The big debate is tonight.
And Donald Trump has every advantage.
Every. Single. One.
The Numbers. New polls show that Trump is in a dead heat with Clinton. Bloomberg today has Trump up on Clinton in a four-way race, 43 percent to 41 percent; if the race were two-way, they’d be tied 46-46. Quinnipiac has Hillary up just one point. The new CNN/ORC poll shows Trump up one point in a four-way race. CNN/ORC has Trump up one in Colorado and down one in Pennsylvania. Hillary’s firewall is gone. What’s more, according to Sunday’s ABC News/Washington Post poll, Trump’s up 59 points among white non-college educated men, and fully 47 percent of Americans think Hillary will win the first debate – as opposed to just 33 percent for Trump. As Nate Silver writes this morning, “The latest polling is consistent with a Clinton lead of only ~1% nationally. State firewall breaking up. Trend lines awful.” If the election were held today, according to fivethirtyeight.com, she’d have a 45.1 percent chance of winning.
The Standards. Americans know that Trump doesn’t know policy well. They know that he’s erratic, that he’s bombastic, that he’s colorful, that he’s offensive, that he doesn’t tell the truth. That’s baked into his numbers. Americans also know that Hillary Clinton is deeply corrupt, a lifelong liar, a manipulator and a robotic nuisance. Americans worry that Trump is too volatile for the presidency; Americans worry that Hillary is too corrupt for the presidency. This means that all Trump has to do in the debate tonight is not projectile vomit on a Mexican baby and shout about Hillary’s period; Hillary, by contrast, has to show that she’s trustworthy. There’s a far better shot that Trump contains his id for 90 minutes – he’s done that before, and done it for the most part for the last six weeks – than that Hillary can magically transform her image from the Corrupt Wicked Witch of Accounts Receivable.
The News. Months ago, the news cycle was all about Donald Trump ripping Mexican judges and Gold Star families. Now, the news is all about race riots in major American cities and terrorist attacks in New York and New Jersey and Minnesota. Hillary Clinton’s on the side of race-baiting regarding cops, and she’s on the side of importing more unvettable Muslim immigrants. Recent polls show a massive spike in concern about terrorism, which benefits Trump; Americans are worried about race relations collapsing, and Hillary’s busily pandering to Black Lives Matter.
The Media. Leading up to the debate, MSNBC previewed the tasks for each candidate. For Clinton: “Sell her presidency (what she would do, and how she would do it); be the Clinton who shines in a smaller crowd; get those jokes off, adding levity.” For Trump: “Stop lying; show humility; fill in the gaps in his policy proposals.” That’s a pretty decent reflection of media bias, and it’s why the public doesn’t trust the media to handle the debate in anything remotely approaching objective fashion. The media themselves are stumped by Trump: do they attack his ignorance? Do they fact-check him? Do they sit back and let Hillary take the lead? How do they maintain their own credibility? The confusion benefits Trump. If they back off, he wins; if they jump in, he wins.
All of which means that Trump has no excuse for not winning a clear victory tonight. He can bash her record. He can bash her character. Americans dislike her, and they don’t expect much from him. No doubt both sides will call their candidate the big winner after the debate tonight. But the debate comes down to moments. If there are no big gaffes by Trump, he emerges the winner, because her moments (“WHY AREN’T I 50 POINTS AHEAD?”) are never good.