5 Tricks to Watch for in Tomorrow's Debate

September 25th 2016

Aron Macarow

The first presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will be televised Monday night.

What should we expect to see, beyond learning where the candidates stand on policy issues or what they think of climate change?

Political debates have always been about the war of words, and, for the savvy politician, words can be potent weapons. The challengers have their favorite tricks, ones they rely on to throw their opponent off or to pull the audience into their court.

Here are five things to watch for from each candidate during the opening presidential debate, based on their performances during the presidential primaries.

1. Trump will take the fight to the debate moderator.

Trump has a history of arguing with the debate moderators to win over his audience and deflect questions.

There's his controversial response to Fox News' Megyn Kelly after she questioned him on his remarks about women during a GOP primary debate.

Then there's his retort to Hugh Hewitt that "very few people listen to your radio show" after Hewitt asked about Trump's tax returns

Trump has even gone as far as saying that there should be no moderators during the general election presidential debates: He backed out of GOP primary debates when he deemed the moderators unacceptable.

Trump also suggested in a recent interview on "Fox and Friends" that fact-checking by moderators is "unfair" and that candidates should "take each other on" about facts.

2. Clinton will redirect the conversation

Clinton doesn't argue with the moderators like her opponent Trump when the going gets tough.

Instead, she shifts the topic to something related without addressing the original question.

Take the CNN debate in Brooklyn, New York, where the former Secretary of State was pressed about releasing the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches.

Her answer? To redirect the conversation to talk about how she fought Wall Street while serving as New York's U.S. senator, without answering the original question about the speech transcripts. We expect her to do the same when pressed on challenging issues Monday night.

3. Trump will keep up the name-calling

Trump has insulted 258 people, places, and things on Twitter, according to the Upshot, and he's brought many of those insults onto the debate stage with him in the past.

Trump was the king of insults during the GOP primary debates, calling Texas Sen. Ted Cruz "Lyin' Ted" and derisively labeling Florida Sen. Marco Rubio "Little Marco."

Trump has slung mud against Clinton for months: The Trump campaign calls her "Lying Crooked Hillary" on its website. Expect the Manhattan businessman to continue the name-calling during Monday's debate.

4. Clinton will play the "Woman Card"

Clinton has one go-to when criticized for being a member of the political establishment: pointing out that she is the first female candidate for president from a major political party.

When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized her in an MSNBC primary debate, Clinton responded by saying, "Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me — a woman running to run as the first woman president — as exemplifying the establishment."

Given Trump's history of comments critical of women — as well as his tendency to sell himself as a candidate from outside of the political system — we're likely to see a similar exchange Monday night.

5. Trump won't apologize

The sarcastic tweet is an example of about the only time Trump has used the word "sorry," and it doesn't really count as an apology.

Trump is known for his unwillingness to apologize to anyone, including the Khan family, the Gold Star parents he insulted after the Democratic National Convention. He has also not apologized to Mexican immigrants, whom he famously contended were all "rapists."

Trump has admitted that he's not good at really apologizing, so don't watch for him to back away from any of his controversial statements.

Will these tactics prove effective?

It's hard to say.

Trump's primary debate ploys may not work in a head-to-head matchup with Clinton.

Why? Not just because of Clinton's debating prowess, although she does have years of experience in the political arena.

The difference may actually lie with the audience and the format, which both differ markedly from the primary debates.

For one thing, the audience for general election debates tends to be more respectful than that for primary debates. This means that Trump's usual brash and argumentative style may not resonate in the same way.

As for the format, the 90-minute debate will have no commercials and no breaks, a departure from the debates in which Trump has previously taken part. Trump has never spoken for more than 30 minutes and has allowed other candidates to run down the clock.

With only two candidates on stage Monday night, Trump may have difficulty repeating his winning performances.