If this weekend's hype over who the presidential candidates are bringing as their front-row guests to the debate is an indication, Monday night's debate will be nothing short of a street-fight of words between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
For most of the primary season and all of the general election season so far, both candidates have had harsh words for the other -- and this is nothing new in American politics. But typically, a strange political detente forms near the debates, where the candidates focus more on issues than the opponent -- hoping to vie for the more rational points with voters.
Not this year, the heat is still on full force with personal attacks and 'stunts' designed solely to embarrass or 'irk' the opponent.
In the front-row guest battle, Hillary Clinton drew first blood by inviting Mark Cuban, a very outspoken Trump critic, to be her front-row guest at the debate.
But Trump seized the opportunity and taunted the Clinton campaign with threats of inviting Gennifer Flowers, a prominent figure in the Clinton scandals of the 1990s, to be his guest on the front row. Though it is reported that the Trump campaign did not invite Flowers.
The bottom line . . . who really cares who sits in the front row?
But this kind of political jockeying is an indication that this first debate is going to be an all out brawl of mudslinging -- and will probably have very little substance or real issues debated by the candidates.
Trump's campaign has been built on these kind of tactics, and his supporters seem to eat it up as both entertainment and as a rejection of the 'politics as usual' standards of behavior.
And Trump will almost certainly capitalize on the lone-wolf attacks of the past week, trying to advance his agenda for closing our borders.
Clinton, though, is out on pretty thin ice when it comes to this kind of campaigning.
Far too much research indicates that engaging in negative campaigning is a losing strategy for Democratic candidates.
But it's the American voters who are the real losers in this year's debate season.
A huge percentage of likely voters want to hear the voices of minor-party candidates on the debate stage, especially Gary Johnson. However, he failed to meet the arbitrary polling requirements for the first debate.
Americans want to hear issues and ideas from all sides -- completely evident by the huge support for Johnson's inclusion in the debates, even though the voters may indicate in the same poll that they are voting for a major party candidate.
Voters are hungry for candidates to discuss issues, for real debates that actually matter, and for candidates to have answers for today's hot-button issues.
But short of placing shock-collars on the candidates to 'zap' them each time they go off topic, that is simply not going to happen in Monday's debates.
And really, the only 'protest' the voters have is to simply not watch the debates -- which considering how low of viewership the primary debates had this season, that might not be too far off base.
Because at this point, the only 'vote' the viewers have in this process is the power to turn off the mudslinging and 'damage' the network's ratings for contributing to a system that is being gamed by the media at every opportunity.
Maybe then we'd get a few debates this year with a meaningful structure, with ideas being shared from all viable sources, and moderators who keep the candidates on subject.
But, perhaps that is far too much to ask in this year's race of the two least-liked candidates in modern history.
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