The first presidential debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled for Monday night, which means assorted partisans are hard at work, furiously trying to shape public perceptions ahead of the big showdown.
There are three broad angles to this that are worth keeping in mind between now and showtime.1. Donald Trump is terrified of real-time fact-checking
Republicans are still angry with CNN's Candy Crowley fact-checking Mitt Romney during a debate four years ago, and Donald Trump spent some time this week lobbying NBC News' Lester Holt, among other moderators, to let the candidates argue among themselves.
"You're debating somebody, and if she makes a mistake, or if I make a mistake, we'll take each other on," Trump said
during one of his several Fox News appearances this week. He added that he and Clinton should simply "argue it out."
It's bound to be tricky. If a moderator, such as Crowley, provides the public with information that contradicts a candidate, he or she is the target of intense criticism. Note, however, that NBC News' Matt Lauer also faced equally intense rebukes recently for hosting an event in which he let some brazen Donald Trump lies go without pushback.
Trump clearly prefers the latter, creating a "he said, she said" dynamic in which viewers aren't sure who to believe. Whether Holt and other moderators stick to that model remains to be seen.2. The expectations game is getting ridiculous
I wrote a piece
a few weeks ago about the campaigns going to borderline silly lengths to set expectations ahead of the debate -- "Our candidate is going to do terribly, and our rival will be amazing" -- and the problem has only intensified. The New York Times reported
Mr. Trump is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of Mrs. Clinton's best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities. [...]
Mr. Trump ... is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it. He has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.