We’re almost there, folks. There are 20 days left until the end of the election and only one more debate to watch. We can do this. Here’s everything you need to know before tuning in tonight.
First: A Recap
There have been more than 20 episodes of “The Real Candidates of the Presidential Election,” so let’s quickly go over all of the riveting moments that got us to the season finale.
Ben Carson talked about the “fruit salad of [a potential Supreme Court nomination’s] life”; Jim Webb spent most of his time complaining about how he didn’t get enough time to speak (except for the one time he said his biggest enemy was “the enemy soldier that threw their grenade that wounded me. But he’s not around right now to talk to”); Donald Trump bragged about his penis; Jeb Bush and Trump gave each other a low-five; there was something on Ted Cruz’s lip; Lincoln Chafee was there; Hillary Clinton tried to validate her history with Wall Street by bringing up 9/11; Bernie Sanders wagged his finger; Trump made this face; Lindsey Graham said, “Ted, getting in bed with Iran and Russia to save Assad is inconceivable. Princess Buttercup would not like this.”; Rubio experienced déjà vu; Trump said he wanted to put Clinton in jail; Clinton “stop hitting yourself”–ed Trump; Tim Kaine interrupted; and Mike Pence forgot his running mate existed.
The Deets for Tonight
There’s only 90 minutes of riveting discussion left! It starts at 9 p.m. and will take place at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Fox News’s Chris Wallace will moderate. The candidates are supposed to discuss foreign “hot spots,” debt and entitlements, immigration, the Supreme Court, and their “fitness” for the presidency. Most of these issues have already been discussed at vast, unending length in previous debates.
Who Are the Surprise Guest Stars?
Trump, who frequently says that he can’t share some parts of his platform because he doesn’t want our enemies or his opponents to steal his stupendous ideas, has given a sneak peek at his debate surprises for tonight. They do not inspire any confidence in the rest of his super-secret plans. First, he has invited President Obama’s half-brother, who said he was voting for Trump back in July, as his guest. As you may be aware, Obama is not in fact running for reelection, but he did say earlier this week at a press conference, “If, whenever things are going badly for you ... you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job.” If there’s anything we know about Trump, it’s that he is physically incapable of not responding to a dig.
Clinton is also playing along, inviting Hewlett-Packard CEO and failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and billionaire Mark Cuban. Whitman, also a billionaire, told the New York Times that she was endorsing Clinton because, “Time and again history has shown that when demagogues have gotten power or come close to getting power, it usually does not end well.” Cuban has been trolling Trump for ages and was also present at the first presidential debate.
They certainly bring out the best in each other.
Trump’s campaign also warns that there may be other special guests, including the mother of a person who died at Benghazi and ... Wayne Newton. The New York Times reports that Trump is also planning a “sharp escalation in attacks on Mrs. Clinton’s character and a focus on her health.”
Oh god, this debate is going to be the worst of them all, isn’t it.
Anything Crazy Gonna Happen in the Finale?
A vast conspiracy that has been at work all season to prevent Trump from winning the presidency will come to light.
Ever since the release of the “Grab ’em by the Pussy” tape, the subsequent stories from women accusing Trump of sexual assault, and Trump’s defense that those women weren’t attractive enough to bother harassing (also, reminder: the second two things happened since the last debate), the Republican candidate has spent most of his time arguing that the election, which has not taken place yet, is “rigged” against him. It seems very feasible that a man who has offended most of the country would be capable of losing an election all by himself, but Trump remains convinced that his rallies offer the best sample size for an accurate reading on what the country wants.
“So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common,” Trump said at a rally in Wisconsin. This is wrong. Two years ago, a researcher found only 31 cases of credible voter fraud after looking at every single election from 2000 to 2014. But this talk has left the Republican Party — which has argued for years that (nonexistent) voter fraud makes voter ID laws a necessity — with the responsibility of saying, “No, actually everything is fine.” Still, a recent poll had 72 percent of Trump supporters saying “a lot” or “some” voter fraud happens in their state. (Many of those same voters probably also fell for the tweet about ripping up ballots at a post office in Ohio.
Long story short: Trump is going to say “rigged” a lot during the debate. His entire persona is premised on always winning; now he’s just trying to figure out how to spin whatever awaits him next month. After all his bankruptcies and failed business ventures, he has some practice. That doesn’t mean he’s looking forward to the exercise, though. “If we don’t win this election,” he said in Florida last week, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The emails will still try to be this election’s hottest trend.
For the past week or so, Wikileaks has steadily been releasing the hacked emails of Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. The transcript of the speech Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs — the one that Bernie was bugging her about during the entire primary — was in there, as were many petty fights and evidence that campaigns are just highly scripted PBS miniseries (without the romance or period dressing, and with 100 percent more groan-inducing cheesiness).
If you were worried that Clinton isn’t as progressive as she promised in the primary, or were skeptical of the FBI investigation of her State Department emails, these new leaks won’t change your mind. Together they mostly show that she is just as cautious and predictable as she presents herself to be. But Chris Wallace is going to ask about them — and Trump is going to mention them too.
Donald Trump will learn a lesson.
Trump released a plan for ethics reform earlier this week, which seems to show that his team wants him to talk about how Washington is awful, instead of falling into his usual habit of just saying “WRONG” when confronted with facts about himself. Will Trump finally act like a normal candidate, for the first time in this entire race? Are we about to witness some character development? Oh wait, we just remembered he is planning to focus on Clinton’s health again — never mind.
Donald Trump will mention that his hotel is less than three miles from the debate.
It wouldn’t be a Trump TV appearance without some product placement. Anyone want to bet on how long it will take to hear about the giant gold tower with Trump’s name on it in Las Vegas? He’s not going to make it out of his opening statement without mentioning it, right? The thing he won’t bring up is his tax returns, which he has not released yet and still hopes everyone has forgotten while he’s busy talking about rigged elections.
We will realize it was all a dream.
Sure, this seems unlikely, but we’ll give it a 20 percent chance of happening. If we’ve learned anything from watching the 57 million debates aired over the course of this election cycle, it’s that what eventually happens is always much weirder and more disappointing than we could have expected.