What’s that? You can’t find a job? Say, it’s really hot in here! (Reuters/Mike Segar)
Opinion writer


The Post’s Jenna Johnson reports today that Team Trump is prepping the Donald to keep it cool at this Sunday’s debate. As the story puts it, Donald Trump and his allies are signaling that “he is ready to move past the controversies that have dominated the 10 days since the first presidential debate,” and on Sunday, he will instead “try to stay focused on policy, not attacks.”

Now, I doubt Trump will refrain from attacking Clinton. Trump will probably go hard at Clinton over her emails and the Clinton Foundation, in a conventionally Republican way, as Mike Pence did at the Veep debate. But Trump will probably avoid going after Bill Clinton’s affairs, and will probably rein in the angry interruptions that marked his first performance, meaning he’ll generally keep it subdued.

However, staying subdued is not the same thing as staying focused. And it seems plausible that the specific format of the second debate could play to a different Trump weakness: his tendency to ramble incoherently and go off on multiple tangents that are not only off topic but are often about himself.

For a preview of what this might look like, check out this video of Trump answering a voter’s question about jobs at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last night:

Asked by a recent college graduate who is struggling to find work how Trump’s plans would help him, Trump got started by launching into a monologue about the heat in the room that lasted a full 30 seconds. Note that during that ramble, Trump also managed to segue into a complaint about “dishonest” media coverage that had portrayed him as “sweating” at a different previous event.

Trump did then spend a solid minute reiterating his message about trade and about how he’ll stop companies like Apple from manufacturing parts of the iPhone in multiple other countries (presumably through Trumpian tariffs).  But then, at a moment when he intended to extol the greatness of the people of this country, he veered off once again into a discussion of how big the crowds were at his rallies, and then into a discussion of how those crowds were bigger than those at Bernie Sanders’s rallies, and from there into still another discussion, of how Sanders “made a deal with the Devil” by endorsing Hillary Clinton. When Trump finally found his way back to his trade message, he wrapped up with only the most cursory nod to the person who had originally asked the question.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has specified that at Sunday’s debate, questions will be posed directly by individual uncommitted voters, after which “the candidates will have two minutes to respond.” That’s a lot of time for Trump to go off on a whole lot of tangents.

The first debate also gave candidates two minutes to respond. But this Sunday’s format might actually make things worse for Trump. Many viewers will be attuned not just to Trump’s answers, but to how Trump interacts with his questioner and whether he is speaking directly to that person’s concerns and anxieties about the future. If Trump goes off in different directions — never mind whether he talks about himself and his own greatness, which would be even worse — that could look more problematic in the context of an exchange with individual voters who are looking to hear Trump address their problems.

Maggie Haberman reports that Team Trump is well aware that he is not good at projecting empathy, and presumably he’s hard at work on this. Perhaps Trump will surprise us, but last night’s performance probably shouldn’t inspire confidence.

Now, it’s true that if Trump handles himself on Sunday as he did in the video above — and perhaps he really will put on a subdued performance — many Republicans might actually be relieved, seeing this as a dramatic improvement over his last debate showing. But that just serves as a reminder of how awful that previous performance really was, and how much work he has to do now to make up for it.


* TIGHT RACE IN OHIO: A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that Clinton is locked in a dead heat with Trump in Ohio among likely voters, 44-43. This is fun:

There’s been a lot of discussion this week about whether Donald Trump is a good role model for children, and voters in Ohio pretty emphatically say that he is not. Just 23 percent consider him to be a good role model, with 64 percent saying he isn’t….even among Trump’s own voters, just 46 percent will say that he’s a good role model, to 31 percent who say he isn’t, and 23 percent who aren’t sure.

Meanwhile, the polling averages still have Trump up a hair in Ohio, but FiveThirtyEight now shows Clinton narrowly favored there.

* CLINTON’S LEAD IS BECOMING SAFER: Harry Enten reports that the FiveThirtyEight model now shows that the percentage of people picking a major candidate (rather than one of the minor ones) is at an all time high, making Clinton’s lead safer:

Clinton and Donald Trump now combine for a little over 84 percent of the vote. That’s the highest their combined share has been since we started issuing our forecasts in June….With more voters committed to one of the two major-party nominees, Trump simply has fewer people he can appeal to in order to make up his current deficit, which makes Clinton’s lead more secure.

Enten also notes that this trend is helped along by the fact that the percentage of undecided voters is falling, something top Democratic strategists believe as well.

* TRUMP’S BUSINESS VENTURES OFTEN HIT TROUBLE: The New York Times tries to chart the fate of many of Trump’s business ventures over the decades, which were madly hyped when launched, and concludes:

Of the roughly 60 endeavors started or promoted by Mr. Trump during the period analyzed, The Times found few that went off without a hitch. One-third of them never got off the ground or soon petered out. Another third delivered a measure of what was promised — buildings were built, courses taught, a product introduced — but they also encountered substantial problems, like lawsuits, government investigations, partnership woes or market downturns. The remaining third, while sometimes encountering strife, generally met expectations.

Too bad Trump won’t release his tax returns so voters can appreciate his true business brilliance in all its glory.

 * CLINTON HAS AN ADVANTAGE ON THE GROUND: David Drucker reports that both sides are spinning the virtues of their ground games, but also makes this key point:

Everyday, the Clinton campaign collects information that allows it to model the likely universe of voters far beyond what is available in traditional polling and adjust in real time its messaging and geographic focus. That gives Clinton an operational and strategic edge over Trump, who outsourced his ground game to the RNC. But whether that holds down the stretch remains to be seen.

Remember, for the Clinton camp, a lot of this is now about trying to influence the composition of the electorate on election day, and such modeling could give her an advantage there.

* CLINTON HAS MAJOR CASH ADVANTAGE: Politico reports that Clinton enters the last month with as much cash on hand as any presidential candidate in history, and adds:

In-state Democratic operatives are planning for a significant tranche of the money — coming from the $150 million Clinton’s campaign and associated accounts had in the bank to start October — to be added to the previously announced $80 million television investment her team previewed at the start of this final phase, on top of other paid media and a heavily-funded get-out-the-vote push.

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that Dems enter the final stretch with a five-to-one advantage in paid staff on the ground.

* NO ONE CAN PREDICT THE DANGERS TRUMP POSES: The Post has a terrific editorial that argues our system of checks and balances can’t be relied upon to constrain a President Trump from corrupting and abusing the powers of the executive branch:

The scope of the damage a President Trump could do cannot be fully predicted or imagined. His candidacy forces us to confront the extent to which democracy depends on leaders adhering to a set of norms and traditions….Mr. Trump has made clear his contempt for those virtues, norms and traditions….Congress has the power to remove a president who ignores the law. But given the easy GOP capitulation to such an obviously unfit candidate, how far would Mr. Trump have to go for a likely Republican House to impeach him?

Fortunately, we probably won’t have to entertain this question beyond November 8th. Probably.

* AT THE DEBATES, ASK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE! Paul Krugman points out that climate change has not gotten any real attention at the first two debates, and demands better in the final two showdowns:

It’s time to end the blackout on climate change as an issue. It needs to be front and center — and questions must be accompanied by real-time fact-checking, not relegated to the limbo of he-said-she-said, because this is one of the issues where the truth often gets lost in a blizzard of lies. There is, quite simply, no other issue this important, and letting it slide would be almost criminally irresponsible.

Also, a confluence of circumstances right now mean that the candidates’ differing climate agendas have vastly more real-world significance in a way that wasn’t true in 2012, making this even more urgent.