With the first presidential debate just two days away, let’s break it down and see how the event plays out.

Who gets to go first?

This is likely to be determined by a coin flip and the winner’s choice. If HRC elects to lead off, watch for her to tear right into policy and try to establish that as the framework for the rest of the evening. That’s so clearly her strength and just as patently, Primadonald’s glaring weakness.That will leave the man with two choices; i.e. either try to bluff his way through on policy issues, or more likely, attempt to change the framework to include his favorite attack lines like “lying, crooked Hillary”. Taking the latter tack would fly in the face of his promise, issued yesterday, to be respectful. Of course, why take the word of a man who has proven himself to be a serial liar?

The “expectations game”

This “game” began several days ago when Primadonald’s campaign team built HRC up, while her team did the same for her opponent based on his performance throughout the GOP primary debates, all of which he supposedly won.

Among the pundits, the general sense is that Primadonald will gain points if he can exhibit a modicum of savvy on policy. Of course, HRC can gain even more points in that same context because she is vastly more knowledgeable. In essence then, if the GOP nominee comes off as appearing “presidential”, HRC needs to appear even more so.

One-line “zingers and telling “moments”

Too often, what viewers take away from these debates is a singular line or “moment” that shows one candidate as a winner and the other as a loser. You can go back to the Gore/Bush debate when the VP tried to intimidate the Texas governor by invading his space. Bush simply nodded at him and went right on talking, never missing a beat. In the second Romney/Obama set-to, the former governor created a trap of his own making by insisting that the president had failed to label a terrorist attack as such. An on-the-spot fact-check proved Romney wrong and that stood out as a pivotal event that got wide play in the media thereafter.

In the coming debate, that history works to Primadonald’s advantage as he is a master at “come-backs” and zingers. HRC absolutely must be ready for these with her own and they will work best if they are dismissive; e.g. “Well Donald, there you go again” or “Welcome to the debate, last-word-freak”.

Who wins, who loses?

If these were real debates (which they aren’t), the winner would be decided on the basis of substance and commitment to staying on-point. Instead, we are likely to end up with a difference of opinion with the more objective media analysts giving the nod to the candidate who stays relevant and substantive, while the public will favor the person who provides the best one-liners and zingers (see above). It is precisely that latter bias that gave all those previous GOP debates to Primadonald; all he did was throw shade on his opponents while strictly avoiding saying much of anything that required him to produce something better than a word-salad.

In reality, the final word on the matter belongs to voters, not the media, whose opinions and judgments are distrusted anyway. Watch the polls that appear within a few days after the coming contest. If HRC retains her consistent lead in national polls, she is the winner. If that lead shrinks, then it’s Primadonald. That will make the second and third debates absolutely crucial.