It is a time honored tradition for campaigns to “game expectations” in advance of debates, in hopes of getting the political press corps to judge the opposition harshly on matters ranging from verbal fluency to general knowledge. But this election has brought a twist on this tradition. One of the campaigns is asking the media in unusually pointed terms to hold the opposition accountable against a simple, minimal baseline standard: the truth.

This turn of events both embodies and reflects one of the things that makes this election so unique: Donald Trump has conquered exciting and truly unprecedented new frontiers when it comes to the frequency, effortlessness, audacity, and recidivism of his lying.

In an interview with me, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon put a new spin on the oft-expressed idea that Trump’s debate performance should not be “graded on a curve,” arguing that if Trump unleashes his familiar barrage of lies on Monday night, he should be called out for it in assessments of his performance — and that such lies should be seen as “disqualifying.”

“Any assessment of Trump’s performance should rise or fall on whether he continues to resort back to his long-debunked lies,” Fallon said. “These types of lies should be treated as disqualifying. It would be unfathomable to anoint him successful in the debates if he’s persisting in those types of lies. That can’t be ignored in the grading of his performance.”

Many observers who want to see Trump defeated — your humble blogger included — have expressed hopes that the media’s first draft version of the first debate will not judge him against a phony, arbitrary, media-generated standard of “low expectations” when it comes to his knowledge and temperament, which would amount to giving him credit for not being quite as ignorant, unhinged, and abusive as usual. The Clinton campaign has also made this point regularly, and Fallon repeated it to me, noting that the Clinton campaign was preparing for the possibility that a far more subdued Trump would show up on Monday night.

Hillary Clinton spoke during a video conference of the Laborers' International Union of North America, saying, "Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?" (Hillary Clinton)

“There are multiple Trumps,” Fallon said. “There’s the subdued Donald Trump who has been tethered to his teleprompter in recent weeks. But the natural Trump is unsteady, erratic, combustible, easily provoked, extremely thin-skinned, and capable of insulting anyone at any given time in the crudest possible terms. Even if his consultants are grooming him to present the more subdued version, will he be able to follow that advice for 90 minutes? Or will his true self break through? You have to prepare for both.”

When I asked Fallon if Clinton was actively preparing to try to provoke unhinged Trump into appearing, he declined to say. He noted that if subdued Trump remains present throughout, the Clinton campaign hopes he won’t be “graded on a curve” for it. But Fallon took this a step further than usual, adding that the media should factor it into its overall assessment if he repeats his greatest whoppers: the claim that he originally opposed the Iraq War; the idea that Clinton started birtherism and that he finished it; the suggestion that Clinton wants open borders; the idea that Barack Obama founded ISIS; and so forth.

When I pressed Fallon on whether it was on Clinton and her campaign to unmask Trump’s dishonesty in these cases, he demurred, arguing that it has been widely acknowledged already by media figures that these are lies.  “Everybody knows they are lies,” Fallon said. “People should not become numbed to his penchant for lying.”

Of course, Clinton also lies and shades the truth, as all politicians do, and she should be held accountable at the debates if and when she does this. In the interview, Fallon insisted that the campaign is only asking that Trump be “held to the same standard” in this regard.

That may be spin, but it is an unavoidable truth about this election that Trump poses unique challenges to the press when it comes to the sheer volume and brazenness of his dishonesty, as well as his refusal to substantiate claims when asked and willingness to go on repeating lies long after they have been debunked. The Post fact checking team’s comprehensive, careful examination of both candidates’ statements confirmed this beyond doubt. Indeed, it was treated as a very big deal when the New York Times recently took the dramatic step of more openly describing Trump’s claims as “lies,” including on its front page. In other words, the paper of record actively adjusted its approach to keep pace with Trump’s unprecedented contempt for basic norms governing campaigns’ general adherence to reality.

The press corps has in fact grown much more aggressive in calling out Trump’s active, concerted campaign of big lies for what it is. The question is whether this will hold during the debates, when an audience of as many as 100 million is watching, and in the debates’ aftermath, when voters will be forming opinions with a new level of engagement.


* CLINTON CRUSHING TRUMP AMONG LATINOS: A new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll finds Clinton leading Trump among likely Latino voters nationally by 71-18, and by 65-17 in the four-way match-up. And 78 percent of Latinos view Trump unfavorably.

Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 71-27 among Latinos, so while Trump is under-performing Romney, Clinton has yet to show she’ll improve on Obama’s performance. Some Dems worry that Clinton’s Latino outreach has been sub-par, so keep an eye on polling in states like Nevada and Florida to gauge whether that’s right.

* TIGHT RACE IN NORTH CAROLINA: A new poll of North Carolina likely voters by The Upshot and Siena College finds Clinton edging Trump by 43-41, and a 41-41 tie when other candidates are included. The Upshot/Siena poll uses voter registration files, as campaigns do, in an effort to more finely gauge who is actually a likely voter.

The polling averages in North Carolina show an exact tie. Keep in mind that this is a must-win for Trump.

* CLINTON LEADS IN VIRGINIA: A new Roanoke College Poll finds Clinton leading Trump by 44-37 among likely voters in Virginia, and by 51-40 in the four-way match-up. While this represents a real tightening, it’s still a durable lead, and Clinton is ahead by 45-37 in the polling averages here.

One thing worth watching for is whether Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Colorado are holding for Clinton. If so, barring any surprise loss in a blue-leaning state, she only needs one more state (such as New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, or North Carolina) to win.

* TRUMP’S BIZARRE AD STRATEGY: Politico looks at TV ad tracking data and discovers that his ads have all but disappeared from the airwaves:

Trump’s ads last ran nearly a week ago in four battleground states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Since then, the GOP presidential nominee has ceded the airwaves to Hillary Clinton — and is only poised to launch a limited, less-targeted ad campaign in the days before next week’s debate. While his campaign announced a new ad on Tuesday, it’s only going to run on national cable news stations and during two Sunday morning public-affairs shows….And even with that seemingly modest buy…Clinton is still outspending him this week many times over.

Maybe Trump is banking on his tremendous and wonderful dominance of free media to carry him across the finish line.

* TRUMP’S LATEST BLACK OUTREACH — CALL FOR STOP-AND-FRISK: The New York Times reports that Trump is now calling for a broadening of stop-and-frisk by police departments across the country, and comments:

For Mr. Trump, the timing was especially inauspicious: It came as police shootings of black people were once again drawing scrutiny and protest….It was the latest twist in Mr. Trump’s awkward, and at times counterproductive, outreach to black voters, who polls suggest remain deeply skeptical of him — and it occurred right after a prominent black supporter, Don King, used a racial epithet.

Of course, African Americans are not the actual targets of Trump’s African American “outreach.”

* THE HUGE STAKES IN THIS ELECTION: E.J. Dionne looks at Obama’s final United Nations speech this week and concludes that he effectively defined the stakes in our presidential race for liberal and conservatives alike:

Conservatives who have problems with Obama or Hillary Clinton but share their understanding of the country’s democratic obligations need to recognize that allowing Trump to win would strengthen the autocratic Vladimir Putin in Russia and the far right in Europe with which he is now allied….I know it asks a great deal of my conservative friends not only to oppose Trump but also to support Clinton. But she is the only person standing between us and a United States that abandons our shared commitment to the ideals of inclusion, toleration and, yes, democracy itself.

The election is also a referendum on whether the country will reject a white nationalist campaign that derived its original founding spark and energy from a racist campaign to delegitimize our first African American president.