Tonight is the night: in what looks to be the most-watched political debate in American history, insurgent challenger Donald Trump will finally meet establishment favorite Hillary Clinton face to face in a nationally (internationally!) televised debate. Over 100 million people are expected to watch tonight, and everyone’s going to be showing this: from all the networks, to all the cable news channels, to YouTube and even Twitter. The presidential race has become so close, that the event is considered a must-win for both candidates. Fight night is going to either be insanely awesome, or awesomely insane, no matter how you look at it.  Here’s our breakdown of what to expect in tonight’s brawl.

The Favorite


Democrat Hillary Clinton is the wife of former US President Bill Clinton, and was a US Senator after his incumbency, and then current President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State during his first term. She is well-entrenched in the political elite and calls politicians and media mavens on both sides of the aisle her friends. She has raised — and spent — hundreds of millions of dollars to get where she is today, and seems intent and content to continue pouring money into this race to win at all costs. Her policies are a combination of Obama’s moderate liberalism and Socialist Berne Sanders’ hard-left liberalism. Both her husband and she has had numerous political scandals in their past — her husband was a notorious philanderer, and she has been proven to be unsafe with America’s secrets or her understanding of how federal security laws are to be obeyed.

The Upstart


Republican Donald Trump became a politician a little over a year ago when he announced that he was running for President because he couldn’t accept the Republican party’s list of presidential challengers, which at the time included the son and brother of a former President, several standing and former Governors, and several standing and former Senators. He faced and defeated all of them in a grueling primary race that left him the lone survivor in a field of 18 competitors. In that time he spent a fraction of what they all spent, he campaigned harder than all of them, and he generated more news and press with his actions and fiery rhetoric than any candidate in recent history had. Trump’s statements are highly controversial on the left (and to some extent on the right) because he is a coarse man who does not sugar-coat his opinions. He ran on policies of building a wall along the US-Mexican border to stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drugs flowing into America, banning the admittance of Muslim immigrants and visitors until Islamic jihadism can be curtailed or better protections against jihadists can be devised, and for a US-centric revision of all US trade policies.

Tale of the Tape


Clinton is an experienced and strong debater, but she has been hounded with controversy regarding her physical health, as she passed out during a Labor Day event a few weeks ago, and has been know to break into wracking coughing fits on the campaign trail. Any signs of physical weakness with severely undermine her position and performance tonight.

Trump is a firebrand who does not understand — or chooses to ignore — the established rules of decorum for events like this. The moderators will be hard-pressed to keep him in check, and he runs the risk of looking like an uncontrollable goon if he doesn’t play to his strengths while remaining within the bounds of fair play.

The moderators represent a media elite who desperately need Clinton to win, because Trump has been vociferously outspoken in his disdain for them and their parasitic love of the Washington DC establishment. They run the risk of giving Trump a win by obviously hounding him and not Clinton, or trying to clamp down on him without letting him speak in his usual manner. Their challenge will be trying to steer a win for Clinton without making it look like that’s exactly what they’re doing.

According to CNN, here are the official rules of the debate:

TIME: The debate will begin at 9 p.m. ET on CNN and other major networks. It will last 90 minutes, with no commercials and no breaks.

MODERATOR: The debate will be moderated by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt.

DEBATE FORMAT: The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each. The first two segments will focus on “America’s Direction.” The next two segments will focus on “Achieving Prosperity” (the economy). The final two segments will focus on “Securing America” (national security and foreign policy).

SEGMENT FORMAT: Each segment will begin with a question. One candidate will have two minutes to respond, then the other candidate will have two minutes to respond. That will be followed by 10 minutes of open debate and discussion. (The missing one minute in each segment will presumably be taken up by the question itself, as well as the candidates’ inevitably using more than the allotted time for their answers.)

WHO GOES FIRST?: Due to the results of a coin toss, the first question of the debate will go to Clinton. The same question will then be asked to Trump. In the second segment, the order will be reversed, with the lead-off question going to Trump, then Clinton. And so on.

