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Clinton Keeps Her Cool

The Democrat’s command and poise left her rival looking frustrated, peevish, and out of sorts.

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Monday brought the first debate of the presidential season, but it often felt like two separate debates. One, from Hillary Clinton, was wonky, crisp, and polished; if not always inspiring, it was professional and careful. The other, from Donald Trump, was freewheeling, aggressive, and meandering, occasionally landing a hard blow but often substance-less and hard to follow. But the two debates intersected at times, sometimes raucously, as Trump repeatedly broke in to interrupt Clinton.

It was a commanding performance from the Democratic nominee. Clinton delivered a series of detailed answers on subjects ranging from race to the Middle East to tax policy. Meanwhile, she delivered a string of attacks on Trump, assailing him for stiffing contractors, refusing to release his tax returns, fomenting birtherism, and caricaturing black America. She stumbled only occasionally, but left few openings for Trump. She remained calm and often smiling as Trump repeatedly attacked her and interrupted her answers—doing it so often that moderator Lester Holt, often a spectral presence at the debate, finally cut in twice in short order to chide him. (Vox counted 40 instances; Clinton made some of her own interruptions, but fewer.) Clinton displayed a sort of swagger perhaps not seen since her hearing before Congress on Benghazi.

The Republican, on the other hand, was erratic, vague, and frequently appeared rude. Where Clinton offered sometimes dull policy prescriptions, Trump stuck to description, diagnosing problems—offshoring of jobs, violence in Chicago, the decay of American infrastructure—but providing nearly nothing in the way of solutions to them, even when pressed by Holt. He cut into Clinton’s answers, interruptions that she seemed almost to welcome because of the contrast they helped draw. Trump seldom stuck to one topic in an answer. A question about why he hadn’t released his tax returns somehow ended with a diatribe about the quality of American airports. (That support for infrastructure improvement was one of the few moments that won the praise of progressive commentators.) He yelled, he scowled, and, somewhat peculiarly, he sniffled through the 90-minute contretemps.

Trump seemed early on to be trying to be solicitous. “Secretary Clinton—is that OK? Yes? Good. I want you to be happy, it’s very important to me,” he said, with a faint smirk. But soon he couldn’t resist cutting in. Clinton assailed Trump for cheering on a housing bust, saying that 9 million Americans lost their jobs. Rather than deny it, Trump boasted, “It’s called business!” As the debate went on, Trump seemed to get more and more peevish. Ahead of the debate, Trump advisers told reporters that he was not preparing extensively, and while there was some speculation that they might simply be depressing expectations, it showed. By the end of the night, he looked as shell-shocked as Barack Obama at the end of the first 2012 debate against Mitt Romney.

That isn’t to say that Trump didn’t get a few good licks in. Employing the improvisatory, pugilistic style that served him well in the GOP primaries, he jabbed at her on several favorite topics. He worked hard to tie Clinton to NAFTA, the 1990s free-trade agreement overseen by President Bill Clinton. It’s a major topic for Trump, who has found it resonates well with white-working-class voters in the Rust Belt. Having connected her with that, Trump argued that Clinton was dissembling in her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and would reverse her stance once in office.

He also assailed Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state, and mentioned her invocation of the term “superpredator” during 1990s crime discussions, a term advocates have called racially coded and for which Clinton has apologized.

But the night was Clinton’s. Her jabs landed time and again. (A few flat one-liners were a different matter.) As the debate ended, for example, she told the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who says she became a citizen to vote against Trump. Trump tried to cut in, asking where she got the story. She also worked at length to tie Trump to the idea of trickle-down economics, a connection he readily accepted. “The wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs,” he said.

She also pressed hard on why Trump had not released his tax returns. “First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be,” she said, and added that he might be heavily leveraged. Then she added, “Maybe he doesn’t want all of you to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” It was bold speculation, but Trump did little to rebut it. He said that he could not release his taxes until an IRS audit was complete, although the IRS has said he is free to release his returns at any time.

Clinton was aided, at times, by Holt, who asked Trump several pointed questions. He forced the Republican to defend his espousal of the “birther” lie against Barack Obama, attempting to falsely blame Clinton and claiming that he’d been satisfied once Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011. (In fact, Trump continued to push birther theories for years afterward, only disavowing them earlier this month.) Later, when Trump tried to claim that he had opposed the war in Iraq, Holt repeatedly contradicted him. (Trump called the oft-proven fact “a mainstream media nonsense.”) On balance, Holt asked Trump more pointed questions that he did Clinton, though Trump also, to be blunt, has more to answer for. The crowd, instructed to be quiet, mostly sat on its hands for the debate, but as the end approached, members got into the act, too, loudly cheering Clinton on a couple of occasions.

But Clinton was also aided by Trump. In one of the more confusing moments of the evening, he said that Clinton had “been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.” The group dates back to 1999 by the most liberal definition. When Holt asked about race and policing in America, Trump delivered a version of a spiel from his stump speech, describing the squalor of inner-city crime and suggesting that stop-and-frisk could help. Clinton criticized the answer, saying Trump failed to understand the vibrancy of black communities, eliciting a noisy “ugh.” He also raised eyebrows by referring to Obama as “your president.” At the end, when asked whether he’d support Clinton if she won, Trump gave a meandering answer, complaining that Clinton’s ads were unfair to him and he didn’t “deserve” it, and saying he’d considered a harsh attack on her family but opted against it. The spiel was strange; Trump seemed to be taken aback by the pressures on a presidential candidate. Only under duress from Holt did Trump say he would support a President Hillary Clinton.

Historically, debates have tended to have little effect on the ultimate result of the election, and little lasting effect on polls. But this was precisely the performance Clinton had wanted. With polls showing a dead heat, Democrats have been beginning to panic, with the pitch increasing ahead of the debate, as supporters wondered whether Clinton could perform, and whether Trump would shoot himself in the foot or manage to appear presidential. It’s also tough to predict the response of voters to a debate, and while Trump performances during the GOP primary were often mediocre at best, he still scored high marks with his supporters.

But Clinton’s delight was barely hidden by the end of the night. When Trump concluded an increasingly angry spiel directed at her—"I have a winning temperament. I know how to win"—the Democrat paused for a brief moment, smiled at the camera, said, “Woo! Okay!” and did a little shimmy before answering. It was the happiest she had looked in public in the last 20 months.

David A. Graham

Updates

Trump's Positive Review of the Debate

Julio Cortez / AP

"I thought it was great, I really enjoyed it. It's about making America great again. She proved it's all talk no action," Trump says to Mark Halperin offering up some post-debate spin. Trump suggests he considered going ugly, but shied away from it. "I didn't want to do my final attack, which was to attack her husband on what took place with respect to him and his life .... because Chelsea who I happen to think is a wonderful young lady was in the room, and I just didn't think it would be appropriate."

Trump's Performance Could Compound Voters' Concerns

Even with his recent signs of gains, the biggest obstacle facing Donald Trump is the high percentage of voters who say they don’t believe he is qualified to be president. It’s hard to see what he did in tonight’s debate that would reassure those who don’t believe he has the temperament, experience, and instincts for the big job. If anything his frequently rambling, belligerent, and defensive answers exposed Trump to the risk of compounding those views. The big question will be whether he has now cemented that predominantly negative impression—or whether he gets another chance to reverse those doubts in the two remaining debates.

