Hillary Clinton enters the second presidential debate looking for nothing short of a knockout punch following the uproar over a 2005 video that showed Donald Trump graphically discussing women.
Here are five things the Democratic presidential nominee needs to do in St. Louis:
1. Be prepared for anything from a wounded Trump
The fallout over the video showing Donald Trump boasting about groping women has been so severe that many prominent Republicans are calling on their nominee to step aside. While many conventional politicians in crisis mode might come into a high-profile debate contrite, eager to avoid discussions of sex scandals, would anyone be surprised if Trump does the exact opposite?
Trump has said he won’t bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs. “I want to win this election on my policies for the future,” he recently told The New York Post, but that was before the latest uproar.
At the end of his late-night video apology over the 2005 video, Trump offered a preview of what may be coming. "Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims," the GOP nominee said. "We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday."
Clinton is unlikely to engage on the specifics of her husband's past scandals if her opponent goes that route, and from a purely political standpoint, she might benefit if viewers recoil at the sight of Trump playing that card given his own considerable baggage. But it'll undoubtedly be one of the more awkward moments in presidential debate history, and Clinton needs to be prepared for it.
2. Close the economic case
Recent polls show Clinton is narrowing Trump’s advantage on the economy, but he still has a 5-point lead over her on who would do a better job handling the economy and jobs, according to a recent CBS News poll. In the first debate at Hofstra University on Long Island, Clinton came up with a new moniker for Trump’s approach, calling it “trumped-up trickle-down economics.” Still, she has more work to do in explaining to lower and middle-income voters how her plan would be more effective than Trump’s, which focuses on renegotiating foreign trade deals.
3. Explain Iraq and Libya
One of Trump’s most effective lines of attack targets Clinton’s support for U.S. intervention in Iraq and Libya, as well as the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which Republicans say created a vacuum for the Islamic State to grow. It’s an issue Trump failed to press at the first debate, and Clinton should assume it will be prominent in St. Louis.
During Tuesday's vice presidential debate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence foreshadowed the case Trump may make, as he argued that Clinton failed to re-negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi parliament to keep U.S. troops in place, though Clinton's role in that may not have been as substantial as Pence made it seem. Still, Iraq and Libya remain among her greatest liabilities, even among members of the Democratic base.
4. Keep smiling
Social science research shows female candidates are judged differently by society. It can be more important for women to be considered likable, even though it’s harder for them to be perceived as strong leaders when they are well liked. It’s a delicate act for any female public figure to perform and could prove especially important given the town-hall format of the Sunday forum. Critics have complained about sexist overtones when Clinton is criticized for raising her voice, yet some of the Democratic candidate’s most effective speeches have been those in which she strikes an even-toned delivery and, yes, smiles.
5. Learn from her husband
While Bill Clinton’s greatest strength as a politician was an ability to connect with voters and demonstrate empathy, the former first lady has acknowledged that she is a policy wonk who can come off as aloof. Those who know her best insist that, in private, she is warm and approachable. The format on Sunday (the candidates will have no podiums to hide behind, and they’ll be looking into the eyes of real voters) is her chance to prove she can make a more personal connection with voters.
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