She won’t, but that’s my hope. But when Donald Trump brings up attacks on the infidelity of Hillary Clinton's husband -- AND tries to pin problems of it on Ms. Clinton herself -- it will not go good for him. Not just in the room, but that sucking sound you'll hear are the last remnants of female undecided voters being washed away from him.
And as always, make no mistake: tonight's debate is about the undecided voters, period. And I suspect the news this week has focused them a great deal, to the extent that they're looking into the debate to see if their new-leaning assumptions are right or wrong.
I won't go into great detail about what I expect tonight, but here are a few general thoughts.
The thing about the debate is that there is basically NOTHING that can be asked which Hillary Clinton hasn’t been asked, in some cases for 30 years. And answered at length, whether from 11 hours of being grilled by House Republicans about Benghazi, or for hours by the FBI about her emails. Not to mentioned all the press questions. That’s not to say there aren’t harsh question she can be reasonably criticized for -- there are, and many, things I myself don't agree with her on. But the point is that she not only is prepared having given the answers at length previously, but she actually does debate prep, as well, and will not be caught off-guard by something unexpected. And she has no problem being criticized and apologizing. It is certainly possible that she could do poorly. It is even possible within the definition of "possible" that she lose the debate – but I don’t think it’s especially likely that she can be hurt by it in a way that she’d lose ground in the general election by more than a point (or stretching things, but two points) at absolute worst. And when you're up substantively, before polls taken after the Tape News, that borders on meaningless.
The downside for Trump is far more vast. Even, problematically, if he doesn’t have a meltdown. If he simply gets beaten solidly -- after having lost the first debate by 30 points -- he’s done. Because that will confirm people’s fears about him, that he’s not capable of being president. Yet even beyond that, simply a solid loss, there’s the very real possibility of a meltdown, because we've seen it once already. And with the latest news about the tape pounding him -- not to mention the New York Times tax revelations, and his out-of-control rants about Miss Universe -- a meltdown is even more possible.
Trump has always said he’s a “counter-puncher.” That when he's attack he hits back even harder. This is why I believe he will come out fighting and do so the entire debate. And that’s when he’s most at risk of not being thoughtful and having out-of-control rants and a meltdown. And given that once again Hillary Clinton will criticize him all night – because we know and have seen he can’t take being told he's wrong – and given the news story about the tape that he will have to defend, perhaps all night, it risks making him even more out of control. Now add in that this is a Town Hall debate where he has to interact with the public, that means he’s standing on the end of a very dangerous precipice. It's one thing to snap at Hillary Clinton, and it's one thing the snap at a moderator, at "The Press," but woe be the candidate who isn't gracious to The Public. Who knows, he might manage such exchanges and the whole debate. But that’s at best. And when you’re 6-10 points behind (with the new post-tape polls not even out yet), merely “managing it” -- at best -- is a very big problem. He desperately needs to turn things around, and I don’t believe he has it in him. Because of temperament, because of the latest news and news all week, and because literally Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about.