Wednesday evening, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will square off during their third debate. This final debate is a chance for both candidates to redeem themselves amidst mounting negative headlines. Or, they could fail miserably, with just over 20 days until the Nov. 8 election.
This final debate is being held in Las Vegas and moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Pundits aren’t sure what debate strategies to expect from the candidates. They may plan to play it safe. Alternatively, they could take an offensive tack, and embrace a scorched earth policy in their final showdown.
Dan Balz, of The Washington Post, predicts Clinton will focus on making a compelling, positive case for her presidency. However, he also expects her to specifically address the latest WikiLeaks revelations and the developing “quid pro quo” scandal regarding the State Department and the FBI.
WikiLeak’s dump of campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails brought to light some questionable practices by Clinton and her staff. The leaks also revealed some campaign policies and inner workings — not all of which painted Clinton in the best light. Among the leaked documents was information that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, pressured the FDA to allow a top donor access to an experimental cancer medication; that her personal lawyer attempted to undermine Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegation (made against former president Clinton in 1999); and that the presidential hopeful made private remarks about environmental reform and national security that directly contradict her public stances.
Clinton must also address the FBI/State Department “quid pro quo” controversy during the final debate. In the latest twist regarding her emails, it appears that in the Spring of 2015, a State Department official approached the FBI about not classifying one the emails that was part of the Benghazi attack. In return, the State Department would help the FBI get back two recently lost spots at the Baghdad embassy.
Balz expects Trump to be on the defensive about certain topics as well, primarily the sexual harassment and assault allegations that have cropped up in the wake of the release of a video of him making lewd comments about women to the then-host of Access Hollywood, Billy Bush.
The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib predicts Trump will try to use the stage to “energize his core supporters by emphatically telling them what they already are inclined to believe: Mrs. Clinton is corrupt, the national media are enabling her and he alone is prepared to fight the establishment on every front.”
Trump may also try to discourage undecided voters from casting ballots at all. He hopes a weak turnout might be enough to swing the election in his favor, despite Clinton currently polling ahead.
Sieb believes an important decision for Clinton will be how she decides to engage with Trump. In the previous debate, she quoted First Lady Michelle Obama when promising to “go high” when her opponents “go low.”
“For Democrat Hillary Clinton, the question is whether to engage in the fight with Mr. Trump as she did in the last debate, or instead pivot beyond attacks and counterattacks to try to occupy some higher ground in the closing chapter of the campaign,” wrote Seib.
Regardless of the “stark contrast in the strategic choices and motivations” between the two candidates, their ultimate goal is identical. Both want to secure the presidency, and their performance at this final debate will either help or hinder their cause. On Wednesday, both candidates need to bring their A games, and their composure, if they have any hopes of bringing the remaining undecided voters around to their camp.
The final debate airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT.