Up until fairly recently, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about whether or not Donald Trump would agree to debate Hillary Clinton at all. Evidently, there’s been considerable progress on this front: the Commission on Presidential Debates this morning announced the hosts and moderators of the upcoming events.
First Presidential Debate:
Monday, September 26, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Moderator: Lester Holt, Anchor, NBC Nightly News
Vice Presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 4, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
Moderator: Elaine Quijano, CBSN Anchor and CBS News Correspondent
Second Presidential Debate:
Sunday, October 9, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Moderator:s Martha Raddatz, ABC’s Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, and Anderson Cooper, Anchor, CNN
Third Presidential Debate:
Wednesday, October 19, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Chris Wallace, Anchor, Fox News Sunday
Keep in mind that it was only a few weeks ago that Trump raised the prospect of skipping these showdowns, and vowed to raise a series of “demands.” The bluster apparently didn’t amount to much: the schedule is unchanged from the previously announced dates.
If Team Trump intended to use the moderator-selection process as an excuse to bow out, that opportunity has come and gone.
And that means we can now officially begin the next phase in the process: the quadrennial Expectations Game.
As we discussed around four years ago at this time, presidential campaigns invest quite a bit of energy in trying to manage expectations ahead of the debates. Aides sometimes go to comical lengths to argue that their rival is an extraordinary debater, while their boss is woefully unprepared for the events.
My personal favorite came in 2004, when the Bush/Cheney team, with great sincerity, told campaign reporters that John Kerry was the greatest debater since Cicero, the legendary orator from ancient Rome.
It probably won’t get quite so silly this year, but some similar angling has already begun. Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, Brian Fallon, recently touted Trump’s “showmanship” as evidence of why he’ll be “a formidable debate foe.”
Team Trump, meanwhile, has been busy telling reporters that the GOP candidate isn’t really preparing much for the debates and doesn’t see the need to participate in mock debates ahead of the real thing.
My advice: take all of this with a grain of salt. Both Clinton and Trump will take these events seriously, and they’ve already begun preparing. Efforts to set expectations will continue apace, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously.