There are two aspects of tonight’s debate that remain crucial – how does each candidate match up with the expectations game of him or her, and which candidate sets the tone for the first third or so of the debate.
Donald Trump has a huge advantage going into the debate. It is true that his knowledge of policy is superficial, that there is no consistency in what he says, and there is much venom that he spews. But because of these descriptions his advantage remains firm. That is because anything other than being completely destroyed in the debate by a more competent Hillary Clinton will seems like a huge victory on his part.
Remember Sarah Palin versus Joe Biden? The debate appeared as a clear victory for Ms. Palin because she wasn’t destroyed by the more experienced, articulate Biden. Though most analysts felt that Mr. Biden won the debate the fact that the winning had to be considered at all after the expectations game was considered was a victory for Palin.
And Trump is a superstar with one-liners and meaningless policy descriptions that fill the air time and are reinforced by his positive posture and air of confidence. Clinton will not appear as likeable as Trump (with this presidential race being a contest between the two most detested candidates of our time) even though his statements suggest he is truly a horrific person.
The first few hours after the debate is the world of spin and of the analysts. When Obama or Bernie debate Hillary they often immediately appeared to be losers and public opinion firmed days later around that they had won. What happens in public opinion a few days later is more likely to set the tone for the result of the debate then the initial analysis. How the sense by the public relates directly to the expectations game.
So if Hillary does not come off in the first thirty minutes as likeable enough, and if the Donald can appear Presidential enough, Hillary and the Democrats will suffer through the appearance they do not want to make.
“Veteran presidential debate coaches and campaign strategists say the tone and trajectory of general election debates have long been set in their opening minutes, and that the explosion of real-time spin and Twitter groupthink has only accelerated the trend.
And so, as Clinton and Trump square off Monday at Hofstra University before a national audience that is expected to shatter viewership records, the pressure will be especially intense right at the start.
“You have your maximum audience at its most impressionable stage in the first minutes of the debate,” said Mari Maseng Will, a veteran Republican debate coach who served as communications director in the Reagan White House.
Campaigns now specially design one-liners for those crucial opening minutes and map out plans to pivot to safer ground if the early questioning veers into rockier political terrain, such as, say, classified emails for Clinton or charges of misogyny for Trump.
In a sign of the warp speed in which debate storylines can form, BuzzFeed in 2012 famously posted a story with the headline, “How Mitt Romney Won the First Debate,” only 42 minutes into the first Obama-Romney clash in Denver.
The early minutes proved critical in some of this year’s primary debates, too.
In February, Chris Christie’s campaign-crushing retort to Rubio’s repeating of a talking point — “There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody” — came fewer than 20 minutes into the two-hour debate. Rubio never recovered that night, or the rest of the campaign.
Curt Anderson, chief strategist for Bobby Jindal, who appeared in the so-called undercard debates, said the bias toward the beginning was striking.
“There’s this whole Twitterverse dynamic where it’s decided in the opening minutes. It’s not rational or fair, and you can bitch all you want about it, but you have to adjust and deal with it,” he said. By the end, Jindal’s team designed their debate strategy around landing their weightiest punches early.
In the most extreme of cases, an entire debate’s storyline can be sealed after a single question.
In 1988, the very first question asked of Michael Dukakis was whether he would support the death penalty if his wife was “raped and murdered.” Without any visible emotion, he said he would not. (“When he answered by talking policy, I knew we had lost the election,” Dukakais’ campaign manager would later say.)” http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-debate-228640
“In 2012, BuzzFeed famously posted a story with the headline, “How Mitt Romney Won the First Debate,” only 42 minutes into the first Obama-Romney clash in Denver. | Getty
With Trump’s general unpredictability and his reported disdain for full 90-minute dress rehearsals at a lectern, he certainly could tire, slump or lash out late. Notably, Trump never debated one-on-one in the primary, and all those contests included commercial and bathroom breaks that are absent from the formal fall debates.
Meanwhile, Clinton, in a 2007 primary debate, suffered a late blow after she took two different positions on drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants in the closing minutes. “I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it,” Obama pounced.
But historically, it has been the first third to half of debates that prove decisive.
“Attention spans wane,” said Brett O’Donnell, a Republican debate coach who has worked with past presidential candidates, including Romney, Bush and McCain. “They’re really set in the first 30 minutes, and you never get a second chance at a first impression.” http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-debate-228640