Wednesday’s debate is the last “big event” of the 2016 presidential election calendar. (Can I get an “Amen”?) The Wall Street Journal has an article, laying out what the candidates have at stake, and how they will probably react. When I hear that sort of thing, I’m reminded of the movie, The American President, in which “talking heads” on TV are discussing what momentous things the President is doing in preparation for his State of the Union Address. But the reality is that Michael Douglas is just giving Annette Benning a bouquet of roses (“it turns out, I have a Rose Garden”). In other words, who really knows what happens behind closed doors (unless there’s an open mic)?


Oh, well, so, anyway, here’s what the WSJ has to say.

For Republican Donald Trump, the question is whether the kind of scorched-earth tactics he has employed in the last week—full-bore attacks on his opponent and on the legitimacy of the very system by which presidents are chosen—really translate to his benefit in a debate format.

For Democrat Hillary Clinton, the question is whether to engage in the fight with Mr. Trump as she did in the last debate, or instead pivot beyond attacks and counterattacks to try to occupy some higher ground in the closing chapter of the campaign. . .

Mr. Trump appears to have laid a bet that the only tactic remaining for him is to activate and energize his core supporters by emphatically telling them what they already are inclined to believe: Mrs. Clinton is corrupt, the national media are enabling her and he alone is prepared to fight the establishment on every front. . .

Because he’s invested heavily in that approach and not prospered in the polls as a result, Mr. Trump may decide to return to his core economic arguments about a trade and economic system tilted against average Americans. On the other hand, nasty debates sometimes suppress turnout by turning off uncommitted voters, and it appears Mr. Trump would be fine with such an outcome on the calculation that casual voters driven away now likely would otherwise be Clinton voters. He has a choice to make. . .

Mrs. Clinton. . .has proven equally willing to go on the attack. . .[But] There’s a feeling among some in her campaign that her lead now allows her to go more upbeat, which might have the added benefit of starting to create a broader mandate to govern should she win. Odds are that there are plenty of voters who would love to find something even moderately uplifting to take away from this dumpster-fire of a campaign.

Meanwhile, Fox News offers the top five sound bites from the first two debates.

“In the VP debate, [Democrat] Tim Kaine had a bunch of sound bite-ready things to go,” Graham said. “But they sounded too rehearsed, and I think people can tell now.”

Still, a good, original line has value and staying power. Take Clinton’s “I prepared to be president” rebuke to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the first debate.

“Everybody was talking about it,” Graham said. “It was a good line. It played well for her.”

. . . here are the top five moments for Clinton and Trump from the first two debates:

Hillary Clinton

1. “I prepared to be president”—During a discussion about being prepared for the debate, Trump criticized Clinton for taking time off of the campaign trail to practice.

2. Can’t talk “to me about stamina”—Her response not only fought off the accusation but cited her prior experience as a diplomat.

3. “Provoked by a tweet”— Clinton wanted to hammer home the point that Trump was not a serious candidate and was too impulsive.

4. “America already is great”— Trump’s candidacy is synonymous with his slogan “Make America Great Again.” Clinton turned that line around on him.

5. “He owes the president an apology”—Clinton rarely got defensive when Trump directly criticized her, but she was quick to stand up for others Trump took to task.

Donald Trump

1. “Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now?”—Trump’s campaign is built on the premise that career politicians can’t fix the country’s problems.

2. MacArthur wouldn’t like it—Trump has said he would be an excellent military president and has criticized others for being too open about their plans to defeat ISIS and other external enemies.

3. “Bad experience” –Clinton’s pitch to voters is that she has the experience to be president. Trump had no problem granting her that – but with a twist

4. “You’d be in jail”—Clinton struck at Trump saying she was glad he wasn’t in charge of the country, to which Trump replied.

5. “Honest Abe never lied”—Asked about a particular quote in a previous speech she gave, Clinton said she was drawing on the example of President Abraham Lincoln. Trump saw an opening.

While most people are expecting another knock-down-drag-out fight, reminiscent of a WWE wrestling match, the Washington Post says Hillary must do two things that have nothing to do with Trump.

The first will be to respond to and explain what has been learned from the hacking of campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email account and other recent revelations. The second and perhaps even more important task will be to make a strong, affirmative and compelling case for a possible Clinton presidency.

Clinton’s strategy in the first debate was to poke and provoke Trump, knowing that his thin skin could be easily pierced and that, when it was, he would lose control, veer wildly off course from whatever message or pre-debate plan was in place and become his own worst enemy. She was as deft as she could be, though hardly subtle. Trump’s unraveling was no doubt even greater than she and her advisers had expected.

Her strategy in the second debate was — well, what exactly was it? Trump arrived reeling politically from the release two days earlier of the “Access Hollywood” video in which he spoke crudely about women and bragged of acts that would amount to sexual assault. Clinton didn’t have to do much in the second debate, and she crossed that lowered bar.

As for “The Donald,” all indications are that he will be as aggressive as ever. For instance, going to a Wisconsin rally on Monday, instead of talking about jobs, or even “Crooked Hillary,” he saved his venom for the state’s favorite politician, Paul Ryan, whom Trump says, “doesn’t know how to win.” (Ryan beat his Trump-backed primary opponent with 84% of the vote in August.) And at the Monday rally, Trump supporters didn’t help by chanting “Ryan sucks,” nor did Trump do himself any favors by letting them.

Here’s how the lines are drawn.

“Wisconsinites know Paul Ryan, Paul’s been an elected official here a long time, he’s well-liked and highly regarded in Wisconsin,” said Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), who represents Green Bay and opposes Trump. “He ought to be going and campaigning against Hillary Clinton, focusing on the issues that differentiate him from her, not this internecine battle between him and Ryan.”

But Trump has made a habit of sticking it to Wisconsin Republicans. He’s been critical of Gov. Scott Walker and needled Ryan on and off throughout much of the campaign, and even spent part of his Sunday tweeting complaints about the speaker and former Republican vice presidential nominee. Ryan’s most recent sin was making it clear last week that he was done defending Trump — though he didn’t officially pull his endorsement. . .

Trump vented on Twitter. “Paul Ryan, a man who doesn’t know how to win (including failed run four years ago), must start focusing on the budget, military, vets etc.”

The focus on bashing Ryan in the homestretch of the election isn’t helping in a state that’s been slow to embrace Trump, despite support from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a former Wisconsin GOP chair himself who has defended Trump through most of the candidate’s controversies.

“There’s no question, anytime Donald Trump takes after Paul Ryan, it just makes the people in Wisconsin a little more angry at him,” said Brandon Scholz, a longtime GOP operative who runs a governmental and public affairs shop in Madison.

Usually, at this point of the campaign, candidates will pull their resources from losing battles, to focus on fights they might be able to win. But Donald Trump is incapable of accepting failure. His whole campaign was based on taking “Rust Belt” states. He can’t accept that he’s wrong, so he claims that his worst showing in these states (Pennsylvania) can’t possibly be a loss—unless gremlins are attacking. Likewise, he’s still campaigning in Wisconsin, even though he has destroyed his chances there.

Charlie Sykes, perhaps the most nationally prominent of those radio hosts, has remained a vocal Trump critic.

“His behavior is incomprehensible to me,” he said. “First of all, why is he here, three weeks before the election, when he’s down 7 points? If he was remotely serious about winning Wisconsin, why would he have spent the last 24 hours ripping Paul Ryan? Ryan got 84 percent of the vote in his district [in his August primary].”

By all indications, the third debate will be, basically, a rerun of the first two.

Related: Watch the Finale Clinton/Trump Debate on Wednesday, October 19

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