The presidential race is a dead heat. The left (and everyone who is terrified by the idea of a Trump presidency) is getting jumpy. The question of how Clinton will blow this thing has become embedded in the narrative, and that fear finally seems justified. FiveThirtyEight’s NowCast, which measures how the presidential race would shake out if the election were held today, gives Donald Trump a 54.9 percent chance of winning the presidency.
Trump would appear to have the upper hand going into the first debate. He’s surging in the polls, and his campaign has been playing the expectations game for weeks. Going into the first presidential debate, no candidate has ever had lower expectations than Donald Trump.
But Trump, as I wrote this morning, has every incentive to be boring on Monday night. His challenge is to convince undecided and third-party voters that he is not an insane person who will kill us all, which means that he will most likely play it safe and try to seem level-headed and reasonable.
But Trump is not the only person with low expectations. Clinton’s expectations, partly because of her middling performance in the campaign so far and partly because she has pneumonia, are also very low. Unlike Trump, Clinton is a very shrewd and talented debater. And unlike Trump, she has an incentive to be bold and forceful tonight. Clinton’s task is to seem human—to get across that she cares about voters and the issues that they face.
Trump’s team has been priming the press with the narrative that Clinton is cold and robotic, that she’s Marco Rubio 2.0. But that suggests they never watched her debates with Bernie Sanders, where she was both relatable and authoritative on policy issues.
So, Clinton should be on favorable terrain this evening. She will have to be careful tonight. But despite all of the doubt and the panic, she’s set up to do very well.