The first presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is scheduled to take place Monday September 26. Moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt, the debate will take place at Long Island’s Hofstra University. The format will be a 90-minute program without commercial breaks. Personally, I have to admit that I can’t wait to see the real estate magnate and the former secretary of state engage in a verbal boxing match. Apparently, I am not alone. The first Trump-Clinton face off is anticipated by experts to draw “as many as 100 million viewers-reaching almost as many people as the Super Bowl”. (Could the Trump-Clinton debate ratings reach Super Bowl levels?) Barack Obama’s first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, garnered over 70 million viewers, which was the highest number for a debate since 1980 when 80.6 million viewers tuned in to watch President Jimmy Carter debate Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan.( Presidential Debate Drew More than 70 Million Viewers)
The reasons for the unprecedented interest are apparent. The 2016 presidential race has been patently different from any presidential campaign in recent history. First of all, the race is incredibly close. Clinton only has an aggregate lead of 3 points over Trump in the national race. However, Trump currently has the lead in several battleground states including Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. On the most basic level, the two candidates who have been called everything from the “most polarizing” to the “least liked” candidates in history are also the most interesting.
In the Democratic corner, you have Hillary Clinton, the woman who has spent most of her adult life in politics and arguably has been aspiring to the presidency for over 20 years. You only have to read her college thesis to see that the seeds of her ambition were already germinating on the Wellesley campus. Obviously, Clinton also brings to the arena not only her past history as a former first lady, former senator and former secretary of state, she also brings a suite of scandals involving her use of an unsecured email server during her tenure at the State Department, quid for quo dealings involving the Clinton Foundation etc.
In the Republican corner, you have Donald Trump, a real estate billionaire whose last name has graced everything from hotels to ties. Trump also deepened his fame by becoming a reality show creator and star with his now legendary show “The Apprentice”. One could argue that being a reality star was the perfect training ground for diving into the fishbowl called politics.
The debate‘s anticipated high ratings are also predicated on the assumption that everyone wants to witness the dynamics between Clinton and Trump in a one on one conversation format. We have heard a lot about their different styles of debate preparation. Supposedly, Trump has been studying videos of Clinton to better understand her body language and facial gestures. Clinton has been reportedly using her longtime aide Philippe Reines as the “Trump” stand-in during mock debate sessions. It will be interesting to see what happens when these two individuals who have been spending the last few months attacking each other indirectly via media interviews, campaign rallies and tweets actually get into the same room. When was the last time that happened? January 22, 2005, the day of Donald Trump’s marriage to Melania Knauss? Yes, that’s right Bill and Hill were guests at the Donald’s third nuptial ceremony.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s health and whether she is physically capable of serving as president. Her recent fainting episode at the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks (which has been since explained as a reaction to pneumonia) has been feeding the “bad health” rumors which have been circulating since her 2012 concussion. Most recently, the speculation has deepened with theories covering everything from Parkinsons to a neurological problem. It has not helped the situation that Mrs. Clinton has also had public instances where she appeared physically unstable or in need of assistance mounting stairs. And of course, most recently a video has circulated of Mrs. Clinton addressing a largely union audience where she asked the rhetorical question of why she isn’t 50 points ahead of Donald Trump in the race. More than one pundit has described her demeanor in this video as “unhinged”.
As for Mr. Trump, critics point to situations where he spoke bluntly such as saying that we need to bar all Muslims from entering the United States until we have a mechanism for vetting them. He also famously received a lot of criticism for his early remarks that some of the Mexicans entering the United States illegally are “rapists and drug dealers”. Many viewers may tune in to see if Trump will put his foot in his mouth. Many will approach the debate with this perspective despite the fact that for the last two months Trump has been vigorously campaigning, delivering one policy speech after another while staying very much on message.
Of course, the whole point of a presidential debate is for the candidates to have an opportunity to showcase their platforms to the American people. Obviously, their ability to effectively answer the moderator’s questions within the confines of a designated time frame and other guidelines are part and parcel of the debate. While viewers may be intrigued by the spectacle, they are also interested in hearing more about the issues. While we have heard a lot about Trump’s policies, we have not heard as much about Clinton’s. Although, this week we did hear that she plans to impose a 65% estate tax on the wealthiest individuals. I am sure people may want to hear more about that. Also, media bias has played a huge role in the campaign. Many people may be tuning to see if Lester Holt will be a fair moderator.
Of course, the primary reason people are tuning in to the debate is that the winner of the debate may very well become the winner of the election for the US presidency. After all, the race is all about who has the best vision, the best plan and the likelihood of ultimately delivering the best results for the American people.