Clinton's Most Memorable Attacks

Clinton outlined forceful and specific attacks against Trump. Her argument that Trump's refusal to release his tax returns shows he has something to hide and that his perpetuation of the birther lie effectively defines who he is as a politican were both memorable. For his part, Trump seemed to blame everything from American job loss to the rise of ISIS squarely on Clinton, but did so with far fewer specifics than Clinton was able to provide as she made her case against Trump. That may make Trump's argument less plausible for voters, but given how thoroughly the public dislikes politicians and the political status quo, it's possible that his attacks will resonate more than Clinton's more fact-driven, and narrowly-focused arguments.

Clinton 'Had a Better Night Than Trump'

How about Hillary Clinton?

She had her own challenge tonight. She had to convince undecided voters who are skeptical of her, and view her unfavorably, that she’s a more appealing alternative than either Trump, or the two candidates who were excluded from the stage, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.

She had a better night than Trump. Her vulnerabilities were on full display, but for the most part, voters seem well aware of them to begin with. But she did a better job than she has often done of focusing on the practical steps she would like to take which she says will help ordinary Americans. And she managed to goad Trump into exposing some vulnerabilities of his own.

But one lesson that Trump has taught political journalists this year is humility—that we don’t often see the same things that many voters see. So these impressions are necessarily limited; we’ll have to find out how widely shared they might be.

How Trump Lost Control Tonight

Trump began the debate by doing exactly what he wanted to do. He struck hard on trade, pointing to Clinton’s reversal, and blaming trade-induced job losses for the economic struggles of ordinary Americans.

He also managed to stay fairly calm, and in control of himself. But he lost control of the debate.

He repeatedly allowed himself to be baited by Clinton into elaborate rebuttals of her charges, which only served to further underline his vulnerabilities. He began with studied politeness, but was riled into angry charges. And as the debate wore on, his thin grasp of complicated issues became increasingly clear—a weakness less visible on the crowded stages of the primary debates.

What Voters Saw: Vintage Clinton and Trump

David Goldman / AP

For all the criticism of the media and of the process, no one can say after this debate that voters did not get a good, long look at these candidates. Donald Trump was vintage Trump—unscripted, emotional, angry, and railing against establishment politicians, which Clinton epitomizes. But Clinton was vintage Clinton as well—super-prepared and perhaps overly scripted and cautious, but confident when under attack, with lines that were effective at times but also clearly canned.

In the end, they were not debating one another but using the platform to speak to groups of people they have already secured (Trump) or are still grasping for (Clinton).

'Clinton Won Decisively'

My impression, for what it's worth: Hillary Clinton won decisively. But I never know what others will think. She certainly kept her poise at all times, while Donald Trump, to my eyes, started off nervous and did a lot of rambling.

So far, Trump's been the Nixon callback candidate, but Clinton is taking her share. "Vote like your future depends on it," she said at the end of the debate, echoing Nixon's 1968 ad message: "Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It."

If Clinton Wins, What Will Trump Do?

Donald Trump initially refused to say whether he would support the outcome of the election if Clinton won. But under pressure from Lester Holt, he said: "If Hillary wins, I will absolutely support her."

Clinton's attack on Trump invoking insulting and offensive comments he has made about women's looks elicits cheers and applause from the audience. That's interesting since the debate started with Lester Holt saying that the audience had agreed to remain silent and not to react to statements during the debate.

Donald Trump says Clinton has spent hundreds of millions of ads against him, which is "not nice," tells her he could have said some "very bad" things about her and her family, but he thought better of it.

That was a moment for Latinos. Knowing Alicia Machado's name and that she became a citizen and that she will be voting, will speak to scores of people who were in similar situations and have reached their dream of becoming Americans. That was a really brilliant move.

Clinton Was Prepared for Women-Centered Attacks Tonight

Clinton had her answers ready on Holt's question about Trump and women.

"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs," Clinton said. "Someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers ... He loves beauty contest, supporting them, and hanging around them."

Well, like Clare mentions, Trump's favored policy strategy for dealing with terrorism and economic problems is to not let them happen in the first place. But the problem is that his appeal is based on an idea that these problems have already taken root so deeply that they've irrevocably damaged the country. Unless his time in office will involve the use of a time machine, many of his campaign items are inherently impossible.

Two Takeaways From Lester Holt's Debate Moderation

If past is prologue, Lester Holt's performance tonight will be scrutinized as closely as the candidates. Two things jumped out to me. First, Holt hasn't backed down from challenging Trump on his most persistent falsehoods: his role in the birther smear, and his support for the Iraq War. Second, aside from intervening once or twice to stop Trump from interrupting Clinton, he's largely taken a backseat tonight and let the candidates engage with one another. It's a tough balance for moderators to strike between interfering too much and interfering too little. But he's navigated that Scylla and Charybdis well so far.

"We cannot be the policemen of the world." This argument, made by Trump, marks arguably one of the most important and real differences between the Republican and Democratic nominees. Clinton's stated presidential platform and time as secretary of state suggest that she does, indeed, view foreign-policy differently from Trump—and favors interventionism more than he claims to.

Trump, as he has in the past, accuses Clinton of being physically weak: "She doesn't have the stamina" to be president. It's a common criticism men deploy against women—the suggestion that their physical being precludes them from leadership.

Although Trump said China should do something about North Korea, Beijing's influence over Pyongyang is limited. The Kim Jong Un regime's recent nuclear and missile tests have irritated China, North Korea's closest ally, but China fears an unstable North Korea more than it does a nuclear North Korea. The prospect of a failed state at its border and civilians fleeing into Chinese territory is, in Beijing's view, a far bigger problem than the North's sometimes unpredictable actions.

Reuters

The only question right now is how long it takes after the debate for Donald Trump to attack Lester Holt. He is not a happy camper as this debate comes to a close.

How Trump Would Have Beaten ISIS

Trump keeps making it sound like the rise of ISIS is solely Clinton's fault. He says she could have defeated ISIS, by "never having it get going in the first place." Not only does this sound unconvincing, it shows Trump's willingness to simplify incredibly complex issues into misleading sound-bites for the sake of scoring political points.

“Words matter when you run for president, and they really matter when you are president,” Clinton said.

It’s an interesting point. Trump uses language fluidly. As Salena Zito wrote last week, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

But the problem is that foreign leaders may be taking him literally, too. Trump assumes he can always amend and revise his statements, but if words matter, he may not have that luxury.

Clinton is making an important appeal: that even our presidential campaigns have wide-reaching effects on foreign policy.

Trump claims that Russia is building its weapons arsenal over and above the United States. In fact, as The Atlantic's Jim Fallows reported last winter, the American military is continuing to build and buy, including the highly ineffective F-35 project.

Donald Trump says, on nuclear first strikes, that he would never order one––and then says, in the next breath, nothing will be off the table. The man is contradicting himself in the space of a few seconds. Which is it?

I didn’t expect Trump to try to seize Obama’s mantle of nuclear non-proliferation.

Trump Violates Another American Norm

Trump, speaking to Hillary Clinton, just referred to Barack Obama as “your president.”

That’s one more norm he’s breached, and a dangerous one. The president of the United States is the president of all Americans, irrespective of his party. He’s our president.

The audience openly laughing at Donald Trump declaring that he has the best temperament is not a good sign for him. Politicians can get away with flaws most when they seem self aware. The Donald seems to be in denial.

Trump is demanding that the press "call up Sean Hannity," as if the conservative personality, who hosts both a television and radio show, does not have one of the biggest microphones of anyone in American media.

