I don't know if I can do it. I just don't know if I have the stomach to watch tonight's debate.
Just to remind you of my position on the upcoming presidential election, this pretty much sums it up:
My niece, Amy, who will be voting in her first presidential election this year, put it this way:
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might be the most unlikable, untrustworthy and unsympathetic presidential candidates in the history of forever, leaving most of us completely unenthusiastic about how this election is going to turn out -- no matter how it turns out.
And yet, tonight's debate is expected to have as many viewers as the Super Bowl.
So we hate them, but we love to watch them?
I guess so. Which leads me to these questions:
What can we expect from Hillary and the Donald tonight? More specific to our discussion of fairness and bias, what can we expect from the media during and after the debate?
The media are already showing their partisan spirit leading up to the debate (remember, not a single major media outlet has endorsed Donald Trump and the media are already following Clinton talking points in their weekend pre-debate analysis.) Don't expect tonight's performance to change any of that Trump hatin' and Hillary lov- um, Hillary not-so-hatin'.
So, in the spirit of putting my savvy media analyst skills to the test (feel free to roll your eyes now), here are my top ten predictions for tonight's debate (some of them with commentary!) (Ugh. I guess I'm going to have to watch it after all.)
1. Hillary is going to bring up Trump's tax returns early and often.
As a bonus side prediction, I predict Trump will not release his tax returns anytime between now and election day, but that the media will continue to beat this drum for Hillary.
Why does she want them so badly? And why won't he release them? To understand what's happening here, we only have to look back to the last presidential election when Mitt Romney's release of tax records created a verifiable media frenzy that demonstrated extreme amounts of bias and completely sidetracked the public from other important election issues.
I hate math, so I'm going to defend my point with words, not numbers. (If you want the numbers, follow the links.) Here are the basic facts of the Romney tax reporting from 2012. Media analysts looked over his tax returns and reported over and over again that Romney, a wealthy conservative, paid LESS in taxes than the average American!
Shocking, I know! Also, not even remotely true.
What the left-leaning reporters did was take Romney's income (which were not wages, but mostly investment capital) and forced it into a wages model, adding in payroll taxes, which led to a false narrative about his effective tax rate. Furthermore, these same analysts who criticized Romney for being a heartless rich dude who paid a smaller percentage of taxes than your mechanic, consistently failed to point out that Romney donated $4 million dollars in one year to charitable organizations. Add to that the difference between income tax and capital gains tax, in particular, that pesky issue of being double taxed, and Romney's tax rate was much, much higher than the average American.
But none of that made it to the front page -- or into Obama's campaign ads, which effectively maligned Romney as rich and greedy, using the media's treatment of this issue as proof.
Which brings us back to why Hillary wants Trump to release his tax records. It worked out really well for Obama ... why not for her too?
2. Trump will keep to the high points on policy. Hillary will try and get into the weeds.
Hillary's strength is her knowledge of policy details. Trump is clearly more of an idea man with no political background whatsoever. He's going to try and win on broader concepts; she's going to try and trip him up in the nitty gritty.
I think this will play better for Trump, since most of us lose focus when politicians get into the details. But Trump could be easily mockable if he gets lost in the glory of himself (which is always YUGE, YUGE fun!) Either way, expect the media to defend Hillary's policy points and dismiss any charisma points Trump might win.
3. Trump will bring up the Basket of Deplorables.
4. Hillary will bring up David Duke.
5. Hillary is going to call Donald Trump a liar.
This is an interesting one. We all know that neither candidate is considered trustworthy, but Clinton's ever-changing e-mail and Benghazi statements have caused voters to trust her less than they trust Trump. Still, over the weekend, Hillary's people have been calling for the debate moderator to "fact check" Trump's statements in real time. The media, following her campaign's cue (as they often do) have been posting story after story about Trump's lies, false assertions and exaggerations.
So ... we all know Hillary's a liar and she can't change that. But what she can do is make sure you know that Donald Trump's a liar too.
6. Hillary will try and bait Trump into saying something shocking. He won't rise to the bait.
We all know the kind of stuff he's capable of saying. Calling her "crooked Hillary" is one of the tamer examples. If he does, Hillary will be hard pressed to keep from dancing with joy. The media will follow suit and we'll see the clip of Trump's "hate" over and over again. (Hateful Trump = good TV (ie, higher ratings). But Trump's advisers seem to have reigned him in a little of late, especially when it comes to personal attacks. I expect that Trump will try to be perceived as presidential and respectful. I also expect that he will try and avoid anything that could look like intimidation, sexism or bullying.
But even if he's successful, (which will disappoint a lot of people, right? Watching the debate to see what Trump says is like watching NASCAR for the car wrecks.) don't expect the media to acknowledge the kinder, gentler Trump. Trump will always be characterized by his very worst behavior.
7. Hillary will cough. Trump will express concern for her health.
I've had pneumonia, so I know there is no way Hillary is well yet. She's going to show signs of illness. Trump knows that picking on sick people is mean (at least, he knows it now. Since someone told him). The points he might win in the she-isn't-well-enough-to-be-president argument are easily out-trumped (pun intended) by the everybody-hates-a-bully argument.
8. Hillary will try and be funny, hip or relatable. She'll fail.
The media will ignore it completely -- unless Trump finds it too irresistible to mock her. Then, we'll see lots of coverage!
9. The moderator is going to be criticized by both camps.
No matter how the debate goes -- who wins, who fails -- expect the Clinton and Trump campaigns to complain about the moderator, the questions and the followup. Trump's spokesperson has said that the debate system is rigged. Clinton's spokesperson claims moderators are giving Trump easier questions since he clearly doesn't have the knowledge to answer "tough" questions.
10. Trump will "win" the debate.
This isn't a wish -- just a prediction. If he can behave himself, Trump can show viewers a side of himself they've never seen in media soundbites. (Whether that's reflective of the real Donald Trump is an entirely different question.) Hillary is the same as she ever was, so I don't see her winning over Trump followers.
But even if Trump wins the debate, the election isn't over. in 2012, Obama lost the first debate against Romney, but won the election. Not to mention that several factors in this election are unprecedented (a non-political candidate, for one!) so keep that in mind as you watch tonight's debate with my predictions list in your hand. I'd love to know what you think --before and after the debate!