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Clinton, Trump look to overcome weaknesses on debate stage


    A technician examines the lighting grid as preparations continue for Monday’s first debate presidential between Democratic Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

WASHINGTON >> Donald Trump needs to prove to voters that he has the policy depth and gravitas to serve as commander in chief. Hillary Clinton needs a moment to connect with Americans who question whether she can be trusted.

In an election year that has upended political convention, the candidates’ best opportunity to conquer their weaknesses will come in the most traditional of campaign forums: Monday’s 90-minute, prime-time debate.

Both campaigns expect a record-setting television audience for the high-stakes showdown, which could help tip the balance in a tight White House race.

The visuals alone will be striking as the candidates step behind their podiums at Hofstra University in suburban New York. Clinton will be the first woman to take the stage in a presidential general election debate. Trump has spent years on Americans’ television screens as a reality show host, but it can still be jarring to see him at politics’ upper echelons.

Six weeks from Election Day, and with advance voting already underway, the opening debate is one of the few opportunities left for the candidates to motivate supporters and sway a narrow band of undecided voters. According to a new Associated Press-Gfk poll, more than 85 percent of likely voters backing Clinton or Trump say their minds are completely made up. About 13 percent said they were undecided.

The candidates’ preparation has been a microcosm of their sharply different approaches to politics and presumably, the presidency.

The Democratic nominee has spent weeks with advisers, taking full days away from campaign travel to pour through briefing books, practicing to pounce if Trump makes false statements and steeling herself for the possibility that he levels deeply personal attacks.

Longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines is playing Trump in mock debates, according to a person familiar with the preparations who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity. Reines is a combative political operative who is deeply loyal to Clinton.

Former President Bill Clinton has sat in on some sessions, offering advice from his own White House debates.

Trump has eschewed traditional debate preparations, but has held midflight policy discussions with a rotating cast of advisers. He’s also spent numerous Sundays batting around ideas with aides.

The Republican businessman’s loose approach is potentially risky given that he is new to many policy issues expected to come up during the debate. But advisers contend he will compensate by being quick on his feet and point to his experience at performing under pressure.

“Imagine the practice and the training of 13 years of reality television on ‘The Apprentice’ and then imagine Hillary’s experience reading hundreds of papers,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a Trump adviser who has been talking through policy with the candidate in recent days.

Clinton aides fear Trump will indeed be judged more for his performance than his grasp of the numerous challenges that pass across a president’s desk. They’ve been flummoxed by Trump’s ability to sail through the campaign without fleshing out many policy positions and glossing over past statements that he no longer views as politically palatable.

On Friday, the Clinton campaign released 19 pages of what they called Trump’s “seven deadly lies,” including his false assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start.

“Even if he meets some kind of lowered bar of being semi-coherent and not having any outbursts, it’s hard to imagine he’ll avoid his own propensity for lying,” said Brian Fallon, Clinton’s campaign spokesman.

Asked whether Clinton herself planned to call Trump out in the debate if he tries to lie about his past statements, Fallon said, “I don’t think she would let anything like that pass.”

People familiar with Clinton’s preparations say she has been working through answers to questions that hit at her lack of trustworthiness in the eyes of many Americans, a problem that has dogged her throughout the campaign. Supporters cringed during a candidate forum earlier this month when Clinton was pressed about her email use at the State Department and became defensive, rather than apologizing and trying to move on quickly.

Clinton has debated more than 30 times at the presidential level, including several one-on-one debates with Barack Obama in 2008 and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016. But this will be her first presidential debate against a candidate from an opposing party, which Democrats say will give her far more latitude in drawing a contrast and defending herself.

“It’s a lot more comfortable running against people in the other party than it is debating in the primary,” said Anita Dunn, who worked on debate preparations with Obama. “The differences don’t have to be manufactured. The differences exist.”

Trump had an uneven record during the Republican debates, sometimes controlling the crowded contests and other times fading into the background. He flipped back and forth between being bombastic and trying to act restrained.

