Debate stage is set for ... who knows?
Will Trump damage Clinton? Or himself?
LAS VEGAS — Throughout the long and tawdry presidential campaign, both Donald Trump, by dint of his personality, and Democrats, by dint of the damage they see him doing to his cause, have kept the attention focused on him.
On Wednesday, from a stage at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Trump will face an imperative that sounds simple but has eluded him for months: to turn a fierce spotlight onto his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“This election has been about Donald Trump from day one; that’s the only context he has,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “You look at this as his last best chance. If he continues to do the same things he’s always done, the results are going to be the same.”
Clinton enters the third and final presidential debate with a lead in almost all national polls and a strong hold on states Trump needs to win, but she faces challenges of her own.
She has been buffeted in recent days by the release of hacked emails that have renewed questions about her tenure as secretary of state. That offers Trump an opening, if one less sizable than the difficulties that have enveloped him since the last debate. But for Trump, benefiting will require a deftness and discipline that he has been unable or unwilling to maintain in the two previous debates.
Trump, accused by about a dozen women of sexual misconduct, asserts that Clinton is part of a global conspiracy to undermine U.S. independence. Clinton contends that Trump lacks the temperament to be trust- Stand-ins for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton rehearse on Tuesday in Las Vegas. ed with nuclear weapons and is being aided by hackers directed by Russia.
Clinton has deflected some of the sharpest assaults on Trump to her surrogates. First lady Michelle Obama laid into the GOP nominee last week as representing a destructive anti-woman world view. President Barack Obama on Tuesday belittled Trump as “whining” rather than being a stand-up leader.
But Trump is the dominant personality in his campaign by far, so he has taken on the largest role in reminding voters of Clinton’s failings. He has done so in biting and mocking ways that have served to reinforce Clinton’s criticisms of him. “It’s like a boxer with a glass jaw, leading with their chin,” said Republican pollster Ed Goeas. “When he is the one leading the fight … he not only stirs up her negatives, but his own negatives.”
Clinton and Trump started the campaign with high unfavorable ratings. Those numbers have barely budged.
Asked last October if they were optimistic or pessimistic about Trump’s candidacy, 67 percent of Americans told the NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollsters they were pessimistic. This month, that number sat at 65 percent. Asked about Clinton’s candidacy, 56 percent said they were pessimistic a year ago; this month that figure was 55 percent.
Overall, an average of polls conducted by Real Clear Politics finds Clinton ahead of Trump by almost 7 points nationally.
More sobering for Trump was his performance in the states whose electoral votes will tip one of the candidates into the White House. In those states, Trump had a substantial lead only in Iowa, where he was ahead by an average of less than 4 points. Clinton was ahead by at least that amount in Florida, New Hampshire and Nevada, and by almost that much in North Carolina.
Trump was far behind in