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No matter how Trump does tonight, the story will be something 'controversial' he says
The lead is already written.
I am not looking forward to tonight's debate. (In fact, I'm going to the Tiger game. Trump can take care of Hillary while we take care of the Indians.) And one of the reasons I'm not looking forward to it is that it won't really be a debate.
Presidential debates are not serious discussions of issues, problems, solutions and decisions presidents might have to make. They should be. But they're not. At their best, they are glorified joint press conferences in which the entire discussion is driven by randomly selected questions chosen by a media moderator - often questions that have a great deal more to do with the horse race dynamics of the race than they have to do with the job of the presidency.
But even that isn't really what matters in a presidential debate. Ultimately, these damn things are combat performance art. Each candidate tries to maneuver the other into making a horrendously dumb statement, or tries to lure the other into becoming the target of a memorable line. And each candidate tries desperately not to have an embarrassing situation that might be labeled a "gaffe" or a "deer-in-the-headlights moment." God help you if you momentarily forget something you wanted to say. Your campaign is over if that happens. (Just ask Rick Perry about that.)
And that's why I think this debate is wrought with peril for Donald Trump. It's not that I don't think he can effectively explain his positions. I'm sure he can do that. And it's not that I'm concerned about Hillary looking like a know-it-all by going into exhaustive detail about public policy. I think most people have caught onto Hillary's B.S. act. She can make herself sound very knowledgeable about things for a time, but if you've paid much attention to her you realize that being loaded down with facts and figures is not the same thing as really understanding any of it.
I think this is dangerous for Trump because the whole debate is going to be like a two-hour exercise in stepping around land mines for him. Everything he says and does will be scrutinzied for some hidden meaning, some unforgivable offense or some flaw in delivery that will be obsessed over for weeks on end. Every fact Trump references will be "debunked" by media "fact-checkers" who have become expert at making even the most obvious of truths seem like a "pants on fire" lie.
And you can pretty well guarantee that at some point Trump will look at Hillary or speak to her in a way that she and others will claim was patronizing and sexist. I would not at all be surprised if the leading test he's held to is whether he treated her with sufficient respect - not that this will be expected or demanded in return, but since the narrative of Trump as sexist pig has already been established, even the slightest raise of an eyebrow or body movement that could be claimed as sexist will be turned into memes and vines and played over and over again, even if it's entirely innocuous.
Watch the debate if you want. I really hope he does well and I'm hoping to get a text from Rob while I'm on my way home from the game telling me that he did. But I think this is going to be exasperating to watch. It will be like being forced into a weird star chamber where your challenge is somehow pass a bunch of bizarre tests it's impossible to pass, because the test-givers have rigged every one of them against you.
This election is slipping away from Hillary and she and her media servants are desperate to create a new campaign narrative that can turn things in her favor. The debates are their best opportunity to do that, and they don't care if the tactic they use is fair or unfair, honest or dishonest, relevant or irrelevant. As long as it gives them something to talk about in the coming weeks other than the merits of Hillary as a candidate - of which they are none.
Watching tonight? Good luck to you. The best thing I can say is that the debate itself will probably be better than the coverage that will follow.