Things we are curious about for the Trump-Clinton I: The Debate.
The television audience
How many people will be watching? Well, a lot – that’s for sure. Some predict the audience could exceed 100 million people. The record audience for a presidential debate is 80 million people for Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1983. By comparison, the audience for the first 2012 debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was 67.2 million. Even at 100 million though, Clinton and Trump will have to go some to top the 115 million people who watched the Broncos and Panthers February in the Super Bowl. It could surpass the 105.9 million people who watched the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983, which was the most-watched regular TV show ever. For both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, this likely is their best (and last) chance to make a dynamic impact. Even though there are two more scheduled debates, it is likely neither will be watched as closely as this one.
Being the moderator at an event like this is almost an impossible task, especially considering the volatility of emotions from supporters of either candidate. Lester Holt accepted the seat on the dunk tank for this one and both camps already raised doubts about him. He can expect to have more barbs thrown in his direction if he challenges either candidate on their answer or if, like Matt Lauer, he lets things pass. Trump already labeled Holt a Democrat (he’s a registered Republican), and since facts don’t much matter in social media, that’s red meat for the hungry hordes. If either candidate, but most likely Trump, decides to make Holt an issue during or after the debate, Twitter might explode.
What’s at stake for Florida
With polls showing a tight U.S. Senate race between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy, a bad performance by either candidate could create a down-ballot tsunami that swamps either Senate candidate. Rubio could have the most to win or lose there, since the person at the top of his party’s ticket is potentially volatile. If Trump appears presidential and in control, it could be a boost to Rubio’s campaign. But if Trump is goaded into saying something stupid, or worse, Republican candidates everywhere could be affected – including Rubio.
What they need to show
Clinton is on a tightrope. Likeability is one of her major deficiencies according to the polls, but even with the need to gain wider acceptance she can’t just let Trump walk on her. On the other hand, Trump trails by large amounts among women and various minority groups. That creates a special dilemma. He has gotten this far by stoking anger among white males against immigrants, against – well, basically anyone who doesn’t look or talk like them. But he also can’t win in November unless he cuts into Clinton’s margin with all those groups. Trump also needs to show that he has a mastery of the complex global and domestic issues that would confront an American president, although saying “Make America Great Again” without explaining how he would do that has served him well so far.
Oh those pesky facts
One of the great unknowns is the impact of real-time fact-checkers. This has the potential to really mix things up, especially if Holt decides to engage either candidate on misstatements. Trump likely would be the one affected most by this, given his penchant for making statements that get graded pants-on-fire. Even if Holt decides to stay out of that arena, social media will be a major part of this debate and people there aren’t known for their restraint when someone is guilty of a lie or gaffe.