Donald J. Trump now sees the sternest test of his qualifications as a presidential candidate. The presidential debate he faces tonight against Democrat Hillary Clinton will bear no resemblance to the Republican debates he won with bombast and criticisms of opponents who managed to hand him an improbable victory in the race for the Republican nomination.
In facing Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, first lady and longtime activist for children, Trump will have an opponent with experience and substance and a record of accomplishment in government. Her campaign, while certainly critical of Trump, has also highlighted her intent to bolster the economy with sound ideas and improve the lives of working families.
Trump, the son of privilege and a self-proclaimed billionaire (his net worth is a mystery still), beat a host of opponents, including the early favorite, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, son and brother of presidents. It’s fair to say that agree or disagree with him, Trump certainly stirred something in working class Americans, some of whom apparently view his blunt, sometimes rash, rhetoric as speaking for them.
He harnessed the anger some Americans feel toward “the government,” however they define that term. And he most certainly has used their rage over the immigration issue, promising to make Mexico build a wall and at one point, vowing to deport 11 million immigrants believed to be in the country illegally. At times, Trump has appeared to back away from some of his promises, but even now, it’s hard to pin him down on what some of his views are. And he’s said some things — Sen. John McCain, the Vietnam POW, was not really a hero, for example — that would in past campaigns have ended a candidacy.
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Tonight, the American people, will see how the candidates meet their challenges.
For Clinton, that means articulating her hopeful vision with specifics, mapping her foreign policy strategy, making a case for her qualifications to guide a sometimes shaky economy, trying to put to rest questions about her candor, including on the subject of emails and security. The only way to make the questions go away is to answer them, even if they have been politically motivated. She will need to make those who are watching perhaps the most important presidential debate in modern times see how her vision can make their lives better — and safer. And she must build in the public a confidence that as commander in chief, she will protect America’s freedom and that of the world.
For Trump, the challenge is that for perhaps the first time, he will face a candidate who will make him say, in specific, just how he will “make America great again.”