Presidential debates: who stands to gain by participating?

Who do you think stands to gain the most at this point in the election by participating in a debate?

The widely-held expectation is that Clinton would demonstrate much greater mastery/understanding of policy and the function(s) of government. But perhaps Presidential debates aren’t really about policy or even debating in the conventional proposition-counterargument-rebuttal etc. sense. Modern Presidential debates increasingly tend to serve as opportunities to deliver zingers, barbs, and sound bites - something Trump has for all intents and purposes premised his entire campaign upon. ‘Winning’ in this sense has little to do with convincing voters a candidate is better qualified to govern than their opponent.

‘Who stands to gain the most’ is probably closely related to the question ‘who at this point is still undecided’? How might Presidential debates affect the opinions of this group?

The answer, obviously, is Donald Trump. A person who is winning doesn’t stand to gain from any event at all. It would be best for Hillary Clinton if absolutely nothing happened between now and November 8, since she is well ahead in the polls. Nothing happening would mean she would remain ahead, and would win. Something happening could cause her to have an even bigger lead, but could also cause her to lose her lead. So it’s to her advantage to have no debates at all, and to Trump’s to have some.

It is of course quite plausible that Trump could put on a terrible performance and lose by even more than he is losing now. But the Presidential election is a binary thing; you either win, or you lose. Losing by an EV count of 500-38 makes you exactly as much not the President as losing 270-268. So blowing the debates, when you are behind, is regrettable but really not a lot worse than having no debates at all. It is equally plausible Trump could hold back the worst elements of his nature for ninety minutes and “look Presidential.” He would thus “win” the debate - policy details don’t matter, appearance is everything - and gain points in the polls.

I believe it important to stress that one point; policy and command of the issues really don’t matter. They have not mattered in previous debates and will not matter in these ones. If command of the facts mattered, Trump would be eighty points behind in the polls. What matters is emotion and appearance.

I realize I said ‘at this point’ in the OP - but you’re completely right. Thread over. Let me rephrase…
Who is more likely to benefit from their likely performance in a debate between now and the election?

Yes, currently Clinton is flying high but it’s a near certainty the numbers will change/swing multiple times between now and the election almost three months away. Events will occur and things will get said. Either candidate could therefore potentially stand to see their fortunes change based on how well they perform in a debate. Without taking current polling #s into account, who is more likely to benefit by participating in a debate?

It depends on how you define “benefit”.

RickJay is correct. Clinton essentially can’t “win” the debate because she’s already winning. The best outcome for her is to keep the status as front runner that she already has.

Trump, on the other hand, has the possibility of changing his second place status. So even if the odds are 100-1 against Trump winning the debate, they paradoxically are in Trump’s favor.

The Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson would probably get a bump just by being there (if he’s invited), unless people start hearing how non-mainstream his ideas are.

Which is not to say that it would be good for her to refuse the expected debates. That would hurt her.

Debates rarely change minds. At the best, they can solidify your supporters.

Even if Trump whips his penis and a tape measure out mid-debate, his supporters will insist that he “won”. There is literally nothing he could do at this point to lose his 35% core support. Trump was correct in this some months back; he could shoot his gay atheist lover, go to jail, kill a guard there, and still get 35% of the vote.

If he merely stood up in the debate and advocated for a final muslim solution involving gas chambers, he’d probably get 45%.

Agreed. But current polling numbers aside, which candidate would you foresee as being more likely to persuade undecided voters to cast their votes for them based on how they would likely perform in a Presidential debate?

The media wins.

Undecideds dislike both candidates. Or they are living under a rock. If the Donald doesn’t say something unhinged or look completely uninformed, he could benefit. But history shows us that will be very difficult for him. He may be dealing with a very unfriendly audience, and I can see him going off the rails.

The candidate who is leading in the polls always has more to risk and lose from the debates than the one who is trailing.
So in theory, Trump has everything to gain and nothing to lose from debating, although maybe by this point even he has realized that he is ignorant and that Hillary would defeat him easily on national television. Maybe some fear has finally set in his mind at last.

I’d bet on Trump, but I wouldn’t bet anything I could not afford to lose.

All Trump has to do is appear sane and “Presidential” for ninety minutes. (I think that’s how long debates are.) That’s it. Can he do it? I think he could, but I think there is enough of a chance he’d lose his mind over something that I don’t want to put a lot of money on him.

Trump is having a hard enough time looking “presidential” during scripted events and rallies. I sincerely doubt his ability to survive a ninety minute, unscripted debate session without making some major screw ups.

There’s a third party with a huge stake in the debates – the Republican Party.

It may be true that Trump has the most to gain, but his party has the most to lose. If Trump has a meltdown or says crazy shit rather than giving rational answers, the party faces possible loss of power in the House and Senate.

Hilary offers no such risk to the Democrats.

My guess is that the Republican party and even Trump’s own campaign staff will do everything in its power ti keep Trump from debating at all. I don’t know whether they will be able to prevent them, though.

My guess is that Clinton would improve her position via a debate.

Debates are stressful one-on-one confrontations and I think Clinton can handle the stress. It’s the kind of format, on the other hand, that seems to bring out the worst in Trump. Clinton could probably goad Trump into snapping and losing his cool (and might not even have to do anything) while staying calm and looking like she’s in control.

Can you imagine how Donald Trump would melt down and/or explode if he had to deal with Trey Gowdy yammering at him for eleven hours? :eek:

While true for the presidential race alone, how much you lose by can have a big impact on down-ticket races. If Trump is losing by 20 points, a lot of Republicans would stay home from the polls, potentially resulting in some Senate and House seats switching. You don’t seen that happen to the same extent with the leading party.

Or in other words…

Indeed, Gary Johnson would gain the most if he were allowed to participate. There are a lot of voters wishing for a legit 3rd option. Just getting his name out there would help a lot, but if Johnson could present himself as a sane option, he could get some traction.

Between Trump and Clinton, I guess Trump would have the most to gain. But only in the sense that Clinton would have the most to lose. It’s like Michigan vs. Appalachian State. If Michigan wins, big whoop. That’s what we all expected. But if Michigan looks bad, uh oh.

Trump has the ‘W factor’ going for him even more strongly than W did. That is IF he could actually make it through an entire 90 minute debate without announcing plans to ‘send a special trade envoy to the capital of Africa’ or ‘if elected President, I will withdraw the US from NATO’ it would be hailed as a victory.

I posted this in another thread but it fits better here, Trump actually went down in the polls after the Republican debates:

He did the worst after the one that Fiorina was a part of, where she was able to call him out on some of the things he’d said about her appearance. Fiorina was prepared for that debate, and Clinton has even more time to prepare and have things ready to set him off.

Trump could theoretically gain in polls if he was able to stay calm and reasonable, but he could also gain if he started levitating and I see that as likely as him making it through a debate without saying something crazy.