Clinton vs Trump: Why the Debates Matter, and What the Candidates Need to Do to Win

By Tim Bouchard

The first presidential debate has become a widely-anticipated primetime event that the majority of concerned citizens will be watching. However, most of us are not entering Monday night with high hopes. The likeability ratings of both candidates are the lowest of any other election, and at this point the campaign is more about which candidate is hated the least rather than liked the most. The debates, however, could be the key to holding the office of the presidency in November, and although they will probably not change the minds of anybody on either side of the aisle, those active undecided listeners hope to be wooed and to have the candidate that they feel neutral about become one they could see leading our nation.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls has been dwindling due to the defection of voters unsure about her trustworthiness, health, and integrity to third party candidates such as Gary Johnson (who is willing to do any embarrassing antic to get on the stage). She has to keep one thing in mind if she wants to continue to be a strong candidate: lay off the Trump-bashing. It may seem obvious that she should point out all of his discrepancies, but I believe this may hurt her chances more than help them. Relentless attacks on Trump have not worked, as his supporters are not going to switch to her, and bashing the other candidate makes it seem that she believes that she has the race won, which has definitely not become the case. If she focuses too much on the Donald, she will look like the practiced politician that her opponent makes her out to be. If she can prove to her lost voters that she is more than “the better alternative,” she may come out on top.

On the other hand, Trump needs to keep two ideas in mind: avoid the big mistakes and focus on policy. His campaign has been marred by his polarizing statements that have created deep racial divides among the electorate. To do the same on a grand stage such as what he will have to face would be devastating to his chances. He may be strong in the white male demographic, but he has to start appealing to everyone. In addition, little is known about what Trump’s policy ideas consist of other than the wall. He has to lay out a plan for America that people can support; in other words, he needs to convince the people to whom he does not necessarily appeal to give him their vote. His statements have made scars that people think are irrevocable, but a policy plan independent help to stem the backlash from his polarizing comments. His personality has gotten him this far, but he needs to prove that he can be strategic, calm, and collected if he wants to go any further.

This election is a crossroads for our nation. We stand at a point where we are more politically polarized than ever before. To put it simply, Americans are steadfast in their beliefs, whether they hold liberal or conservative views. In this unique election, one candidate needs to utilize the large platform of prime time debates and appeal to the large audience of Americans who will be glued to their television screens, as well as make a petition to the subset of Americans who have not already made up their minds. So to the undecided voter, to the citizen that dislikes both candidates, I implore you to be that active listener, to keep your eyes glued to the screen, and to cast your vote for whichever candidate speaks to you.

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