PLACEMENT: Due to the results of a coin toss, Clinton will stand stage left (on the audience’s right) and Trump will stand stage right (on the audience’s left). will be live-streaming the debate tonight, and we encourage all of you to join us. We’ll have running commentary on the site and want to read your comments too. It’s fight night, everybody! Are you all ready to grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrumble?!



Trump needs a big win on Monday if he is to get on a path to the White House, with polls showing a narrow but meaningful lead for Clinton.

But Clinton’s edge could be gone in an instant if Trump puts in a strong performance in the first debate or if she makes a disastrous misstep. Conversely, Trump’s chances of victory could plummet if he fails to convince voters he’s presidential material.

The clash, which will be held at Hofstra University in this Long Island town just outside New York City, is expected to draw the largest TV audience of any presidential debate in history.

The record is currently 80.6 million viewers, which was reached during a debate in 1980 between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Speculation is rife that the Clinton-Trump clash could draw a U.S. audience of 100 million or more.

The anticipation was tangible Sunday, with cable news networks already broadcasting from the site, a cavernous media center filling with hordes of reporters from the U.S. and beyond and tight security.

The debate takes place against a backdrop of racial tension, with police killings of black men in Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte, N.C., sparking protests in recent days.

Clinton had planned to visit Charlotte on the eve of the debate but later canceled the trip, with her campaign citing a desire not to stretch the city’s resources. Trump took to Twitter to accuse her of “bad judgement” in the episode.

Beyond that issue, the debate is likely to take in conventional subjects such as jobs, the economy and national security — the final topic an especially pertinent one in the wake of the bombings in New Jersey and New York.

The themes of the debate, selected by moderator Lester Holt of NBC News, will be “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity” and “Securing America.”

For the candidates, however, the real goal will be damaging the opponent while avoiding disaster during the 90 minutes at the podium.

In the modern era, debates have tended to be memorable as much for missteps or odd moments as for standout performances. The worst example may have been President Gerald Ford’s head-scratching assertion in 1976 that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

Then-Vice President Al Gore’s ostentatious sighing during his first debate in 2000 with George W. Bush hurt him, as did President Obama’s oddly lifeless performance during his initial clash with Mitt Romney in 2012.

A gaffe along similar lines to Ford’s would hurt either candidate but especially Trump, whose readiness to serve is questioned by many voters.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this month, 67 percent of registered voters said Trump would be a “risky choice” to lead the nation, and 64 percent said he did not have “the right kind of temperament and personality to be a good president.”

On the plus side for Trump, Clinton has her own vulnerabilities, especially on questions of honesty. Her inability so far to give a succinct and persuasive explanation of her use of a private email address and server while secretary of State has frustrated even many Democrats.

The issue is another one sure to come up on Monday, especially after more documents related to the matter were released by the FBI on Friday and it emerged that top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was given an immunity deal during the investigation.

Clinton has been reported to be working on a more deft answer on the topic, but Trump will surely try to knock her off balance — though whether he will repeat his epithet of “Crooked Hillary,” no one knows.

Clinton’s preparations have featured several different people playing the role of Trump, most notably longtime aide Philippe Reines. A key challenge, according to Clinton aides, is readying their candidate for all of the different demeanors Trump exhibited on the debate stage during the GOP primary process — combative in one clash, relatively restrained in another.

Trump has one important advantage, which is that expectations for him are lower than they are for Clinton. Despite his stunning victory in the Republican nomination battle, he is a political novice who has never before run for office. Clinton’s career in public life has spanned a quarter-century, including stints as U.S. senator and first lady as well as secretary of State.

If Trump surpasses expectations, he could expand the number of voters who see him as a plausible commander in chief — a shift that could reshape the race in fundamental ways.

But any gaffe or overly fractious moment could renew those doubts once again.

It’s game on for both candidates — and the stakes could not be higher.

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