Trump continues to (incorrectly) say he did not support the war in Iraq. "The record shows otherwise," Lester Holt says. "The record shows that I'm right,' Trump says, saying that when he did an interview with Howard Stern he said, "I don't know, maybe." Then he invokes Sean Hannity as a defense, saying that Hannity "said very strongly to me and other people, I was against the war." Despite this, neither Hannity nor anyone else has yet produced evidence of Trump opposing the war prior to the invasion.

Why the Auld Alliance Is Better Than NATO

Clinton claimed that NATO is the longest standing military alliance "in the history of the world." This is wrong. Take your pick of examples, but my favorite is perhaps the Auld alliance, a partnership between the Scots and the French that lasted hundreds of years and was, in part, based on a mutual love of wine.

Lester Holt with the fact-check to end all fact-checks: "Mr. Trump, you supported the war in Iraq." Trump explodes, and blames the mainstream media.

A Note on Fact-Checking

Here’s the thing about fact checks. Clinton has said that NATO is the world’s longest alliance, but that’s not true—it’s probably the Anglo-Portugese alliance. But it’s also largely irrelevant. What matters in this exchange is Trump’s apparent ignorance of the details of the alliance, his cavalier willingness to dismiss it, and the disquieting effect it is already having on America’s European allies.

Clinton should get her facts right—she’s a former secretary of state, and should certainly know better. But most foreign-policy experts, on both sides of the aisle, think she’s got the policies right.

Trump again complains the U.S. didn't "take the oil" from Iraq after the Iraq War. Some legal experts believe this would violate the Geneva Conventions, which forbid occupying powers from seizing local resources for purely economic gain.

My colleague Jim Fallows, who actually did oppose the war on Iraq, has made it perfectly clear that Trump did not. This is a point that no amount of evidence to the contrary seems capable of dissuading Trump from repeating. But Hillary Clinton firmly rejects it tonight.

Clinton is correct: Trump voiced support for the invasion of Iraq and the intervention in Libya.

Border Agents' Support for Trump Is Mutually Beneficial

Donald Trump says that he was endorsed by ICE. Earlier this year, the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing more than 16,000 agents, announced that it was endorsing Donald Trump. Trump has made his hard-line stance on immigration a cornerstone of his campaign. His calls to build a wall would be difficult to execute for a number of reasons, such as topography. But, as I wrote in March, the endorsement by border patrol agents might also benefit them, as the "intense public debate over the perils of immigration, and calls to bolster enforcement, are presumably good for the job-security of Border Patrol agents.”

What Happens When Trump Is Off-Kilter

Rick T. Wilking / Reuters

Another unconventional moment on the presidential debate stage: Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, rising to the defense of Russia. How, he asks, does Clinton know it wasn’t China, or some 400-lbs. person sitting in bed, who hacked the DNC? He moves from there into a disjointed, rambling disquisition on cyber security. This is not Trump at his most winning. He’s off-kilter, pressed to discuss something he doesn’t fully understand, and it shows.

Vladimir Putin Makes an Appearance

Clinton used the question about cyber-security to bring up Trump's cozy relations with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, albeit in a rather longwinded, wonky response. If Trump were a better debater, he would use the issue to pivot back to Clinton's own cyber-security liability: her email server. But instead, he delivers a rambling response that doesn't really address the issue.

Trump says that "Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people," referring to the Democratic National Committee email leaks that showed then-DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz disparaging the Sanders campaign. The leak is certainly a sore subject for progressives who distrust Clinton, but polling indicates that many former Sanders supporters have rallied around Clinton.

The Washington Post has done extensive reporting on the federal lawsuit against the Trump family's company alleging racial discrimination. "We, along with many other companies, were sued," Trump said during the debate tonight. "We settled ... with no admission of guilt." Here's some background from the Post:

Other rental agents employed by the Trumps told the FBI that only 1 percent of tenants at the Trump-run Ocean Terrace Apartments were black, and that there were no black tenants at Lincoln Shore Apartments. Both were on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. However, minorities were steered to a different complex on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Patio Gardens, which was 40 percent black, the government said.

The Candidates Spar Over Who's Treated Obama Better

Clinton she could tell "how much it bothered him, and annoyed" the president that Trump insinuated without proof that he was not an American citizen. Trump, improbably, responds by saying that Clinton has treated Obama "with terrible disrespect."

I am stunned that Donald Trump didn’t have a better answer prepared on the Birther stuff, though I guess one can’t defend the indefensible.

Clinton says that the "whole racist, birther lie" can't be dismissed that easily, saying that he started his political career based on this "racist lie" that President Obama was not an American president.

How Do Voters View Clinton's Ambition?

Carlos Barria / Reuters

"You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president," Clinton says, adding: "And I think that's a good thing." It seems uncontroversial to assert that the ambition to actually be president is a good quality in a presidential candidate. A number of undecided voters at a focus group I recently attended moderated by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, however, seemed to think the opposite. Some of the participants cited Clinton's ambition as a negative, saying that because she wants the job so much, they believe she'll do anything to win, including lie.

"You Know What Else I was Prepared For? To Be President."

We just found out why Clinton's campaign leaked so many details about all the debate prep she did over the last several months, including over this past weekend. It set up a rehearsed line from Clinton acknowledging how much she prepared for the debate. "I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate," she said. "I did. And you know what else I prepared for? To be president."

"I prepared to be president, and I think that's a good thing," Clinton said to Trump, looking at him intently with zinger-enthused eyes. This debate is largely a bravado contest, with a smattering of policy here and there.

The Ongoing Absurdity of Trump's Birther Claims

Donald Trump still cannot bring himself to say he was wrong about Birther crusade. Now, that’s true to form—Trump doesn’t like to say he’s sorry about anything. But the notion that forcing the first black president of the United States to show his papers to validate his citizenship was some sort of “great job” and “great service” for the country, rather than a travesty, is absurd.

Trump keeps mentioning the "current mayor" of New York without saying his name: Bill de Blasio. Maybe it's because he can't pronounce his name, or maybe it's because de Blasio is sitting in the crowd tonight, as is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump backer.

On the subject of criminal justice reform both candidates are giving answers that shore up their bases, try to avoid alienating undecided voters, and make no attempt to persuade the other candidate’s base.

Which Bad Guys Need Their Guns Taken Away?

One thing the candidates agree on that one segment of single-issue voters will be taking note of: Both candidates have said that they need to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people in this debate, without being much more precise about who that is. It will be up to viewers to conclude which Americans each candidate is referring to. But the absolutist reading of the Second Amendment is a loser tonight.

An NYPD spokesperson appears to be rebutting Trump in real time:

Black Police Chief Speaks on Implicit BIas

Retired Police Chief Donald Grady spoke about the effects of implicit bias in policing:

Of course it’s a factor. But the problem here is that it’s true. Minorities are not making it up that police are not responsive to their communities, that police are overly aggressive when they’re dealing with minorities. That’s not an illusion on the part of minority communities. That’s real. As a police chief, I have been stopped numerous times by police officers claiming that there was some violation with my car until they realized that I’m just a law-abiding citizen. I don’t identify myself as a cop when I’m in those circumstances, I just let them do what they are going to do. And like so many other African Americans I just say “yes, sir,” “no, sir” and let it go at that. But after a while you get tired of being stopped for doing nothing. After a while, even as a police chief, you get really tired of being put upon. There’s a thing that we call freedom of movement which is really revered in this country—that we should have the right to move freely without impingement from the police simply because.

