One of the reasons so many people tune in to watch the presidential debates are the zingers, the sharp comebacks. The best of these one-liners are not merely entertaining but also get at substantive issues that resonate for voters.
We’ll have to wait until Monday evening to see what the candidates have up their sleeves. But it’s not too early to speculate about some lines of attack or counterattack that might be used when the candidates meet at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. for that first presidential debate of this general election.
The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, will almost certainly be pressed by his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, or by the moderator, Lester Holt, on the issue of his tax returns.
He might reply by offering to release them as soon as Clinton releases the videos of the speeches to Goldman Sachs for which she and Bill Clinton were paid a total of $875,000 by that Wall Street investment bank in 2013.
Mrs. Clinton may describe Trump or his language as sexist, racist, xenophobic, making fun of people with disabilities — a veritable “basket of deplorables.” Trump may ask why, if he’s really so horrible, did Clinton accept his campaign contributions and happily show up with Bill Clinton to rejoice at Trump’s wedding.
Trump will probably describe Clinton as having been a failure as secretary of state and weak when it comes to protecting America against radical Islamic terrorism. Clinton may reply by pointing out that Trump offered to let Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi pitch his tent on Trump’s Westchester County, N.Y., estate, even though Libya was responsible for the Pan Am 103 terrorist attack.
Clinton will probably express skepticism about Trump’s plans for the economy and national security.
Trump can reply that Clinton and her crowd were in charge from 1992 to 2000 and again for the past eight years, and that if today’s America doesn’t feel particularly peaceful or prosperous, Clinton and her crowd are to blame.
Clinton will try to make hay out of what she says are Trump’s business dealings with Russia, or Russians, and his supposed coziness with Vladimir Putin. Trump can point out that the Clinton Foundation took money from lots of foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and that Bill Clinton also collected half-million-dollar speaking fees for appearances in Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates.
Secretary of State Clinton handed the Russian foreign minister a button with a Russian word she thought meant “reset” but in fact meant “overcharge.”
Clinton will claim Trump’s proposed tax cuts will bust the federal budget. He can counter that the real budget busters will be her plans to expand Obamacare and to make college “free.”
Clinton will claim that Trump is anti-union. Trump can point out that Hillary was on the board of directors of Walmart and that members of the Walton family that controls Walmart have donated large sums to her campaign. Walmart has opposed efforts to unionize its employees.
If by this point in the presidential campaign you don’t feel particularly enthusiastic about either candidate, remember that depressing enthusiasm is a kind of political tactic in its own right, designed to assure that only the most highly motivated voters go to the polls.
Beyond all the debating points and the back-and-forth are some even more basic questions.
Which of these two would you want to keep watching after election night? Which one can sketch a vision of the country that inspires some hope?
If all else fails, “Monday Night Football” is on ESPN, Falcons at the Saints. One thing is for sure: That game will be the only big competition on Monday night that features any Saints.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.
Charles Krauthammer is on vacation.