has even sparked rumors of a Trump dropout.

But the GOP nominee is nothing if not defiant and has been counted out before.

Here is what LifeZette’s Debate Squad said to watch for in Sunday night’s presidential debate.

Eddie Zipperer
Trump has the weight of the world on his shoulders tonight. Hillary Clinton loses on every issue except the issue of Trump’s character. She wins again and again on that one because Trump keeps taking the bait. Hillary and the media don’t want to talk about jobs, the economy, immigration, or anything else. They’ll want to talk “hot mic” comments. Trump needs to be humble, contrite, and he needs to force the real issues.

This is a must-win debate for Trump, and the town hall style will play to his strengths more than the head-to-head debate. Trump enjoys interacting with ordinary people a lot more than Hillary does.

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

Robert Kaufman
There Donald Trump goes again. The release of a decade-old tape on which Trump brags about his vulgar behavior with women could not have come at a worse time for him — or a better one for Hillary Clinton. On the eve of a second presidential debate where Trump sorely needs a strong performance, Trump has aggravated the doubts about his character and temperament. This latest revelation — reinforcing the perception that Trump is Andrew Dice Clay in a business suit — compounds his already daunting problem of convincing professionals and young women to vote for him. Trump’s degradation of women and himself also deflects public attention from Hillary Clinton’s own scandals and dreadful record.

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Despite all this, Trump still has a genuine chance because of the terrible state of the economy and the gathering dangers abroad, largely attributable to Obama’s feckless policies that Hillary Clinton has embraced. Yet Trump must do what he has not done — and perhaps organically cannot do to — make the most of it. Trump should start with a fulsome apology for his vulgarity and intemperance.

Correspondingly, Trump must stop talking about how great he is. Instead, he must highlight how his economic and national security policies will restore American prosperity and power that the failed policies of Obama and Clinton have imperiled. This line of argument would resonate more powerfully were Trump to convey a genuine sense of gratitude for the boundless opportunities America has afforded him. He should articulate that his outrage arises from his altruistic concerns that the Clinton-Obama policies risk denying future generations of Americans the same opportunities he had.

Hillary Clinton will serve herself best in the debate by keeping the attention on Donald Trump’s character. It is a triumph of hope over experience to count on any scandal derailing Clinton after decades of surviving them. Conversely, she loses if the state of the world and the economy become the focal points of the debate. Tactically, less is more for Clinton, who should let the questioners take the lead in pillorying Trump for the latest disclosure of his serial misogynistic outbursts.

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

Cleta Mitchell
It is up to Trump to show humility, embarrassment, and remorse for his ugly comments about women. Hillary has some nerve attacking Trump for acting like … well, Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, Trump better be able to sincerely apologize — and mean it — and then redirect the debate to the future of the country and the key principles that won him the nomination: unfair trade, illegal immigration, fighting terrorism, and rebuilding America’s military and role in the world.

Trump has the opportunity to beg forgiveness from the country for boorish behavior, something Bill Clinton has NEVER done. Nor has Hillary ever apologized for blaming the Lewinsky scandal on “false” allegations against “her husband” fabricated by the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” thereby causing the nation to endure two years of fallout from her defense of Bill’s affair with Lewinsky. Trump can legitimately argue that on the issue of bawdy sexual misconduct, it is a draw. But if Trump can’t sincerely apologize, successfully fight back against the Clintons for their misbehavior involving women, and then pivot to the principles of his candidacy, he is in real trouble.

Cleta Mitchell is attorney to conservative organizations

Ben Voth
Donald Trump may face a formidable trio of opponents in his second debate Oct. 9. Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper will moderate the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This debate is in a town hall format, which tends to obscure the moderator control of the event. Nonetheless, the moderators do know in advance what the questions are among individual audience members and the moderators will decide who is called upon to offer their questions to candidates. The moderators have expressed a desire to be perceived as fair and unbiased.

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However, both Raddatz and Cooper show a habit of attacking Republicans with greater intensity. Most significantly, Anderson Cooper attacked an elected Republican official after the Orlando shooting by arguing that her position against gay marriage discredited her in the terror attack in Florida. Town hall is a format that was created in 1992 and was deemed to be a decisive vehicle in helping Bill Clinton defeat George H. W. Bush, who was caught by cameramen looking at his watch during the town hall debate.

Thus far, the current debates seem marred by interruptions. Trump interrupted Clinton 39 times in the first debate. Clinton interrupted him only six times. The moderator, Lester Holt, interrupted Trump 41 times while interrupting Clinton seven times. Holt asked Trump 15 extra questions in debate one, while asking Clinton two extra questions. Raddatz moderated the vice presidential debate in 2012 between Biden and Ryan. She occupied more debate time than any other moderator in 2012, giving herself more than 12 percent of the speech time. Biden interrupted Ryan 100 times in 90 minutes in that debate. Ryan interrupted Biden 15 times in the debate.

