Success in this first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will hinge on the tone, flavor and emotional connections they make with their audiences.
These pungent show-biz affairs also have studio spectators who, regardless of moderators’ warnings, will provide a carnival backdrop when they boo, scream and wail.
Too bad there will be no prerecorded laugh track to help cue those watching at home on Monday night. It would lighten the mood, given record disapproval ratings for both candidates.
Trump gained so much notice for being catty in GOP primary debates that suspense now focuses on how Clinton — relatively orthodox and bland in style — responds one-on-one to her former supporter.
Head games are well underway. Like a wrestling show performer, Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Hillary Clinton is taking the day off again.
“She needs the rest. Sleep well Hillary — see you at the debate!”
The Clinton camp has had ample time to prepare for what they face. Back in April 2015, Trump famously retweeted the message: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
The sky is the potential limit for foulness and abuse in the first presidential contest between a man and woman.
On the stump, Clinton attacks Trump as erratic and petulant. She has yet to bluntly question Trump’s manliness — but does assail his presumed patriotism.
She goes as far as using the “aid and comfort” phrase from Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defining treason to describe Trump’s behavior, in the wake of the Manhattan and New Jersey terrorist bombings.
“We know that a lot of the rhetoric used by Donald Trump is being seized upon by terrorists,” she asserted the other day.
“We also know from what the former head of our Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Matt Olson, that the kinds of rhetoric and language that Mr. Trump has used is giving aid and comfort to our adversaries.”
“Aid and comfort.” Is she calling her opponent a reckless traitor? Will she be urged at Hofstra to provide evidence of his wrongful intent — as occurred when Trump insistently called President Barack Obama an illegitimate president and “the founder of ISIS”?
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. wrote in the American Spectator, a conservative monthly: “Negative campaigns in politics are akin to steroids in sports. Although deplored, they work.”
Raquel Eatmon of the liberal Huffington Post had this take: “Each team has worked tirelessly to discredit one another. It’s working, but it’s working to their demise.”
Either way, this debate and the polls that follow might test just how low it is wise for either candidate to go.