Hillary Clinton Should Prepare For A Refreshing Version Of Donald Trump At The Debates

To many of those who've been following it, this election campaign feels like a never-ending slog. And yet to many Americans, the first real significant exposure they'll have to either of the major party candidates won't come until September, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take to the debate stage. The debates pose an interesting challenge for Clinton; as she said at a fundraiser on Monday, she can't be totally sure which Trump will show up. Nevertheless, Clinton should prepare for a different version of Trump at the debates, because there's a decent chance he'll try and present himself as the thoughtful, respectful candidate that he isn't.

Trump, as many observers have probably noted, has had serious problems attracting female voters, with roughly seven in 10 viewing him unfavorably throughout this campaign. It could be a matter of policy: Trump has suggested that women who seek abortions should be punished, for example, though he later retracted the statement. Or maybe it's just the torrent of flatly sexist and misogynistic comments Trump has made throughout his decades-long public career ("Women, you have to treat 'em like shit," he allegedly told a friend, according to a 1992 New York article). Whatever the reason, the vast majority of female voters simply haven't jumped aboard the Trump train.

While predicting Trump's behavior is usually a rather fruitless endeavor, it won't be the slightest bit surprising if he temporarily does away with his usual bombast and significantly moderates his self-presentation and tone during the debate. His new campaign manager suggested that this might be the case; in a Sunday interview with John Catsimatidis on AM 970, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway promised that Trump would "be respectful" to Clinton during the forum. On the other hand, she also called him "the most authentic person to run for president in a very long time" and said that " stylistically, that’s not going to change." So in the end, who knows?

Nevertheless, Clinton essentially has to prepare to debate one of two different Trumps — the Trump that doesn't necessarily thinks before he speaks (or doesn't care to) or the more cautious Trump. Depending on which one shows up, Clinton may have to tweak her own debate strategy.

This may be one reason why, according to The Washington Post, Clinton has been knee-deep in debate prep. And at a fundraiser in the Hamptons Monday, she acknowledged that she'll face an unpredictable opponent.

"I want any of your thoughts and ideas about how I should debate Donald Trump," she said, according to CNN's Dan Merica. "Maybe he will try to be presidential and try to convey a gravity that he hasn't done before, or will he come in and try to insult and try to score some points?"

As for Trump, he reportedly isn't holding any mock debates, convinced that his show business experience will carry him through the live event with ease. Either that, or he isn't planning on showing up: Trump still hasn't officially committed one way or the other. Given that he's backed out of two debates so far this season — one was a GOP primary debate, the other was a proposed forum with Bernie Sanders that never happened — it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he skipped another.

But if the debates do proceed as planned, Clinton should be prepared to face both a nasty and a nice version of Trump — there's no way of telling which one will take the stage in September.