One of the more intriguing questions ahead of Monday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is which version of Donald Trump will appear on stage. Will we see the most recent incarnation of Trump as “presidential” or the more familiar role he took in the GOP primary debates as the freewheeling provocateur whose insults and bluster knocked the candidates off their stride as they tried to keep up?
A lot at stake
Rarely if ever in the modern era has a general-election debate featured such a stark contrast in candidates. The first woman to win a major party nomination is facing a celebrity businessman who, if elected, would be the first person to assume the presidency without having previously held elective office in 64 years. — The Atlantic
Hillary Clinton has spent most of this week preparing for the debate; making appearances in only two battleground states. Hillary is preparing for, and would likely welcome, the more freewheeling version of Donald Trump. Under that scenario, the Clinton camp is counting on Mr. Trump making unforced errors that will harm him in front of the viewing audience that is expected to reach 100 million Americans.
I am going to do my very best to communicate as clearly and fearlessly as I can in the face of the insults and the attacks and the bullying and the bigotry that we have seen coming from my opponent. — Hillary Clinton, Steve Harvey Radio show
Hillary watching Trump’s primary debates
CNN reported that Mrs. Clinton has spent hours watching Trump’s Republican primary debates, hoping to find clues on how to throw Mr. Trump off his game. There is little doubt that Hillary Clinton will be better versed in policy details during the debate. Clinton has long been known as a ‘policy wonk’ and proud of it. The Clinton campaign has retained Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote the Art of the Deal with Mr. Trump, to gain insight into Trump’s personality and political background.
Clinton has more to lose
Hillary Clinton arguably has more to lose in the debate than does Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton has a reputation as a good debater and her quarter century of public service has prepared her for this moment. Most Americans know Hillary Clinton and, for better or worse, have a formed opinion of her.
Trump is more unknown to America and thus has a greater opportunity to exceed expectations. In spite of massive media attention given to the campaign, many voters have only recently started giving serious consideration to the election.
Many voters are just now paying attention
There will be about 100 million people watching and 60 million will be paying attention to the campaign for the first time. So don't assume they have followed anything. — Hillary Clinton
Donald Trump appears much less concerned with formal debate preparation than does Mrs. Clinton. Trump has maintained a full schedule of campaign events this week, and just added a campaign event for Saturday evening in Virginia. Trump is a natural showman, and he is approaching the debates with an aura of calm and confidence. While Trump has said, “I believe you can prep too much for those things,” that does not mean he’s not given the debate a good deal of thought. Trump will arrive at the debate on Monday with a plan in mind; the question will be if he sticks to it.
If she treats me with respect, I will treat her with respect. — Donald Trump
Both versions of Trump likely to show up
The likely answer to the question of which version of Donald Trump will show up for the debate is “both. Trump does not need to win points to win the debate. Instead, Trump needs to convince the American public that he is not as horrible as he has been portrayed over the summer and that Mr. Trump offers a viable alternative to voters seeking change.