You know the old shibboleth about those who listened to the Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 thought Nixon won, but those who watched on TV thought Kennedy won — something about Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow and sweating brow.
If anyone only listens to tonight’s Clinton-Trump debate, there might be a similar dichotomy. The listener won’t be subjected to Trump’s smirks and wild hand gestures or be exposed to Clinton drooping like a wilted flower.
Let’s just hope debate moderator Lester Holt doesn’t pull a Candy Crowley and start incorrectly correcting either candidate.
I suspect the debate will be scored by viewers and pundits alike on style and performance rather than substance, mores the pity. Neither of them has articulated anything close to a coherent list of policies for how they would behave as chief executive and commander in chief.
Clinton has a memory like a steel sieve and Trump can contradict himself in a single sentence.
Unlike reality TV, this really is unscripted.
Doubtless tonight’s outcome will come down to who makes the biggest blunder. Like Gerald Ford insisting that Poland, Yugoslavia, and Romania were all “independent and autonomous” of the Soviet Union. Like Michael Dukakis’ leaden, stone-faced and rote opposition to the death penalty when asked if he would relent if his own wife were raped and murdered. Like Al Gore’s exasperated sighs. Like Obama’s smirks in the first debate with Mitt Romney.
I doubt we’ll be offered any debate zingers like Ronald Reagan asking, “Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?”
Or like Lloyd Bentsen saying to Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Expect the primacy/recency effect to be heavily skewed to the primacy side of the equation. The debate will be won or lost in the opening minutes by whichever candidate lands the best and most blows. That’s when watchers will mark their mental score cards. By the final minutes, they and we will be too exhausted to pay attention or care.
But there is a distinct possibility with this match that both might end up on the canvas.