Clinton may be slightly hampered by her exceptional performance in the first debate — that may place further high expectations on her. Trump is besieged by October surprises involving his taxes and bragging about sexual assaults in 2005, for which he had to apologize. The election is reaching a fevered pitch and attacks are becoming more personal. Disclosures of leaked information about Hillary Clinton’s State Department email continue to antagonize her campaign.

Ben Both is director of debate at Southern Methodist University and associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs.

Heather Richardson Higgins
As we head into the debate tonight, millions will have seen or heard of the 2005 video in which Trump was bantering crudely with an apparently approving Billy Bush, as well as the Trump mea culpa video on Twitter early Saturday in which a sober Trump … admits his failings! Apologizes! (Whoa! Stop the presses! Weren’t we told Trump didn’t have the maturity to ever apologize?) And then pivots to the gloves-off contrast the leaked video now permits him: lewd words vs. actual assault, focus on issues facing the country vs. avoidance of track record.

For that is the entire zeitgeist of this election for many who are still undecided, and thus the target audience of this debate: Which candidate is least bad?

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When you saw the video, did you wonder: Are we in Casablanca, that hypocritical world where the authorities are Shocked, SHOCKED, that Trump might talk this way? Trump’s supporters’ are thinking “Huh? What did you think he talked like when alone bragging with the guys?” But those who never wanted Trump as the candidate are in high dudgeon, and those in the media and on the Left are acting as though this is new news — which it is not.

(One wonders: Were they bothered by how the Kennedys talked about and treated women? Or how Bill Clinton did? Nah. Crocodile tears.)

Will this latest outré outrage make a difference? I think not.

First — Those who support Trump aren’t doing so because they thought he had high moral character, admirable business practices, or the disposition of a statesman. They don’t.

Many Trump supporters don’t care for Trump personally. But what they like is that HE’S AN OUTSIDER, and what they particularly like is that HE’S NOT HER. They already know he’s rough, crude, and lewd. Moreover, they think those characteristics may be necessary to clean out our modern Augean Stables: the institutionalized corruption that increasingly defines Washington.  Rather than undermining that narrative, the video reinforces it.

Second — Expect Trump to survive this the same way he does everything else, by changing the subject, and attacking his opponents for using mud to obscure with old news their present failings. He will repeat that he has made mistakes, has never pretended to be perfect, and he is not running for saint. He just wants to make America great again.

Third — He will remind people that he recognized that he owed, and gave, the American people an apology — and unlike the video, Trump apologizing is contrary to type, which will HELP with those waiting for him to act presidential.

Fourth — Trump will turn this to his advantage, and take the counter-punch opening it provides, starting with reminding us that, unlike himself, Clinton feels she owes us nothing, and that no apology, for anything, will be forthcoming from her.

Even more, Trump should say “My words might have offended many of you but her corruption and failed policies have hurt you.” Even her husband, Bill, thinks the Affordable Care Act is horrific — and she will make it worse. (Indeed, Trump needs to talk about Obamacare in a more heartfelt way than he has to date, both because it is an issue that is particularly resonant with women, but also because Bill Clinton’s comments were no accident, but the first step in justifying single-payer, government-run health care.)

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Expect Trump to repeat that she’s been at this 30 years with failure as the result, and if you want a true politician, vote for her.

Clinton will bait him with attacks on his character and certainly has plenty of new fodder this week (no taxes, sexist, misogynist).

After his experience last time, don’t expect him to squander time defending himself, but rather to be more like Pence in his demeanor — calm, unruffled, and on offense, hopefully leavened with humor and zingers. Expect him to use his time to attack her (the secret emails released this week, the lies and cover-ups, the immunity deals, etc.) and to sell his own policies.

Trump, if well-prepared, will paint a vivid picture of daily life under corrupt politicians, their cronies, and powerful special interests, versus an optimistic future where the American people get a government that puts them first.

His bar is low for Sunday. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t come to the debate better armed and more on offense.

I’ve got my popcorn. Round 2, here we come!

Heather Richardson Higgins is president of Independent Women’s Voice, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization for mainstream women, men, and families in Washington, D.C.

Brian Darling
If I told you that one candidate for President would be hit with an October Surprise of past private statements that indicate serious moral problems mere days before a big debate, you might think I was referencing Donald Trump.

I am actually referring to Hillary Clinton.

In tonight’s debate, Trump needs to use recent revelations about Hillary’s past behind closed door speeches to reinforce the perception that Hillary is an elitist who will say whatever it takes to be elected President.

WikiLeaks released an excerpt from a 2013 speech Hillary gave to the National Multi-Housing Council where she admitted that while working with the elites on secret “back room” deals a politician needs “both a public and a private position.” Hillary gave three speeches where she collected $600,000 from Goldman Sachs and commiserated with the super-rich that she has trouble connecting with average voters because of the “fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy.” While Hillary was selling access to her future White House office, she admitted to some other positions that should cause here problems tonight.

If Trump wants to stem the political bleeding of his struggling campaign then he must win this debate and win it big.

Brian Darling is a former Sr. Communications Director and Counsel for Sen. Rand Paul. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling.