As an often raucous, no-holds-barred political season draws to a close and with less than 50 days remaining until the Nov. 8 elections, no one knows for sure what will happen on Monday, Sept. 26 on prime-time television.
That’s when former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton squares off against Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who surprised the country in his primary election victory earlier this year over a bevy of seasoned politicians and will represent the Republican Party in the first of a series of presidential debates.
What’s certain, however – candidates from both the Green and Libertarian Party will not be on stage. Neither party met the qualification of polling at 15 percent or higher.
And while the Third Party teams could prove to be spoilers, making it more difficult for either Clinton or Trump to succeed President Barack Obama in the White House, the majority of Americans don’t seem to be phased. In fact, if predictions bear out, a record number of citizens will watch the debates, the first of three between Clinton and Trump, which may well emerge as one of the highest-rated shows in television history.
That, in itself, is a real achievement.
NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt will serve as the moderator when the highly-anticipated fireworks begin at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
Subsequent debates will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, VA between the vice presidential candidates with the presidential candidates returning for two more debates on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis and on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
After Holt moderates the first debate, the format swings to a town-hall style for the vice presidential candidates, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (Republican) and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (Democrat) with CNN’s Anderson Cooper serving as the moderator.
ABC’s Martha Raddatz and Chris Wallace, Fox News, will moderate the final two presidential debates.
Most experts say Clinton should have the edge, given her training as an attorney and her years of experience participating in political debates including those hot-tempered encounters against Obama during her first failed attempt for president.
As for Trump, a novice in the process who has never been involved in a head-to-head live debate, he’s already asserted that “the system is rigged,” adding that he feels the moderators have been advised to go after him and that’s there’s bias against him.
But after earlier stating that he might opt out of the debates, he has since changed his mind.
As for Third Party candidates, neither Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party nor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, and the former governor of New Mexico, will be allowed to present their platforms before the American viewing public after both failed to reach the minimum of 15 percent by polling – the requirement for all participating debate candidates.
That’s the decision of The Commission on Presidential Debates, announced last week.
Johnson has reached as high as 12 percent at some points while Stein, averaging about 3 percent, has peaked at 6 percent in several national polls. Poll numbers notwithstanding, a recent Morning Consult showed that more than half of registered voters feel Johnson should be allowed to participate – nearly half said they’d like to see Stein included.
And consider this caveat: polls continue to show that both Trump and Clinton stand as among the least popular major-party candidates to ever run for president.
Further, it will be interesting to see whether moderators will be able to keep the participants focused on questions addressing issues like the economy, national security, immigration, terrorism, foreign affairs and health care as opposed to less salient but certainly more frequently discussed topics including Obama and the “birther” issue, Clinton’s emails, Trump’s many businesses and those financiers with whom he has long been affiliated and the health of both candidates.
For those who may be history buffs, this year’s first matchup will take place on the anniversary of the first televised presidential debates when Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy appeared in 1960.
Former Clinton advisor Paul Begala told a Washington Post reporter, “It will be the most watched event in human history – bigger than the moon landing, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the latest royal wedding.”
Both Clinton and Trump will need to study the issues as they prepare to make their pitch to American voters as well as making sure their stamina is up to par as neither candidate is a “spring chicken” – Clinton’s 68 while Trump is 70 years old.
So, what version of each candidate will show up next Monday? Maybe it will be the Trump who tends to tweet at any moment before considering the impact of his comments. Perhaps we’ll see a Clinton who becomes flustered after her opponent tosses out insult after insult after he’s prone to do.
Inquiring minds want to know.