Genius Panel: Who Wins Tonight’s Debate?

This week’s question: Polls show the Clinton/Trump presidential race is a dead heat. How will the first presidential debate on Monday impact the race, and who do you think will win the debate and the election?

Theresa Foxley, attorney and deputy director, Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The debates should be great theater — we can predict what Hillary will say, but what comes out of Trump’s mouth will be anyone’s guess. I doubt the debates will do much to change public perception of either candidate; rather, I think they will shore up our existing opinions of them. I suspect Hillary will have more substantive, policy-based answers and will “win” the debate, but Trump will declare himself the victor. I used to think that Hillary had the election running away, but the new poll numbers show that both candidates’ support is built on a sandy and shifting foundation. 

Richard Kendell, former Commissioner of Higher Education and Davis District school superintendent. The impact of the debates is difficult to predict—perhaps lively, entertaining, but not determinative.  If the debate flows toward policies, policy implementation, and likely outcomes Clinton will win.  Trump’s style is big, loud, confrontational, and unpredictable.  If this style becomes a prominent part of the debate Trump will likely win.  Clearly he withered his other Republican candidates, many of whom were more qualified and better prepared.  

In the end, I think Clinton will win because Trump scares the hell out of a lot of people. He may say openly what many Americans are feeling, but acting on those feelings and impulses is another matter.  I am reminded of President Lincoln’s practice of writing letters to his critics and opponents and then placing the letters in his desk drawer never to be sent.  Trump is an open letter expressing the hurts, disappointments, and frustrations of many Americans, but his solutions are pure vitriol.  This “letter” should be put in a drawer and never sent.  Better still, lock that drawer and lose the key.  On the other hand, if it is a solid gold key, give it to a Trump University graduate to help them get out of debt.

Boyd Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute and former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee. With a tightening race and a post-Labor Day electorate that seems ready to focus and engage, Monday’s presidential debate has the potential to be high-impact. It will definitely be a high-drama and high-stakes debate – but possibly in more of a pending-car-wreck sort of way.

The American people want to be led. They want to be led by a someone who is smart and who will fight for them. A smart fighter is what the nation wants in a president. For Donald Trump, this debate will be about proving that he is not just a dumb fighter – a haymaker-throwing, recklessly swinging, chest-thumping cage fighter. For Hillary Clinton, the debate will be about proving that she is not just a smart wimp – an overly scripted, shrill-sounding, media-coddled elitist. No small task for either candidate. Both are capable, but the question will be whether their consultants and their egos allow them to lead like a smart fighter.

The first presidential debate tends not to be final or fatal. President Obama and Ronald Reagan both rebounded from poor first-debate showings. Mitt Romney went from a dominant first-debate performance to a safe and scripted loss in the second. For the good of pundits, papers and websites this election has a long way to go. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump both have much to prove if either is going to become the smart fighter the nation wants and needs.

The first debate may prove much or it may decide little this election cycle – but millions will watch, if for no other reason than to wait for the collision and the distinct sound of a hubcap rolling.

Peter Corroon, former Salt Lake County mayor and current state Democratic chair. Despite polls showing a tightening in the race, there is evidence that in this window of the election cycle polls tend to favor Republicans.  Democrats are less likely to engage in answering polls at all. One of Trump’s main claims as to how he will “change the maps” that have consistently put him behind is that he will drive out lots of new voters.  I am skeptical. This being said, it is always tough to predict public performances by Trump as they vary so greatly, and we’ve only seen his outbursts on the crowded stages of Republican primary debates. We do know more or less what to expect from Clinton, as we’ve seen her in five one-on-one debates this election, just as many in 2008, and three more in 2000 during her Senate race. I would expect her calm disposition and coherent policies will serve her well in this debate and serve as a stark contrast to Trump’s wildly fluctuating claims and promises. Her experience, professional demeanor and intelligence should bring her the win come November. 

