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Presidential Debate 2 – What To Watch For

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For the last few months, I’ve had this vision in my head.  It’s Super Bowl XLII between the Giants and Patriots, and the Giants are driving late in the fourth quarter, down three and looking for the score.

Eli Manning takes the snap, drops back, and is swarmed by the Patriots’ defensive line.  He’s swallowed up and looks certain to go down, but wriggles out of it and pops free.  He stumbles a few steps but catches himself, then turns and whips the ball downfield, where David Tyree out-leaps a defender hanging all over him, pins the ball to his helmet, and manages to keep it off the ground as he hits he ground.

The camera zooms in on Tyree and you notice that it’s not Tyree, it’s Donald Trump. And as the camera flips to Manning, jogging down the field and up to the new line of scrimmage, you see that Manning isn’t Manning, either.  He, too, is Trump.

Trump connects to another Trump for a touchdown a few plays later, and the camera swings to the Patriots’ sideline and finds not Tom Brady, but Hillary Clinton, looking up at the scoreboard with a mix of shock, horror and confusion spreading wildly across her face as she reflects on an 18-0 season now hanging in the balance, repeatedly mouthing,”I might lose to this guy?!”

I feel like this is what Clinton has been thinking for the last few weeks, and if we could get inside their heads, I’d bet that what went through her mind when Trump announced a Muslim ban and saw his poll numbers rise, matches what went through Brady’s when he saw a desperation ball cling to David Tyree’s helmet.

But I’d also bet that things changed considerably during the first presidential debate, when Trump failed to keep his cool for even 30 of the 90 minutes, and Clinton scored a resounding win – which she’ll need again if she wants to keep the momentum going.

Let’s take a look at what to watch for in this second debate.

Trump On Women: I wrote that entire lede before news of Donald Trump’s vulgar, jaw-dropping comments broke. But I spent almost 400 words crafting it, and vain as I am, I was not getting rid of it – even if I probably should have.  Because more than anything else, these comments, Trump’s response to them, and how often Clinton brings them up, will be the story of this debate.  The question alone is a body blow that will put Trump on the mat; he’ll need a strong answer to keep from being counted out right there.  And he’ll also need that strong answer throughout the night, not just at the start.  In the vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine worked the GOP nominee’s controversial comments into almost every answer he gave.  Expect Clinton to do something similar – but with considerably more subtlety.  Watch for the way Trump responds the second or third or fourth time.  If he’s forthright and contrite at the start of the debate, is he equally so at its end, or is this a Colonel Jessep moment, and after a bit of badgering will the salty old vet erupt in a fit of rage because he doesn’t really think he did anything wrong?

Trump’s Temper: Donald Trump had one job to do in the first debate.  Look presidential.  He managed to keep it together for about 30 minutes.  He did well in that half hour, besting Clinton on the economy, but as she needled and provoked him, you could see even then that he was over his skis, and it was a matter of time before it all went bad for him.  Which it did.  He interrupted, he rambled in frustration, he suggested we all call Sean Hannity.  In short, he lost it, and then he lost the debate.  In truth, if he does it again this time, it won’t come as a Colonel Jessup explosion – I just couldn’t resist an A Few Good Men reference – it’ll come the way it did that time.  He’ll interrupt, he’ll ramble, he’ll suggest we all text Bill O’Reilly.  In short, he’ll lose it. And if he does, he’ll lose the debate again.  And then he’ll lose the election.

Trump’s Coherence: I’ve pretty much made this point, but it’s worth driving home.  What happened last debate can’t happen again.  Because last debate, in response to a question about cyber security threats, Trump defended Russia, insulted 400 pound hackers – an emerging demo in the U.S. electorate – and talked about his 10-year-old son.  As they said in Billy Madison, “At no point…

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Billy Bush: Speaking of Billy, watch out for this one.  I think he gets mentioned, and if he does, I hit my Howard Stern-Rosie O’Donnell-Billy Bush presidential debate trifecta.  Eat it, Vegas.

The Deplorables: This debate is about Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean Clinton won’t have work to do.  Ill-prepared for the first debate, Trump failed to force the former Secretary of State to discuss her controversial comments that half of his supporters are in a “basket of deplorables.”  She’ll have to answer for those remarks this time.  Can she deflect them as easily as she did the email controversy last time?

Prevent Defense: When you’re up in the fourth quarter, you have two options, sit back and make certain you don’t make the big mistake, or keep attacking and go for the proverbial jugular.  It’s a choice that haunts defensive coordinators, and one Clinton will face on Sunday night.  Which will she choose? Because you know what her opponent’s choice will be.

Trump Off the Top Rope: We watched for it the first time around, and though Trump climbed atop the turnbuckle, he never took the leap.  Desperate, and dying for the controversy to be focused on someone else, I expect him to go for what he wouldn’t two weeks ago – the showman’s attempt at the knock out blow, making Clinton address her husband’s infidelity.  The question is whether it will land…

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Or if it will fall flat…

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And if I will come up with a different ending for my preview of the third debate.

Spoiler alert: I won’t.  Because I don’t want to.

Author: Mitch Cumstein

Just trying to do some night putting.