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The first 2016 presidential debate will take place tonight, Monday September 26th at 9:00 PM EST and will feature Republican nominee Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton with Lester Holt moderating. This is anticipated to be among the most watched television programs possibly in American history and for good reason.

As both Trump and Clinton have been on the campaign trail for well over a year, the final debate series between the storied arch rivals may be enough to swing the near 10% of undecided or third party voters which hangs in the balance. With formerly blue states such as Colorado and Maine now collapsing into all out political warfare, an undisputed triumph in a head to head match up could just swing the election and the fate of the United States of America with it.

Having observed this process from its very beginning with Ted Cruz’s announcement in April, 2015 I have laid out the factors which will be critical for each candidate tonight.

Strengths and Weaknesses: Hillary Clinton

It will not come as a surprise to those who followed the Democratic primary closely that Hillary Clinton has few strengths in any public forum in which she has to stand, answer questions, or do both simultaneously for longer than a half of an hour. This, however, may be her greatest strength. Given that her performance at the early primary debates with Bernie Sanders was lackluster and given her many recent health episodes, many Americans and the mainstream media are likely to have very low expectations for a Hillary win tonight.

If she can stand for 90 minutes straight taking tough questions from an aggressive moderator without shouting, moving her eyes in different directions, collapsing, having a seizure, or coughing, regardless of the content of the debate, CNN and NBC will declare her the victor. After all of the fanfare surrounding her recent collapse and recovery, sympathetic millennials and monied interests will portray this as the comeback story of the election, Hillary Clinton comes roaring back from pneumonia to fully participate in a contest on live television.

That said, should there be any health episode, the media will not be able to bury it. The Hillary collapses and coughs and seizures and bizarre body double/green screen scandals were easily left on the cutting room floor over the past several weeks by totalitarian new media cronies; but with millions watching the debate live, no media conglomerate on earth will be powerful enough to suppress such a stark vindication of Trump’s strength and stamina narrative in real time. This factor alone will sink the Clinton campaign. Though there are very low expectations for Hillary, history shows that it will take nothing less than experimental European stimulants and Silicon Valley’s most advanced robotics to keep that corpse standing and performing normal bodily functions for 90 minutes straight.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton is able to participate in the debate without, you know, betraying the obvious signs that she is dying (and that is a leap), there are many other factors which can hurt or help her performance. Perhaps her greatest advantage is her near 30 years in public life. Though in that time she didn’t accomplish much except for singlehandedly giving away America’s geostrategic position in the world, she did learn a thing or two about foreign and domestic affairs. Gary Johnson’s recent Aleppo flub on Morning Joe and Ben Carson’s entire bid for the Republican nomination demonstrate that a basic knowledge of the world cannot be taken for granted in this election; expertise matters. Give Clinton’s experience stealing money behind so many desks, she has become an expert at the legislative process, world diplomacy, state government, and the presidency, this is not to be discounted.

Moreover, because Hillary Clinton has been lying and covering up lies for as long as her and her husband have held public office, she has developed a well crafted and digestible approach to skirting around the issues and dodging controversy. Though it isn’t always pretty, and it wasn’t pretty at the Commander in Chief Forum recently, it serves its function in keeping her base afloat while the media and her cronies do all the heavy lifting to make her palatable to the rest of the electorate.

This “advantage,” if you could call it that, is also a double-edged sword because obviously her experience dodging and skirting derives from nearly thirty years of scandal, cover ups, and political skeletons in her closet. Trump increased media scrutiny on the Clinton’s tenfold, and Gennifer Flowers’ attendance tonight will serve as an ominous foreshadowing of the reckoning which will come for the Clinton’s and all of their misdeeds. Trump has their number and they know it, whether or not Trump drudges this up tonight or in another debate is a matter of strategy but the ball is in his court and this is incredibly dangerous for Hillary Clinton.

Additionally, beyond the political baggage of scandal, Clinton must also defend the baggage of her governance. Trump made the very difficult narrative leap from outsider to viable candidate for insider and as such enjoys the luxury of not having to defend the complicated record of an actor in federal government. Clinton on the other hand will have to own up to her failures as Secretary of State from the apparent “witch hunt” in Benghazi to her universally recognized blunders in Libya, Syria, and Iraq.

Overall, Hillary has her work cut out for her. She is not charismatic or charming like her husband, her boss Obama, or her opponent Donald Trump. She does not think well on her feet and she is easily frazzled. Her health is in jeopardy and she has been dependent on a media which has buried her record and her crimes for all of modern political history. None of this bodes well for a debating contest with the madman but Lord knows that the globalist media can always find a way to spin a defeat into a victory. The question is whether or not they will have anything to salvage by Tuesday morning.

Strengths and Weaknesses: Donald Trump

When it comes to the debating process, Trump is a mixed bag. If you ask him or Drudge Report, he won every single Republican primary debate and the results of the primary votes arguably validated this. More nuanced and admittedly establishment voices saw a belligerent, sensationalist, bigot who easily lost the better part of the general election electorate by pandering to a relatively small base.