It's interesting to watch Clinton try to cut against Trump's description of "decimated" black communities. She praised, among other things, black businesses, black families, and "the vibrancy of the black church," and, she added, "there's a lot that we should be proud of, supporting, and lifting up." The "we" there is striking, though—as though Clinton and some unnamed constituency have the right to adjudicate what is and isn't worth being proud of and supporting in black communities in America.

A Debate Moment That Will Be Played Over and Over

This will be replayed a thousand times in the coming days: Clinton was discussing the vibrancy of the black community in urban areas, and Trump audibly groaned, "Ugh."

There's really no way to speak about the successes of another ethnic group without it sounding like the senator's speech in The Godfather: Part II about Italians

Donald Trump's Real-Estate Tic

"I have property there," Trump says in discussing crime in Chicago. This is a constant tic from him. His frame of reference for virtually every city in the world is the property he owns there. It may carry credibility in business, but it doesn't suggest he has any knowledge of how most people live in places other than midtown Manhattan.

You know how you can tell Donald Trump didn't bother with debate prep? The FBI released its annual crime statistics today, which showed almost an 11 percent increase in homicides nationwide last year. It's a pitch-perfect factoid for Trump to deploy, yet he didn't mention it once in his lengthy statement on "law and order."

Trump is a little off about Judge Shira Scheindlin and the stop and frisk case. A higher panel did criticize her, but her ruling that the execution of the tactic in New York was unconstitutional stood.

Lester Holt says he wants to follow up, adding that stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York. Trump challenges the moderator, saying "No, you're wrong." Holt adds: "The argument is it's a form of racial profiling."

Here’s why stop-and-frisk is not a good idea, nor is it good politics as African American outreach.

A Fact-Check on Trump's Claims About Minorities

"African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell." This is patently not true. The drop out rates are lower. Teen pregnancy is down. More of them are moving into the middle class and earning college degrees than ever.

This is a classic Trump answer, in that it is heavy on description—there are a lot of shootings in Chicago—and light on prescription. “We have to bring back law and order,” he says, but how? He briefly suggests stop and frisk, and also says illegal immigrants have too many guns.

"Secretary Clinton doesn't want to use a couple of words: law and order," Trump claims. As Vann said, it's a straight throwback to Nixon—a contributor, Robyn Price Pierre, wrote about this dynamic for us back in July.

A Commercial Break in a No-Commercial Debate

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Oh! A commercial for the new Trump International Hotel! Trump tells the audience that the “Trump International is way under budget and way ahead of schedule," saying we should be able to do that for our country.

He sniffled and sucked down water. He bragged about not paying federal taxes: “That makes me smarter.” He bragged about bragging about profiting from the housing crisis: “That’s called business, by the way.” Donald Trump lost his cool and maybe the race, taking bait cooly served by Hillary Clinton.

Trump just made either a really weird joke or else a weird promo for his new hotel in Washington, saying, "If I don’t get to Pennsylvania Avenue one way, I’m going to get there another."

Clinton Makes an Ask for an Apology

Rick T. Wilking / Reuters

Asking for an apology is a very soft-power move on Clinton's part. She wants him to own up to a mistake, show humility and remorse, and recognize that he may have caused others harm. Not being able to own up to mistakes is a classic sign of poor leadership skills. Asking him to apologize contrasts well with her seeming readiness to own up to her email mistakes.

It is always hard to know how a viewership of millions is reacting, but I don’t see how Hillary Clinton could be doing better, regardless of whether she is connecting or not.

Trump: “I take advantage of the laws of the nation"

Both candidates are now using the loose rules of this debate to their advantage. Trump has spent most of the night interrupting Clinton, and now Clinton is bringing up a topic that the moderator never raised: reports that Trump "stiffed" many of the people who worked for him. Clinton had a good two minutes to make an extended accusation that Trump is now responding to.

"I made a mistake using private email," Clinton says. That's certainly more forthright than she's been in the past in interviews about her emails. As my colleague Ron Fourier wrote back in August, she continued claiming that the FBI director James Comey "said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails," even after the agency released a report harshly chastising her choice to do official business as secretary of state on a private email server.

"There's something he's hiding," Clinton says of Trump's tax returns, saying that we'll have to keep guessing at just what it is. "What are those conflicts? Who does he owe money to?" Clinton is right that American voters deserve to see Trump's tax returns, but it's interesting to hear the normally staid politician fan the flames of wild speculation.  Trump has often used the same kind of tactic to attack Clinton by suggesting she has something to hide.

Trump's Unusual Call for More Government Spending

Rick T. Wilking / AP

Pause for a moment and consider how remarkable it is for the Republican nominee to be up there on stage, making a forceful case for much more governmental spending on infrastructure. It would’ve been unimaginable in recent elections. But then, that’s been one consistent theme of Trump’s campaign. His solution to almost every problem—I can fix it—suggests that he, at the head of the federal government, will have the answers. He wants, as I’ve written before, to make government huge again.

Trump is right about LaGuardia.

Hillary Clinton gave the strongest possible answer on what Donald Trump may be hiding in his tax returns. I wonder how many viewers even knew that he hadn’t released his tax returns.

Piggybacking on Matt’s comment, Politico argued this morning that only the first 30 minutes of a debate really matter—that’s where the famous moments happen. That may nor may not be true, but it’s an interesting case. Read it all here.

An Early Review of Trump's Debate Performance

If Trump's goal was to use this debate to seem more "presidential," it's hard to imagine how he's succeeding. Not only is Clinton's needling aggravate him, but he's also frequently interrupting her, even during her two-minute answer segments, and raising his voice unnecessarily. At one point, Holt had to ask him to let her finish answering. And that's just in the first 30 minutes.

"It's almost become a way of life: I get audited by the IRS." Trump has claimed his taxes have been reviewed for the last 12 years by the agency, which a former agent called "very unusual" back in February.

Trump's 'Simplistic' Plan to Save American Jobs

"We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs," Trump says during the debate, vowing to "cut regulations" as a way to do just that. Republicans like to talk about the job-crushing nature of government regulations.

But it can be a simplistic explanation, which sometimes glosses over the underlying causes of job loss. On the campaign trail, Trump has said he will bring back coal jobs, to give just one example. But that promise doesn't seem to take into account that coal is being crowded out due to market forces such as the cheap cost of natural gas.

Trump says he can’t release his taxes because he’s under a “routine audit.” It’s worth noting, again, that the IRS says there’s no reason Trump can’t release this year’s taxes anyway—to say nothing of past years’ returns.

Contra Trump, America’s super-wealthy are making their money through finance, which is not creating very many middle-class jobs at all. Low taxes on the very rich are only exacerbating this dynamic. Read Alana Semuels with a deep dive into how this works.

I think Conor’s on to something important. Other politicians read their speeches; Donald Trump likes to read the crowd. Tonight, with the audience remaining politely silent, he seems to be at something of a loss, uncertain how his words are playing, or which lines of attack are worth pursuing.

"Why not?" in response to Clinton saying "I have a feeling that I will be blamed for everything tonight" will hit home for so many women who feel like they are singled out or blamed when things go wrong. This is a trigger for professional women at work and women in all types of relationships. He's already lagging with women voters, this will not help.

Donald Trump is having trouble because he has no idea what to say when he can’t gauge the audience of the room to determine what he should say. The silence rule is really hurting him.

That’s twice in about a minute now that Holt has broken in to tell Trump to be quiet.

Trump: "You’re telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.” I have no idea what that means.

In a presidential debate first, Clinton plugs her website as a real-time fact-check of Trump. This follows a long debate over whether Lester Holt should have the responsibility of fact-checking the candidates.

How Trump Splits With Some in His Party on Trade

Trump's line that "NAFTA is the worst trade deal in history" isn't new, and it highlights more splits than the one on stage: This is one of the issues that establishment Republicans object to perhaps the most in Trump's campaign this year. As Trump has used this line on the campaign trail, outlets from National Review to George W. Bush's presidential center have published takedowns of the claim, arguing for old-school, Republican-style free trade.

Clinton Hits Trump: 'I Know You Live in Your Own Reality'

“Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality,” Clinton says, after Trump repeatedly attempts to interrupt her. The dynamic playing out on stage thus far appears to be Clinton trying to keep a calm demeanor as Trump launches a series of questions. As Nora noted earlier, Clinton prepared for this. Might this be a case of practice makes perfect?

Hillary Clinton is vulnerable on TPP.  She did, indeed, shamelessly flip-flop. I always wonder why politicians never say, “I was for this, but the people have spoken, and I defer to them when a disagreement is clear and they have all the necessary information."

Remember Les Holt? Because Trump and Clinton sure don’t.

Mike Segar / Reuters

This dynamic of Trump constantly interrupting and talking over Clinton is fascinating. She is not getting angry or raising her voice. But Lester Holt is not interjecting, and Trump is able to respond to her every statement.

Clinton's Newfound Skepticism on Trade

Trump has come hard after Hillary Clinton on the subject of trade, attacking NAFTA and her reversal on TPP. Hillary maintains her poise, keeping her voice resolutely warm and reasonable. But the truth is, Clinton has not historically been a trade skeptic, and it’s not a position that seems to come naturally to her. She stresses the reservations she’s always had about trade deals, and that’s fair. But they involve trade-offs, and in the main, Clinton has tended to feel that their balance tips in favor of the United States. Trump presses home his advantage.

Trump's Very Simple Debate Strategy

Patrick Semansky / AP

Trump’s strategy so far appears to be talk at great length about NAFTA, which is likely a good tactical move: He knows his briefing book on it, and it’s very easy for him to tie Clinton to it.

I expect that Trump saying “that’s business” in response to Hillary Clinton saying he rooted for the housing crash will be featured in ads in Florida and Arizona. Lots of people lost a lot of money on houses.

It's worth noting that in Trump's answer and follow-up to Clinton's claim that he thinks climate change is a hoax, he didn't say the words "climate change" once. It's been a theme of his on the trail: addressing criticisms about his own stance on climate change without actually acknowledging even the term exists.

Clinton said Trump called climate change a "hoax invented by China" which she also mentioned in a previous speech. Trump denied the charge. Here's the tweet she's referencing:

This is like two different debates: One that’s heavily policy oriented, and one that’s mostly bravado. Clinton and Trump could be on different stages if not for Trump’s brief interruptions of Clinton.

Clinton refers to a 2006 quote by Trump on the housing-market crash. Here's what he said: "If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money ... If you're in a good cash position—which I'm in a good cash position today—then people like me would go in and buy like crazy.”

Trump Takes the Bait

One thing Clinton may try to do tonight is take advantage of Trump’s inability to resist being baited into going off on defensive tangents. She dropped in a line about how he was “very fortunate,” and sure enough, instead of talking about helping Americans, Trump took time to defend the “small loan” he’d received. Look for more of that as the night goes on.

Trump gestures awkwardly when addressing Clinton as "Secretary Clinton," asks if it's "alright" and says he wants her to be "very happy" tonight.

Trump says his father gave him "a small amount" of money to get his business career started. Fred Trump gave him more than $1 million. Whether Clinton brings this up will be an indication of how aggressively she tries to fact-check him.

He's Not 'Mr. Trump' Tonight

Clinton is calling Trump "Donald" tonight. At the risk of over-analyzing, this is designed to diminish him in the eyes of viewers. Almost everyone around him, including most of his Republican opponents in the primaries, refers to him as "Mr. Trump."

"Donald was very fortunate in his life." Clinton is working the class angle. While Trump led with a promise to cut taxes on businesses, including small and large manufacturers, Clinton shot back that he is aiming to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans—of whom, of course, he is one.

This is, dare I say, a very “low-energy” Donald Trump. So far, his game plan seems to be restraint. It’s unlike any primary performance that I remember.

The Candidates Offer Typical Responses to the Night's First Question

First question: Both candidates play directly to type. Clinton gives a detailed, wonky answer, with ideas on jobs (equal pay for equal work, higher minimum wage, profit sharing) and a method to do it. Trump immediately goes into description, painting an apocalyptic message. But he has nothing in the way of policy ideas.

"Our jobs are fleeing the country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to China." Right off the bat, Trump establishes the "us vs. them" dynamic that has helped him rally tens of thousands behind him.

The 'Striking' Contrast Between the Candidates' Answers on the Economy

Clinton comes out focusing squarely on the economic struggles and experiences of middle-class Americans, promising to advance policies to assist them, with the wealthy footing the bill. Trump, by contrast, takes the same question and turns to trade, blaming the flight of jobs to China and Mexico for Americans’ economic struggles. It’s a striking, and typical, contrast: Clinton focused on practical steps that can be taken, and Trump pointing to large-scale factors and offering a plan to “reduce taxes, tremendously” for businesses to create jobs. How that plays with middle-class Americans remains to be seen.

Clinton quickly gets to the point: Telling voters that they need to judge the competing candidates tonight based on who can shoulder the "immense, awesome responsibilities" of the presidency. To hear her tell it, that's not Trump.

Julio Cortez / AP

Sartorial note: Clinton and Trump are continuing a strong trend of candidates wearing the color most often associated with the other party.

This debate has already won in one respect: There are no opening statements, and Lester Holt gets right to the questions.

It's surreal to see Trump and Clinton walk out on stage and shake hands, smiling at one another, after all the insults they have traded to get here to this stage.

What Is That Giant Eagle on the Debate Stage?

Waiting for this debate to begin, eyes and commentary have wandered to ephemera. What will the candidates’ spouses’ facial expressions look like, wondered the anchors of CNN? What will it feel like to moderate a debate for 100 million people, wondered the moderator, Lester Holt?

My eyes wandered somewhere else: to that giant, weird-looking eagle that looks like it will swerve down and destroy whoever has the misfortune of standing on the righthand side of the stage.

These are Hofstra students, not the candidates. (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

It’s not new. John Dickerson at Slate gave a good run-down of what we know about it back in 2012:

Here’s what we know right now. The first use of this phrase we can find is in a sermon from June 6, 1853, by the Rev. Hubbard Winslow collected in the Annual Record of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The reverend concludes his barnburner with those words. Nine years later, the New York Timesquoted  the Rev. Francis Vinton, who ended his own sermon arguing for maintaining the Union with the same phrase.

In Civil War recruitment posters, the eagle faces the arrows, as he does on the debate stage, but a different pro-union message appeared underneath: “The Union forever!” The first time I can find the image and the phrase appearing together is in a campaign handkerchief for the Garfield-Arthur Republican campaign of 1880. In the campaign of 1892, the Benjamin Harrison-Whitelaw Reid ticket used it on their handkerchief, too. But on these representations, the eagle's head is turned toward the olive branches—seems fitting for a country emerging from the Civil War.

