Has there ever before been a debate in which one candidate had previously donated to the other? 2016 has been a year of magical firsts, my friends.
As I write this, after months of conventional wisdom that expectations for Trump are so low that he’ll win simply by using the correct verb tenses in sentences, there’s a last-minute surge in arguments that expectations have changed. Polls show that more people expect him to win tonight than expected Romney to win his debates with Obama; now that his numbers are surging and he stands a plausible chance of victory in November, voters may want to see some genuinely presidential behavior. No more “he refrained from farting audibly” grading on a curve. There’s also a theory out there that expectations for Trump are so low that, paradoxically, they’re high: Everyone thinks he’ll win by meeting minimal standards, leaving Hillary Clinton with plenty of room to exceed expectations herself.
All of that is too complicated for me. I’m sticking with the idea that if he gets in a few zingers, emphasizes that she’s the candidate of the status quo, and manages not to fart within earshot, he’ll get a bigger poll bounce than she will. See this counterintuitive take from Michael Brendan Dougherty, though, arguing that Trump should double down on the crazy tonight in order to draw a starker contrast between himself and the staid, boring, underwhelming Washington establishment typified by Hillary Clinton. I think that’s wrong; Trump’s poll surge lately has coincided with him showing more discipline, and he can certainly prosecute the anti-establishment case without coming off as a populist wild man. There’s a reason Hillary is reportedly preparing for a low-key “affable” Trump, after all. But Dougherty’s version of Trump would be fun. Here’s hoping.
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