Finally, after months of waiting, it's here. No, not the election — but the first time the candidates will meet for a one-on-one battle of wits and policy, one-liners and insults. The first presidential debate of 2016 is here, and it's also the most important presidential debate of all.
We've seen Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump bicker for months, but never yet have they had the chance to do it face to face. What we've all been imagining for this whole campaign will finally actually happen — and despite all of the predictions, we have no idea how it will go. Will one of them have something like Al Gore's "lockbox" moment from 2000? Will one of them jump out and surprise everyone with his or her prowess, like George W. Bush did in that same year? Will the generally accepted better debater, Clinton, fall to some surprise tactics that Trump pulls out, the way Romney won the first debate in 2012?
There will undoubtedly be surprises, but for now we can only speculate. What we do know for sure is that this debate is the most important night before Election Day, and here's why.
1. The Viewing Figures Will Rival The Superbowl
Based on polling data, it's likely that upwards of 100 million Americans will watch the debate Monday night. That's about 40 million more than watched the first two debates in 2012, and it's getting awfully close to Superbowl territory – 111.9 million tuned in to watch the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in February 2016.
Just to put it in perspective, in a country of just under 320 million, that's close to a third of Americans who the candidates could be speaking to.
2. It's The First Time Many People Will Actually Listen
Sure, the election seems like it's been dragging on for a long time, but there are a lot of undecided voters out there, and this debate will give many of them their first chance to actually listen to what the candidates have to say and see how they present themselves. If you're a political junky, it might be difficult to remember that you're in the minority. For the people out there who aren't following as closely, this debate will be a true make-or-break moment.
3. They've Never Met In This Format
As soon as the two of them settle into their respective grooves, the element of surprise and unpredictability will be lost. That's why this first debate is so important, for us and for the candidates themselves. They can each only base their debate preparation on how they expect the other to react — and only one of them will be able to come out on top based on their and their advisors predictions. In the subsequent debates, they'll both know what to expect.
4. It's Trump's First High-Pressure Political Situation
We've seen Trump in debates against numerous opponents, but in no case did he ever have to speak more than 30 minutes. Here, he'll have to speak for close to 45 minutes. If he hasn't prepared himself with enough material (and his level of preparation is certainly in question), he'll have to repeat "build a wall" and "Make America great again" more times than may help him in the end. Will he resort to base-level insults, sexist tactics, or discussions of his genitalia? We don't know, but no matter what he does, this first debate is the only one where he comes in truly inexperienced.
After this, his element of unpredictability is lost, so he only has this one chance to use it, and Clinton potentially only has this one chance to abuse it.
5. America Has A Short Attention Span
There's been a lot of build up to this debate, but after this, the next two plus the vice-presidential debate will be coming at breakneck speed. There are a lot of people — the less interested ones — who just won't be interested in keeping up with the pace. The candidates most certainly know that this is their best chance of reaching the most people possible.
6. First Impressions Matter
If we look to the past, we see that many of the presidential debates in the past were decided in the first half hour. What will be the defining moment of the election? It's likely that whatever it is, it'll come out within 30 minutes of the start of this debate, and we'll all remember it when we watch SNL's first presidential debate later this week, make our decisions on Nov. 8, and then look back on them for the four years after that.
7. Polls Are As Even As They've Ever Been
After getting their respective poll numbers bumps after the conventions, Trump has been closing in on Clinton in both national and state polls. This has got to have both of the candidates on high alert, and you can bet that they'll both be trying to appeal to as many of the undecided voters as possible. We're likely going to see new versions of the candidates tonight — versions who want more than anything to grab as many new people as possible. No matter what how it goes, many American citizens will make their decisions tonight.