Five things to watch for at Trump-Clinton debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will square off on Monday night in the most anticipated and consequential presidential debate in modern times.

The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., between the celebrity businessman and the first woman nominated by a major party is expected to smash ratings records, potentially reaching 100 million viewers.

{mosads}Here are five things to watch for in the heavyweight clash that will set the course for the final 42 days of the election: 

Will Trump bring up _______?

During the GOP primary debates, Trump veered from controversial and blustering to subdued and cordial. 

On the campaign trail, he’s shifted away from free-wheeling stream-of-consciousness rallies to reading from prepared text, but sometimes the teleprompter is not enough to keep him on message.

The Clinton camp is preparing for everything but is undoubtedly unnerved by the prospect of Trump conjuring one of the countless real and imagined conspiracies or controversies from Clinton’s decades in public life.

Trump could make Clinton’s marriage an issue by bringing up Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick or Kathleen Willey, or he could bring up Clinton’s health, just weeks after a passerby captured dramatic cellphone video of her appearing to pass out while leaving a 9/11 memorial in New York City.

He could also veer into conspiracy. Trump during the GOP primary suggested rival Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The GOP nominee has huddled with controversial anti-Clinton author Ed Klein, whose work has been dismissed by the mainstream political class as unsubstantiated conspiracy-mongering.

And he has surrounded himself with conservative media giants like former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, both known for gleefully trafficking in the most embarrassing aspects of Clinton’s private life.

It all has the potential to blow Clinton off course. Or it could backfire spectacularly on Trump and provide an election-defining moment of authenticity for Clinton.

The Democrat will also have ample opportunities to get under Trump’s skin. 

A New York Times report said Clinton wants to show him unhinged, which could signal she intends to dig at her rival over his business accomplishments, temperament, past controversies with women or ties to right-wing extremist elements.

Body language

Every move, subconscious twitch and unplanned reaction will be captured in high definition, magnified before a Super Bowl-sized audience and endlessly dissected on cable news.

Minor physical faux pas have sunk candidates in the past, from Al Gore sighing in 2000 to George H.W. Bush checking his watch in 1992.

Trump has a flashy and over-the-top style punctuated by unique hand gesticulations and facial expressions. 

He is entertaining to watch and is a ratings juggernaut but is also in the position of having to prove to a skeptical public that he is commander in chief material — not just a showman.

Clinton, meanwhile, is a cool and accomplished debater but can come across as dull or dispassionate. 

The Democratic nominee badly needs to energize a liberal base that has shown indifference to her. She’ll be looking to avoid a performance that appears overly scripted or sterile under the bright lights.

The moderator

Lester Holt, the modest and understated anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” need only ask his colleague Matt Lauer, the host of NBC’s “Today,” how tricky moderating a presidential forum can be.

Lauer has suffered immense blowback from critics who said he was unprepared and allowed Trump to walk all over him at a military forum earlier this month.

Holt will face intense scrutiny for the questions he asks, how he frames those questions, and whether he fact-checks and challenges the candidates on their claims.

In 2012, CNN anchor Candy Crowley came under fire for correcting Mitt Romney — wrongly, according to conservatives — at a key moment in a debate against President Obama over a question about Benghazi.

There are myriad controversies and scandals involving both candidates that Holt could choose to raise. Partisans will be keeping tally.

The campaigns and candidates are already busy working the ref.

Trump this week said Holt is a Democrat and warned the anchor not to fact-check his assertions.

The Clinton campaign is publicly fretting that Holt has such low expectations for Trump that the moderator will take it easy on the GOP nominee while holding Clinton to a higher standard.

What voters do Trump and Clinton speak to?

Both candidates have work to do in shoring up their respective bases, but both also need to expand their appeal.

Clinton has big leads over Trump among Hispanics, African-Americans and young voters. But none of these groups that formed the core of the Obama coalition are particularly enthused about turning out for her.

She could lay it on thick with a message that energizes that liberal core, which could help her slam the door shut on Trump.

But Clinton could also be looking to expand her appeal to Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump.

That would mean casting herself as a centrist and a pragmatist, rather than a fierce advocate for the causes important to the left.

Trump, meanwhile, badly needs to resonate with some constituency outside his core base of white men.

His efforts to reach African-American voters have been mocked as condescending and trafficking in stereotypes. 

Many minority voters and young people aren’t considering voting for Trump, but if he can improve even slightly on his dismal numbers there it could be meaningful for him in the long-run.

A focus on minority outreach might also help alleviate the fears of white, college-educated voters who are steering clear of Trump because they don’t want to be associated with a candidate who has been accused of racism and bigotry.

The debate over black and blue

A police shooting of a black man under disputed circumstances in North Carolina has the nation on edge.

The fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott has sparked protests in Charlotte and once again put the spotlight on police practices in black communities.

Potentially furthering the tension — Monday’s debate is expected to attract upwards of 10,000 protesters and will take place on Long Island, which has a high concentration of cops, firefighters and first responders.

Trump has broken recently from his hard-line pro-police stance, saying he was “troubled” by a different police shooting of a black man in Tulsa, Okla., which has led to charges of manslaughter against the officer.

Tensions are running hot on both ends of the debate, and how the candidates handle the super-charged political minefield will be revealing. 

Tags Al Gore Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Presidential Debate Ted Cruz

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