Trump’s less-than-restrained side was on display Saturday as he took to Twitter to criticize Clinton’s decision to ask businessman Mark Cuban — a frequent Trump critic — to be one of her guests at the debate. The Republican nominee suggested he might put Gennifer Flowers, a woman who had a relationship with Bill Clinton, “right alongside” Cuban.

Trump misspelled Flowers’ first name in his original tweet, then sent a corrected version minutes later.

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  • Trump claims “It’s a very unfair system” and moderators “are all Democrats,” but Lester Holt is a registered Republican in New York City. The only headlines Trump should generate ought to be when he tells the truth.

  • Here’s a great quote from the NYT.

    “Mr. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election. Here’s our analysis of 31 untruths.”

    He can’t say anything truthful. Like a lot of his supporters on here!

      • les, you should pick use a bong, because EVERYTHING about Trump. Inexperience on the local, national, and international political levels, failed businesses, lawsuits from his many business and university dealings, his disregard and disrespect to women, religion, and race, and so on. Not sure what “good” qualities or, really, anything about the man makes you think he would be a good President. Has he presented anything, anything of REAL substance, to solve any of America’s issues? Has he ever?

        • The real pleasure will be rubbing it in after Trump loses the election by 10 points and 100 electoral votes. He’s collapsing in a morbidly obese, orange heap.

        • Not withstanding all of the baggage that Ms. Clinton carries, you find it acceptable to support an elected/appointed politician who takes an oath of office and lies or “can’t recall”?

        • Klastri, the pleasure will be mine. Keep it up. You are persuading a lot of people to vote for Trump or can’t you tell.

  • Les-less. You keep repeating things at a fourth grade level, just like the guy you have a man crush on. Is it his hair you love? Try for once not to cut and paste something you’ve already written. Try for once in your life to be original along with being substantive.

    • Considering the daily haranguing from types such as yourself continually outlining Trump’s inadequacies as a presidential contender, don’t you find it rather curious as to why he’s still in contention? As for myself, it speaks far more about the shortcomings of his opponent, a professional politician with unsurmountable trust issues, than it does to his amatuerish campaign foibles. There is another option…

        • You are so right Klastri, some people just cannot muster the necessary intellligence to support Hillary Clinton, that paragon of virtue, integrity and coat tail riding.

        • calentura – The choice is between Mrs. Clinton and a profoundly mentally ill violent ignoramus. That’s an easy choice. Really easy.

        • klas, your adjectives in many ways are applicable to your candidate, along with some others not even mentioned. As I said, there is a better way.

        • Klastri,you are in the bottom half. Kudos to the DOE Special Ed program for doing a bong up job on you.

    • Yep, Monica Lewinsky would work too. Like Crooked Hilliary said, she’s taking the high road. Eyeballs a popping. They better get the extra strength cough syrup. Screeching, hollering, incoherent. No speech writers to help her.

  • Obama indicated that he would take it as a personal insult if Blacks didn’t vote for Clinton. I’m extremely annoyed by Obama’s policy of making everything about himself and his legacy. He believes all government decisions depend on a racial litmus test. I’m absolutely tired of Obama’s racial politics. It is totally inappropriate for a President of the U.S. Obama is a racist.

  • In today’s online edition’s, articles in three major newspapers made statements about Trump’s barrage of lies:

    NY Times: “Donald J. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election, peppering his speeches, interviews and Twitter posts with untruths so frequent that they can seem flighty or random — even compulsive.”

    Washington Post: “An examination by The Washington Post of one week of Trump’s speeches, tweets and interviews show a candidate who not only continues to rely heavily on thinly sourced or entirely unsubstantiated claims but also uses them to paint a strikingly bleak portrait of an impoverished America, overrun by illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists”

    LA Times: “Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has. Over and over, independent researchers have examined what the Republican nominee says and concluded it was not the truth — but “pants on fire” (PolitiFact) or “four Pinocchios” (Washington Post Fact Checker)…the scope of Trump’s falsehoods is unprecedented, and he is dogged in refusing to stop saying things once they are proved untrue.”

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