Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate again on Sunday, this time in a townhall format at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Half the questions in the 90-minute debate will be asked by undecided voters chosen by the Gallup Organization and the other half will be asked by moderators Martha Raddatz of ABC and Anderson Cooper of CNN.
It airs at 7 p.m. mountain time. Here’s some stuff to read while you pop your popcorn and chill your beers.
Update: I wrote the first version of this post Friday morning before audio from an old Access Hollywood appearance showed Trump bragging about being able to grope women because he’s rich and before audio from old Howard Stern appearances revealed Trump bragging about being able to look at Miss Universe contestants naked. I’ve added two more readings to bring us up to speed.
How do you salvage a 48 hours like the Trump campaign just had?
I’m just going to drop the first two paragraphs of this Politico piece headlined “Turmoil reigns inside Trump Tower” and suggest you go read the rest.
No candidate has entered a presidential debate so cloaked in disgrace or in a deeper hole than Donald Trump — and no candidate has ever been less prepared to face the most searing trial of his public life than the shaken Republican nominee.
The walls were already closing around Trump before the Friday release of a video in which he blithely described, in lurid and demeaning language, his efforts to seduce a married woman and how he would kiss and grope women even if they didn’t want him to. Those walls have now fallen in on him — and what aides were describing last week as an opportunity to rebound is now being cast as one final shot at survival.
Trump may bring up old accusations against Bill Clinton
Immediately after he was declared the loser in their first debate, Trump started hinting that he would be “rough” with Clinton next time, bringing up accusations against her husband — and not just of affairs but of sexual assault. Buzzfeed published a pretty thorough account of Juanita Broaddrick’s claims earlier this summer. Trump, of course, has also been accused of rape. The townhall format means these issues will play out in front of an audience of regular people who maybe just wanted some clarification on tax plans or health care.
The New York Times considers how this might play.
The temptation is obvious. Mr. Trump is clearly enraged by news media coverage of his own offensive and inappropriate behavior, and believes that hypocrisy and special treatment have deflected attention from Mr. Clinton.
But so are the risks. Polling suggests that a majority of voters aren’t that interested in hearing more about Mr. Clinton’s behavior. And Mr. Clinton isn’t running for president — Mrs. Clinton is.
Donald Trump is not practicing for the debate
Were you hoping for a more polished Trump? Well, don’t hope too hard.
Politico has this dispatch from what was billed as a kind of practice town hall for Trump but that Trump said was not a practice because he doesn’t need to practice. He also dismissed the time Clinton is taking to prepare as “resting,” another dig at her supposed lack of stamina.
“I said forget debate prep. I mean, give me a break,” Trump said at one point. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days. Hillary Clinton is resting, okay?”
Why should undecided voters get to ask the questions?
University of Denver’s Seth Masket asks a good question over at Vox. Why are the lowest information voters given the largest voice in the debate?
Many unaffiliated voters are actually partisan, mostly voting for one party or the other but not wanting to declare their allegiance for whatever reason, he writes. But undecided voters — especially in an election like this one — are more likely to be people who haven’t tuned in until just now. That’s not a knock on them as human beings, but it speaks to their priorities and their level of engagement. And it shouldn’t be elevated to a virtue that earns them disproportionate influence over the debate, he writes.
Here’s his alternative proposal:
A debate in which Clinton answers questions from Republican voters while Trump fields questions from Democratic voters would be pretty entertaining and possibly quite valuable. It would be a chance for the talking points that flourish in partisan echo chambers to actually be directed against the candidate in question. Maybe the questioner ends up looking foolish, or maybe the candidate does, but it could be a healthy public airing of ideas that could use a bit of sunlight.
Do you like your moderation hands-on or hands-off?
This debate offers one of each. Vox takes a look at what we know about the styles of Cooper and Raddatz based on how they’ve handled interviews and moderation during the primaries. Cooper has said he thinks the moderator should mostly stay out of the way and let the candidates talk, while Raddatz is known for probing questions that get past the surface-level answers.
What really matters? Turnout.
This election — like most elections — will hinge a lot more on who can get their voters to show up than on who can persuade more undecided voters. FiveThirtyEight has a look at each campaign’s ground game. Clinton’s field offices don’t match those of Obama in 2008 or 2012, but she has a lot more offices than Trump, especially in key states.
Some other important differences: The Clinton campaign has its own offices that are easy for volunteers to find online, while Trump has mostly co-located his offices with local Republican Party headquarters. That limits his reach in areas where the local party isn’t as organized.
Clinton has 489 field offices nationwide to Trump’s 178. In Colorado, she has 29 to his six.
The scarceness of Trump’s offices in several of his must-win states, and their unclear focus on his candidacy, cast real doubts on the Republican nominee’s ability to get out the vote. Clinton’s edge in battleground states will allow her campaign to focus on getting her voters to the polls, target those on the fence and find the Democrats in deep-red counties. If Trump’s chances of winning depend upon disaffected rural voters and previously unregistered Republicans, as some have suggested, those voters may need to mobilize and persuade themselves: The campaign simply does not have the organizational scope to reach them.
A counterpoint: Denver-based pollster and political consultant Floyd Ciruli notes that Colorado and other battleground states are moving more in tandem with national sentiment this year than in previous years, suggesting the impression created in these three debates might also matter more in crystalizing the votes of those who remain undecided.