Why This Is Truly a 'No-Rules Debate'

For previous presidential debates, the campaigns have hashed out and signed lengthy memoranda agreeing to a set of mutually agreed rules, such as not engaging the audience and candidates not asking each other questions. That hasn't happened this time, which seems wholly appropriate: It's the no-rules debate for a no-holds-barred election.

Praising the Enemy

A funny thing happens in the run-up to presidential debates: Democrats and Republicans somehow found a few nice things to say about the opposing party’s candidate. Last week, the Republican National Committee’s chief strategist Sean Spicer noted in a memo that Clinton has a “reputation as a talented debater” and “has shined on some of the biggest stages” in past debates. When asked about debate prep, Clinton herself has described Trump as a formidable opponent, telling reporters “I take nothing for granted,” and reminding them that “[he] won every one of the Republican debates.”

Don’t believe the hype. Praise for the enemy is typically insincere and undertaken for the purpose of ratcheting up expectations in the hope that the opposing candidate will be held to a higher standard when the media grades debate performance.

At times, the expectation-setting game sometimes approaches the point of absurdity. As The Washington Post’s James Hohmann pointed out earlier today, Trump allies have gone so far as to suggest that it may be difficult for the Republican nominee to stay in one place for the entire debate. “Some Trump advisers are concerned that he underestimates the difficulty of standing still, talking pointedly and listening sharply for 90 minutes,” The New York Times reported on Friday. That’s not the sort of target candidates should expect to score points for hitting.

Expectations Game

If both candidates perform reasonably well tonight, my instinct is that it will help Hillary Clinton more than Donald Trump. Dislike for her tends to be more intense when people think of her in the abstract, and less intense when she is before lots of people, as at the DNC, and is humanized as a result. In contrast, I find it harder to imagine a “no news” debate affecting many people’s views of Trump.

Different Ground Rules

Commission on Presidential Debates co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf (foreground) and Mike McCurry.
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

In the many primary debates, the audiences were often just as much active participants in the proceedings as were the candidates themselves, cheering and jeering the proceedings. As the cycle wore on, candidates often accused organizers of stuffing the audiences with their partisans, to influence the outcome. Tonight, organizers are hoping it will be different. Frank Fahrenkopf, a co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, opened with a plea to those in attendance to sit quietly, and allow the anticipated 100 million viewers watching at home to make up their own minds about what they were seeing on stage.

But this is an election in which norms and conventions have frequently been cast aside, and it remains to be seen whether the audience will abide by those restrictions.

An Appeal to Fear

One thing to watch tonight is whether either candidate talks about recent police shootings of black men and protests last week. Charlotte, North Carolina, in particular has been on edge after the killing of Keith Lamont Scott and the puzzling response of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, including the rollout of two videos showing Scott walking backwards with his arms at his side when he was fatally shot.

While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump postponed trips to Charlotte after tense and sometimes violent situations in the streets over the past week, Trump has already begun using some Nixon-esque “law and order” language to attack Clinton with anxiety about black protesters in the streets. In a speech in Pennsylvania last week, Trump told supporters:

“Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society—and this is a narrative that’s supported with a nod by my opponent, you see what she’s saying and it’s not good—shared directly in the responsibility for the unrest that is afflicting our country and hurting those who have really the very least.”

After recent proposals to implement “stop and frisk” nationwide and a campaign of black “outreach” that looks more like stereotype-peddling, Trump is definitely set up to deliver some dogwhistle fear-mongering against Clinton. I think it’s safe to say we can expect a bit of the same tonight.

An Acting Part Like No Other

It was likely a daunting assignment to receive: The person chosen to play the role of Donald Trump in Hillary Clinton’s debate preparations would need to mimic the bravado and brashness of the Republican nominee—and do so in a way that was convincing enough to get Clinton fully ready for tonight’s events.

So who did she choose for such an assignment? Turns out it was a former adviser, Philippe Reines, who served in Clinton’s State Department. He is perhaps most well known to readers as a fierce advocate for his boss, who freely exchanged barbs with reporters in his capacity as a senior communications adviser. Politico has more about the selection:

“Everybody’s always saying Hillary needs to project her authentic self, but Philippe is one of the only ones who knows what that is, and knows how to get her to go along with that,” said a person who knows both. “He’s the one who urges her to abandon the caution, to go for it. And she’ll listen to him, and that’s because she trusts him.” …

Reines has, according to one person with direct knowledge of his involvement, participated in as many as a half-dozen mock debates and more relaxed moot-court sessions, peppering the candidate with lines cribbed from Trump’s primary debates and personal attacks meant to keep the candidate off balance. “Nothing is really off-limits,” the person told POLITICO. “In some ways it’s easier for him to say these nasty things to her because she knows he has her best interests at heart.”

And what of Trump’s Clinton stand-in? The New York Times reports that there’d been “no set person playing” Clinton in his prep sessions, which weren’t as structured and formal as hers. But it’s probably fair to say he’d have an easier time envisioning Clinton’s performance tonight than she’d have in anticipating his.

The Limits of Fact Checking

Associated Press

In the days leading up to the debate, there’s been a tremendous focus on fact checking—specifically, on whether NBC and moderator Lester Holt will insist on scrupulous accuracy. By that measure, the night is off to an inauspicious start.

It is, in truth, the sort of error that’s both hard to avoid and easy to forgive—unlike, say, announcing that the moderator is a Democrat when he’s actually a registered Republican. (Update: Or rather than an update, call it a fact-check. This was apparently not the official ticket, but one of 350 souvenir tickets distributed to university students.)

But tonight, the fact-checking by the moderator, the networks, the liveblogs, and even the guy sitting next to you on the couch with a beer who’s yelling angrily at the television screen may not make much of a difference. As my colleague David Graham has argued:

Many Trump supporters know that Trump doesn’t always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, just as they are often willing to concede that a comment he made here or there went farther than it should have. These supporters will typically write those concerns off by citing the fact that Trump is not a slave to political correctness, or that he voices the frustration they feel, or that he tells it like he feels it, without the dissembling polish of a practiced politico. One may disagree with these arguments, but it’s hard to see how tougher questions would refute them.

More broadly, the political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Riefler have shown that fact-checking can have a “backfire effect,” simply reinforcing mistaken beliefs. This is no reason not to fact-check, but it is a good reason not to invest the action with talismanic powers to shift the course of a race.

Will Trump Attack Clinton for Her 'Deplorables' Comment?

A Trump van parked outside an Ohio campaign stop last week.  
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

There’s a good chance that Donald Trump will bring up Hillary Clinton’s remark earlier this month thatyou could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’” Why? A few hours before the debate, Trump tweeted that his “team of deplorables will be managing [his] Twitter account for this evenings debate. Tune in!”

Clinton’s remark—which charged many Trump supporters with holding “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” beliefs—has become a point of contention in the race. After Clinton said it, the Republican nominee immediately criticized her and insisted that she apologize. Although Clinton later expressed “regret” for “saying ‘half,’” her comment sparked debate over who exactly Trump’s backers are. Our own Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that while she may have been politically incorrect in her description, the Democratic nominee wasn’t off the mark about Trump’s supporters. Still, Republicans pushed back against Clinton, and voters also suggested the comment was “unfair.”

