The vice presidential debate is now in the books, with most pundits agreeing that Mike Pence won over the Tim Kaine, the great interrupter. Now, all eyes turn to presidential debate #2. Most agree that Donald Trump was woefully unprepared for the first debate, missing numerous openings. In the ten days since the first debate, Hillary Clinton has opened up a lead of about four points. As Trump goes into the second debate, he doesn’t need a knockout. But, to continue with the sports analogy, he does need a knockdown, or at the very least, a unanimous win on all the judges’ scorecards.
So with the debate just three days away, what will happen? Will Clinton win round 2, or will Trump make a comeback? As I see it, the answers to three questions will determine who wins the face-off Sunday night . . . and probably the election.
1. Can Trump stay focused?
In the first debate, Trump was like a confused puppy, chasing after whichever ball was tossed in front of him in the moment. He failed to prosecute the case against Obamacare, Clinton’s emails, her radical support for partial-birth abortion, or the rise of ISIS, whom her administration called “The JV Team.” He was too busy name-calling, interrupting, and responding to whatever subject Clinton jabbed him with in the moment. Trump needs to take a lesson from the Mike Pence playbook: stay focused, stay calm, and stay presidential.
2. Will Clinton keep Trump on the defensive?
There is an old saying in politics: “When you are explaining, you are losing.” Clinton kept Trump explaining the entire first debate. There is another truism: “When you are playing defense, you’re behind.” It’s hard to score on defense, but Trump found himself defending his past comments and positions the full 90 minutes of the first debate. He failed to make Clinton defend her emails, failures in the Middle East, or the “unpatriotic, un-American” rise in the national debt (Obama’s words). In the first debate, Clinton was the poker player with a pair of deuces. Trump was dealt a full house. But Clinton won, because she knew how to play her hand well. If she keeps him on defense again, the election will pretty much be over.
3. Will the focus be on Trump’s rhetoric or Clinton’s record?
If Clinton has her way, the 90 minutes will be dominated by Trump’s crazy insults of the past year and beyond. If Trump has his way, the focus will be on the failings of the past eight years, especially in areas of foreign policy. Clinton will tell us what Trump has said he will do. Trump will tell us what Clinton has already done. Clinton will focus on Trump’s rhetoric. Trump will focus on Clinton’s record. At least, that’s what his advisors hope he will do. Which voice will win out? Will we hear more about Trump’s rhetoric or Clinton’s record? That is what the election will eventually come down to.