That said, the Trump of the general election is a different animal, and this unpredictability factor plays into his hands. The Clinton camps says that they have been rigorously psychoanalyzing his performances in August and December and so forth, but for those that read this author and have paid close attention to Trump’s rhetoric, we will not see the Donald Trump who bragged about his big penis tonight.

The Trump which has taken the lead in many polls and battleground states since mid-August is a much more palatable, centrist, and disciplined candidate while remaining charismatic, reminiscent of the great populists of the south in the early 20th century. This character is a formidable foe and was proved in the Commander in Chief Forum when the mainstream media blamed Trump’s smashing victory on a moderator who allowed it. At this forum we saw a Trump who was congenial and friendly, yet strong and tastefully aggressive. When asked about illegals in the military Trump’s response was sensible and agreeable. This is not the same madman who shushed Jeb Bush almost a year ago.

With all of this in mind, although the Trump of Conway, Ailes, and Bannon could annihilate Hillary Clinton in a vacuum, tonight’s debate will represent the culmination of so much inflammatory and divisive rhetoric which he will have to answer for. If he can successfully pivot on serious questions of bigotry or temperament, he will redeem himself in the eyes of the people and really become a contender. An unscientific but telling measure is Youtube’s reaction to his appearance on Jimmy Fallon. When this new, less abrasive Trump is put on a stage in front of a mainstream audience with a guy like Fallon, among the most common reactions in the comments section was “Hey maybe this Trump guy isn’t so bad after all.”

This debate is a remarkable opportunity for Trump to humanize himself to a large chunk of likely voters on the fence who have been told by their friends that he is nothing more than an orange Nazi with bad hair. The most vocal pundits in this election are the Social Justice Warriors on Twitter and the meme machines on 4chan, but the swing vote will be those confused low information voters in the middle who hate Hillary and watched Celebrity Apprentice but quietly tow the mainstream media line. This is Trump’s opportunity to smash through the John Olivers’ and the Stephen Colberts’ and show the American people what President Trump might look like.

The opportunity to humanize also exposes an opportunity to delegitimize. Trump’s camp should be taking notes on Johnson’s flub and Trump’s chronic lack of specificity because this is the point on which Hillary and Lester Holt will nail him to a cross. If either of them have been paying attention, and their hundreds of interns have, they know that Trump’s one chink in his armor was specificity. Small penis? There’s no problem there. Bush did 9/11? Bring em on. But when Rubio demanded specifics on healthcare, Trump faltered. When asked about TPP, Trump gaffed. These short and painful exchanges were permissible in a series of 11 two hour debates with ten people, but in a head to head bout, something like that would be a critical hit.

Trump has worked vigorously throughout the month of August to build up a carefully crafted and realistic vision of a Trump presidency. By visiting Mexico, by reaching out to the black community, by assisting the victims of the Louisiana floods, Trump ascended to a more serious and viable candidacy; but this can all come crumbling down with an Aleppo moment, this he cannot afford with a mere 50 days until the election.

If he can avoid a factual error or unacceptable lack of specificity, then Trump has every advantage going into this contest. Without the silliness and belligerence of his primary performances, Trump is stripped down to his pure essence: a 6’2″ bull that Hillary is in no position to fight. Ted Cruz was in full health, was decades younger than Hillary Clinton, had no political baggage, was a world debate champion at Harvard and Princeton, argued before the Supreme Court nine times and he did not approach an advantage over Trump. This man combined with the top nine Republicans in the country did not approach an advantage over Trump.

The madman manhandled Senators, governors, a surgeon, a businesswoman, and a political dynasty greater than Hillary Clinton’s, what the hell kind of chance does Hillary stand against that? She could barely hold her own against a panel of MSNBC moderators and a 70 year old socialist who refused to talk about her emails, she’s ready to go head to head with a WWE Hall of Famer? Monica Langley said that last Sunday he stood at a podium for five hours straight taking questions from his advisors with just a five minute break inbetween for a half of a can of diet coke. I’m 18 and I don’t have that kind of stamina, Hillary Clinton is 68 and dying. If Trump doesn’t impale himself on his own sword, this debate is his to lose.

Conclusion

Of course, there is no sure way to predict the outcome of tonight’s debate. The above factors will be important but become more complicated given that the respective strategies of each camp have been calibrated to take these factors and their opponent’s use of them into account. Hillary may try the rope-a-dope and let Trump box himself out to execute him in the next debate. Trump may wait for Hillary to play her hand so he can do the same.

There is no telling what tactical mind games will be played out tonight but there will be a winner and this may be the beginning of the end of this long process which will come to define the character of this nation. I will be live tweeting on Twitter @NickJFuentes with my Make America Great Again hat on, proudly cheering for the surrogate of the American nation to bring about a final judgement day for Hillary Clinton. Until tomorrow, only time well tell.

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Nicholas J. Fuentes is a conservative writer and orator from Chicago, Illinois. He is currently studying international relations and political science at Boston University.
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