It’s unclear how—a few weeks later—Clinton would respond if the controversy comes up on the debate stage. According to The New York Times, talking points provided to surrogates shortly after her comment “advised that anyone who is pressed on the ‘deplorable’ remarks should assert that the news media was holding Mrs. Clinton to a different standard than Mr. Trump, with this suggested rejoinder: ‘Are they going to make more out of this story than they made out of the racist, misogynistic Trump comments that got us here in the first place?’”

Trigger Warning: There's a Trigger Warning at Hofstra

There are all kinds of signs around Hofstra tonight—campaign posters, protest banners, sponsor displays, network ads. But the one causing the biggest stir actually has nothing whatsoever to do with tonight’s event.

Trigger-warning signs won’t be novel to regular readers of The Atlantic. They featured in our cover story last September, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” And they’ve been in the news fairly constantly since, most recently when controversy flared on the campus of the University of Chicago.

This particular sign isn’t for the debate, but for MTV’s Elect This event, which features artists weighing in on a variety of controversial subjects. But its presence on the campus tonight nevertheless seems appropriate. It’s a campaign that has often hinged less on contending policies than on contending views of American society itself. Trigger warnings are another front in that war. Their defenders see them as useful tools to enable debate in a diversifying society; their critics assail them as manifestations of a culture gone mad with political correctness.

And, like so much else in 2016, that split has now been sucked into the vortex of campaign politics.

Listening for Trump's Non-Explicit Appeals

As he did in Wisconsin and other campaign stops in the last couple of months, Trump may try to signal to white voters about immigrants, blacks, and other categories of people a pocket of Americans still consider threatening. But, now that he has established a pattern of appearing before largely white audiences and subtly condemning “others” not in the room, this tactic may backfire with viewers who pay attention, especially people of color.

Clinton may choose to dismiss his claims with a gesture or verbally challenge him to bring facts to bear on some of the generalizations upon which he has relied in such occasions. Regardless of how he tries to appeal to a segment of the white population by decrying the conditions endured by African Americans or the imminent danger immigrants present to neighborhoods, viewers will probably focus equally on the reaction from the moderator and Clinton.

It's All Tied Up

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

The swarm of national and state polls released just before tonight’s presidential debate send diffuse and often contradictory signals about the state of the presidential race. Yet some important common threads run through the disparate results—and those threads help illuminate the challenges facing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tonight.

Consider these national polls released in the past few days: ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Marist/McClatchy, Quinnipiac University and Bloomberg Politics. In a four way race including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, these polls show a lead for Clinton of two percentage points (ABC/Washington Post), six (Marist/McClatchy), five (NBC/Wall  Street Journal and Bloomberg), and just one (Quinnipiac). A Bloomberg News Poll released Monday showed Trump with a two-percentage point lead.

But while those overall results differ, the surveys offer similar portraits of the three big blocks in the electorate. In all of them, Trump holds a big lead among whites without a college education: They prefer him over Clinton by 20 percentage points in the NBC/WSJ poll, 26 in Quinnipiac, 27 in Marist/McClatchy, and 32 in the ABC/Washington Post and Bloomberg polls.

Clinton in turns holds a substantial lead in all of them among minority voters: They prefer her by 42 percentage points in the Quinnipiac survey, 46 in Bloomberg, 49 in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, and 50 in both the Marist/McClatchy and ABC/Washington Post polls.

In all the polls, college-educated white voters are the most closely divided group. Although no Republican nominee has carried most college-educated whites in the history of presidential polling dating back to 1952, the surveys all show Trump under-performing with them: The Quinnipiac survey shows him and Clinton even among them, and she leads with those white-collar whites by two points in the Marist/McClatchy poll, five in the NBC/Wall Street Journal and nine in the ABC/Washington Post. The CNN/ORC polls in Colorado and Pennsylvania released Monday each showed Trump leading by double-digits among whites without a college education, and trailing by double digits among whites holding at least a four- year degree.

Clinton’s showing among non-white voters actually lags the usual Democratic advantage with them, which typically runs closer to about 60 percentage points. That largely reflects her challenge with the heavily diverse Millennial generation, which most polls show providing a disproportionate share of the support for Johnson and Stein: in a Virginia poll released Monday by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christoper Newport University, for instance, Clinton led Trump by 22 percentage points among Millennials in a two-way ballot test, but saw her advantage fall to just 11 points when Stein and Johnson were added to the mix. (Among voters 35 and older her margin was virtually unchanged when the other candidates were added.) In national polls, although as many as three-fourths of Millennials express an unfavorable opinion of Trump, Clinton usually is drawing less than half of them in surveys measuring the four-way race. Making a clear case to Millennial voters must rank near the top of Clinton’s priorities for tonight, many Democrats believe.

Trump’s relative weakness with college-educated whites frames his biggest challenge. Those voters are much more likely than their non-college white counterparts to say Trump lacks the qualifications or temperament to succeed as president, and is biased against women and minorities. Rolling back those numbers may his most important test tonight. Conversely, nothing may be more essential for Clinton than preventing Trump for refurbishing his image with the college-educated white voters who are resisting him in unusually large numbers—and providing her last line of defense in a difficult contest.

Putting Hempstead on the Political Map

J. David Ake / AP

Some colleges blow tens of millions trying to build Division I football programs in a futile effort to put themselves on the map. Others find a more cost effective way to build a national profile. Hofstra saw applications for admission go up 6.3 percent after it hosted the 2012 debate, modestly ahead of other peer institutions.

It’s a moment in the spotlight for Hofstra—and for Hempstead, the town in which it sits. The Census pegs its current population at 771,018. If it were an incorporated city, it would rank 18th—just between Charlotte and Seattle. It’s also a town in political transition, a suburban district that’s long been a Republican bastion, but which is increasingly turning Democratic. As my colleague Ron Brownstein has argued, the class inversion of American politics is one of the defining trends of this election. Donald Trump needs to do better among white, college-educated suburban voters like those in Hempstead—even if he has little hope of carrying New York—and Hillary Clinton is seeking to maintain the unusual edge she’s built up among them.

Hempstead has one other claim to fame. In 1775, as much of New York stood up in defiance of tyranny, the good people of Hempstead preferred to pledge their support to their monarch. Tonight, though, it will host a pair of New Yorkers—one native, one adopted—who’ve come to debate the future of American democracy.

The Missing Third-Party Candidates

Scott Morgan / AP

As Clare has mentioned, supporters of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein should take note: Their candidates won’t be onstage tonight.

Both third-party nominees engaged in a months-long public campaign to make the stage—pressing their case to newspaper editorial boards, organizing online petitions, and—in the case of the Johnson campaign—taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times to try to convince debate organizers to let him in. But neither the Libertarian Party nominee (Johnson) nor the Green Party nominee (Stein) qualified for the debate under the Commission on Presidential Debates’ strict rules. That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be barred for the rest of debate season—though it would take an electoral miracle, they could hypothetically qualify for future contests. But it does mean they’ll be absent during 90 potentially crucial minutes of the campaign season.

Their exclusion is a plus for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who wouldn’t want third-party candidates to steal their spotlight. It’s especially encouraging for Clinton, who’s watched Johnson and Stein accumulate support from young, millennial voters—a group she’ll need in November. The debates give Clinton and Trump the opportunity to present themselves as the only viable candidates on the ballot. That’s precisely why third-party candidates want to be included in the first place. “When people watch those debates, they think those are the candidates running, and others must not matter if they’re not in those televised debates,” one Libertarian Party official told me earlier this year.

A Caveat About Crime Stats for the Debate

Today’s FBI crime report will almost certainly come up during tonight’s event. Even if the moderator doesn’t mention it, Trump will likely bring up the 11 percent increase in murders in cities with populations above one million to drive home the message that the country needs someone who is tough on crime. Clinton can be expected to say that crime overall is at historic lows across most categories, and that we’re living in one of the safest decades since the 1990s.

Keep in mind that the FBI report only tabulates eight categories of crimes and, together, they represent 18 percent of all crime. Additionally, there’s no national classification standard used to classify certain crimes, and most local police departments have to make determinations on a case-by case basis. For example, if someone shoots an intruder attempting to rob his home, the police may categorize that as a “justifiable homicide” or as a “robbery.” The same is true for certain crimes that result from domestic violence and cybersecurity breaches. So, the bottom line is that no absolutes can be reliably drawn from any argument based on the limited data collected by the FBI and provided by police departments. But safety is paramount for voters, so look for both candidates to use figures in making their case tonight.

Where in the World Is Jill Stein

Debate night isn’t off to a good start for Jill Stein. The Green Party candidate showed up at the Hofstra University campus after failing to qualify for the debate only to be escorted off the premises. According to CNN, the Nassau County Police Department said that “Stein failed to provide the proper credentials at the university, which led to her being escorted off campus.” Stein’s campaign has been chronicling the events on the candidate’s Twitter account.

It remains to be seen whether this will interfere with Stein’s plans for the actual debate. Earlier in the day, the Stein campaign sent out an email to supporters that said “Jill will be tweeting out answers to the Debate questions as they are asked. There will be a Periscope livestream of her actually participating in the debate as if she were on stage.”

Battle of the Livestreams

Tonight’s presidential debate starts at 9 p.m. ET, and will be carried on every major TV news network.

That means ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Fox News, MSNBC, and Univision. It will also be streaming all over the internet, by news organizations like CNN, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, PBS, Politico, and The Wall Street Journal. Fox and The Washington Post will livestream the debate on YouTube. Twitter will livestream Bloomberg TV’s coverage. Facebook is partnering with ABC to livestream ABC’s televised coverage of the debate, according to The Verge. And other TV networks, including Telemundo, have plans to livestream the event on their own Facebook pages.

Whew.

So what’s the best way to watch? It depends. For people with access to regular old TV, there may be some appeal to watching on NBC. Or, as Wired put it:  “Lester Holt of NBC is the moderator, if you want to stick with the home team.” (If you want to see a lot of American flag lapel pins and shouting, however, or a lot of Warby Parkers and shouting—perhaps you’ll want to try Fox News or MSNBC, respectively.)

As for deciding on which livestream to watch, there may be some degree of trial and error. For many people—particularly those who like to follow reaction on social media—the preferred streaming option will be the one that’s synced up most closely with televised broadcasts to avoid extra lag time. The idea being, for instance, if you want to have any prayer of tracking the firehose Twitter commentary in real time as you’re watching. And, hey, just watching by way of Twitter reaction—without watching the debate itself—is likely an option that many will choose.

It's Debate Night in Hempstead

It’s finally here.

After what’s seemed like endless campaigning and insult-trading, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will square off at the first 2016 general-election debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Monday night. The debate, which starts at 9 p.m. ET, could draw more than 100 million viewers, rivaling the number of people who tune in to watch the Super Bowl. A good performance by either candidate won’t guarantee future success, but a devastatingly bad performance could be difficult to recover from.

Trump has more to prove at the debate, but Clinton faces serious challenges of her own. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that voters dislike both candidates roughly equally, but believe Trump is a riskier choice. A majority of voters also believes he lacks the temperament to be president. On the other hand, the voters polled think Trump is more trustworthy than Clinton, and believe the Republican nominee would be better at bringing change to Washington, D.C. In recent weeks, victory for Trump has looked more possible than ever as Clinton’s polling advantage has eroded significantly. Ahead of the debate, she has only a razor-thin lead over Trump, averaging just 2.1 percentage points ahead. A Bloomberg poll released on Monday shows Trump and Clinton tied in a two-way race.

The neck-and-neck status of the race is compelling enough, but the candidates’ polar-opposite personalities will make the debate even more riveting. As my colleague James Fallows recently wrote, Trump-Clinton debate matchups will offer “the most extreme contrast of personal, intellectual, and political styles in America’s democratic history. Right brain versus left brain; gut versus any portion of the brain at all; impulse versus calculation; id versus superego; and of course man versus woman.”

Presidential debates present a unique opportunity to evaluate candidates. The format allows for a literal side-by-side comparison that controls for variables such as time, place, and topic of discussion. Partisans and pundits will never agree to a universally accepted rubric of what constitutes success or failure in a presidential debate. But the vast differences in temperament and track record that divide Trump and Clinton have made it even more difficult to achieve any kind of consensus over how the candidates should be judged.

The candidates face vastly different expectations in the media and among their own allies, creating an uneven playing field that seems likely to advantage Trump. Clinton has years of political experience; Trump does not. At times during the campaign, Trump has struggled to demonstrate a command of basic facts that any would-be president should understand. But precisely because Trump deviates in such an extreme way from long-standing political norms, he is often graded on a curve. If Clinton falters, she may be judged more harshly than Trump as a result.

The Republican National Committee has attempted to lower expectations for its candidate. “Trump’s lack of formal, political, one-on-one debate experience gives Clinton a significant advantage,” RNC strategist Sean Spicer wrote in a memo last week. Tim Kaine, meanwhile, has upped expectations for Clinton. “When the lights are bright like they are now, she brings the A-plus game,” her running mate said at a rally in Florida over the weekend. Trump is less practiced in head-to-head debating than Clinton, but he is a master of television and the media in his own right, and shouldn’t be underestimated. The most important question of the night, though, is whether Trump and Clinton can satisfactorily and coherently answer questions—regardless of their differing styles. Both, after all, are trying to prove they can handle the job of president.

There are also different expectations regarding how much each candidate should be held to account over facts. Trump has a documented track record of repeating false statements more often than Clinton does, and the Trump campaign has argued that debate moderators should not fact-check the candidates. The Clinton campaign, naturally, disagrees. Fact-checks are unlikely to matter to the candidates’s most ardent supporters, but they could influence the way undecided voters evaluate performance at the debates.

Monday’s debate moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, has kept a low profile ahead of the contest, so it’s not clear which approach he’ll take. Politico reported on Monday that none of the major networks have committed to on-screen fact-checks during the event. The debate’s organizers, meanwhile, seem to be siding with the Trump campaign: On Sunday, Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told CNN: “I think it’s better for [the moderator] to facilitate and to depend on the candidates to basically correct each other as they see fit.”

If past precedents established on the campaign trail hold, things could get ugly. Last week, billionaire Trump antagonist Mark Cuban tweeted that he “got a front row seat to watch @HillaryClinton overwhelm @realDonaldTrump” at the debate. CNN reported that Cuban had been invited by the Clinton campaign. In response, Trump threatened on Twitter to bring along Gennifer Flowers—a woman with whom Bill Clinton admitted years ago to having had a sexual relationship—before his running mate clarified that she would not be attending. The exchange highlights how difficult it is for Trump not to retaliate when taunted—and could serve as a preview of Clinton’s tactics tonight. But if the episode foreshadows a presidential debate where petty insults take the place of substantive debate over issues that affect Americans’ day-to-day lives, voters will be the ones who lose out.

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