Steve Kroes, president, Utah Foundation. I think this debate will be more influential than they’ve been in past elections. With high unfavorable ratings for both candidates, both have the unique challenge of making themselves more likable to a huge audience (it’s expected to break records). And yet, they both want to tell America why the other one is a threat to America; so, how do you find the right balance of engaging in criticism and simultaneously making yourself more likable? It may be impossible. It may be a train wreck. I think Trump has the edge in extemporaneous verbal warfare, and Clinton has that sort of wooden tone that comes off as insincere to many. He may very well win the debate. As for the election, the numbers still show Clinton holding a slim lead, but it’s so slim that it’s hard to predict. I just hold on to hope that Americans will wake up on election day and realize they can’t really push the button for a risky hothead like Trump.

Derek Miller, CEO, World Trade Center Utah and former governor’s chief of staff. The impact of the Monday debate will be huge. Huge!  Republicans and Independents (maybe even some Democrats) who regard the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency as …. what’s the word? … deplorable, are looking for a reason, any reason to support Trump. If he can look presidential and not say something … what’s the word? … deplorable, his bounce will be significant. Expectations for the debate performances are such that Hillary is in a position where she almost cannot win. And Trump is in a position where almost cannot lose. The ratings will be historic and theatrics out of this world. My prediction: EPIC!

Ralph Becker, former SLC mayor and former state senator. Because expectations are so low for Trump, I think he wins. This race is so wacky, who knows if debates will affect outcome?

Val Oveson, former state auditor, state lieutenant governor, and National Taxpayer Advocate. Trump has the momentum and it is yet to be determined if it will carry him beyond the dead heat to a victory. He has also softened his image and has more offense going into the debate. Clinton has got to get off the defensive and if she can, she has a chance. I give the edge to Trump on both the debate and the election.

Nolan Karras, former Utah House speaker and former gubernatorial candidate. The debate is huge for Trump and Clinton but probably more for Trump than Hillary. He must act presidential and she cannot make any mistakes.  Odds are that he will stray from the current controlled script which will overshadow any mistake she makes 

The narrow group that have not made up their minds can be pushed or pulled one way or the other with these debates. People don’t like or trust Clinton but they are not sure they can trust Trump. On balance, risks are that Trump acts like himself and Hillary wins.

Hillary is elected president. And the Republicans regroup for 2020 when the citizens will be itching for change after 4 years of Hillary. But then who can trust the Republican voter to make an informed decision in 2020?

Todd Weiler, current state senator and former state GOP vice chair. The first debate will be huuuuge! We have seen Donald Trump perform very well in his previous debates. He is very unpredictable, which makes it difficult for Hillary Clinton to prepare.  The recent terror attacks in New York and New Jersey will make for an interesting discussion. Clinton will argue that Trump’s response was nasty and irrational. In contrast, Trump will argue that he is the only candidate capable of “making America safe again.”

Clinton is not a natural debater, and has avoided answering tough questions in press conferences throughout the year. Expect Trump to raise questions about her health, emails and Clinton Foundation conflicts.  Expect Hillary to counter with Trump’s problems with character, professionalism, conflicts with his own Foundation, lack of tax returns and litigation associated with Trump University. 

Trump is an entertainer and will not disappoint. No matter what happens, most of the media will declare Clinton to be the winner. 

Pat Jones, president of the Women’s Leadership Institute and former state senator. I think the sliver of voters who are persuadable is very small.  The debate will affect them, but not the other large majority of voters who have already dug in their heels on their candidate (mostly because they dislike the alternative more than like the one they’ll be voting for.)  The debate will be watched by record numbers because it has been set up to appeal to people looking for entertainment and drama rather than policy.  Trump has the edge on entertainment but Hillary will far outshine him on policies and common sense.  Unfortunately, many voters don’t care about the latter.

Cody Stewart, director of federal affairs, Utah Governor’s Office. The presidential debates will be merely another blip on the radar. At best, they will amount to little more than a 1-2 day story. More short-term noise in a race that has already overwhelmed the public’s patience and interest. Most normal people just want this election season to be done. There are larger, so far, unexplainable forces at work in this year’s presidential campaign so predictions are dangerous. But if one goes with conventional wisdom, Clinton will likely “win” the debate and has a better than 60% chance of winning the election.