On Monday night at 10 p.m. Atlantic time, the first of the 2016 American presidential debates will be held before a small university audience on Long Island, New York, and a huge world-wide television audience.
It will be the first time Hillary Clinton of the Democrats will be face-to-face, toe-to-toe, with the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. The event will be carried on all the major American television networks and on three American cable networks which have world-wide audiences. More than 100 million Americans are expected to tune in for all or part of the 90-minute program which will be shown without commercials. America is still the most powerful country in the world, so there will be millions more watching around the world.
It is expected to be the largest audience for any event in the history of the world, partly because of the unconventional nature of Mr. Trump’s campaign. A property developer of undetermined wealth, Mr. Trump became famous as the star of a reality television show. His bid to become president of the United States is his first campaign for elected office. He has never been a senator, congressman, governor, mayor, or even the reeve of a small village.
Donald Trump’s speciality is creating controversy . . . he revels in it. And he does it by making the most outrageous charges without caring whether they are true or not. Often, no, usually, they’re not true, but they are attention grabbing. Headlines result. And before the media can fact-check one far-fetched story, he has launched another.
Not that Hillary Clinton is the queen of veracity. Like Mr. Trump, the former secretary of state has acquired a reputation for being somewhat unfamiliar with the truth. Much of this stems from her reluctance to be open and frank about her private and public past. It’s her need to prevaricate about herself that causes Hillary Clinton trouble, not things she says about other people or ethnic groups.
His disdain for the need to be seen as truthful and honest is what makes Donald Trump such an unusual candidate, and his willingness to say anything about anyone, or any thing, is why a lot of Islanders and millions of others will tune in on Monday night. Not many will be looking for a thoughtful, reasoned discussion on matters of state or public policy. Most will be watching for a train-wreck.
It is not that there won’t be ample opportunity for the candidates to stake out the ground where they differ on policy. The broad topics to be discussed on Monday night are; the direction the United States is headed, achieving prosperity and issues around security.
Mr. Trump has made many negative comments about how the Democrats have failed in areascovered by all of these topics. But, other than his plan to build a wall along the southern border to keep Mexicans out, and closing the borders to Muslims, he has offered few, if any, solutions.
One of Mrs. Clinton’s challenges is how to counter the outrageous statements Mr. Trump will likely make without coming across like a scolding school mistress. Hillary Clinton has spent most of her adult life in and around politics, she is perhaps the most qualified person to run for president in the modern history of the U.S. She is a serious person who presents a serious demeanour. She’s not that great at glad-handing, she isn’t good at retail politics, but she’s a proven debater. The risk is she’ll win the debate in the hall, but lose the audience at home.
For weeks the old guard of the Republican Party have been trying to get Donald Trump to moderate his message, to broaden his appeal. So far he’s resisted. The debate could be his last chance, after Monday it’s only six weeks until election day.
Don’t expect The Donald to do anything dramatically different.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org