For the Record’s week in review: Debate edition

We’re one day out from the second presidential debate and, once again, our attention is on Donald Trump. The Republican nominee struggled to remain under control at last week’s debate against the well-prepared Hillary Clinton, who slogged effectively through Trump’s business and rhetorical controversies. Clinton enjoyed a small bump in battleground polls after her performance. (Trump still insists he won and has criticized the Commission on Presidential Debates over a defective microphone.) But tomorrow is another debate, with a new format and a chance for Trump to showcase his calmer side.

This is your For the Record’s week in review, pre-debate edition.

Mike Pence is a very different debater than Donald Trump

On Tuesday, we went to Farmville, Va. for a very strange face-off between the vice presidential candidates. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine had obviously prepped big time and came armed with a lot of ammo against the Trump-Pence ticket. His goal? To make Indiana Gov. Mike Pence answer for Trump’s controversial comments and business dealings. But all that information and eagerness made Kaine seem like an over-eager Chihuahua at times as he repeatedly interrupted Pence. (The Republican National Committee counted over 70 interruptions.) Pence, who used to be a talk radio show host, appeared cool, calm and collected against Kaine and stood in sharp contrast to Trump’s performance last week. But even Pence’s serenity couldn’t mask the fact that some of his defense of Trump just wasn’t true, like when he dismissed Kaine’s criticism of Trump’s controversial idea for a deportation force as “nonsense” even though Trump actually did call for one.

The Trump campaign was THRILLED by Pence’s performance. In the spin room afterward, campaign spokesmen said it showed Trump’s good judgement in picking Pence in the first place and repeatedly called Kaine “unhinged.” (The Clinton campaign had called Trump “unhinged” the week before.) The Clinton campaign shrugged off the criticism and said Kaine did what he needed to do by underscoring the fact that even Pence couldn’t defend parts of Trump’s record.

Realistically, the whole thing probably won’t move the needle that much since a mere 37 million people watched the debate. For reference, that was the smallest group since 2000. In contrast, 84 million (that’s a record!) watched the face-off between Trump and Clinton.

Pressure is on Trump

USA TODAY’s David Jackson, who has been covering Trump, spoke with experts on what Trump needs to do to rebound on Sunday. He writes that Trump is facing pressure to change the narrative of the second debate after most analysts gave the win to Clinton. The debate will have a town-hall style format where audience members ask half the questions — so Trump needs to show he can empathize and sympathize with voters. He also needs to pull a Pence and stay calm even when Clinton tries to get under his skin. But Trump is also likely to be forced to defend his vulgar language captured on audio by a hot mic in 2005 and published on Friday afternoon by The Washington Post.

The advantage for Trump this time is that he knows what to expect from Clinton, plus he has held town-hall-style campaign events before. President Obama can actually be an example for Trump here. Obama didn’t do so well during his first 2012 debate but improved in subsequent debates.

What are the best ways to take each other down?

Fluent, a marketing and advertising technology company which conducts online polls, shared some data with USA TODAY on what people think is the best way for Trump and Clinton to go after each other. The most effective attack on Trump? He’s “too impulsive.” And the best way to harm Clinton’s ambitions? Those damn emails.

But there also are interesting correlations between what people see as effective and what events have been featured in the news. For example, the number of people who thought Trump was “too impulsive” had gone up 7 points since late September, when Trump went on a Twitter tirade against former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. The number of people who thought attacking Trump on his treatment of women in the wake of the Machado incident would be effective also went up by 2 points.

The number of people who felt Clinton’s private email server was the best way to take her down had also grown since early September. That same month, the FBI released notes on their investigation, keeping the email saga in the news.

News from the trail

  • On the bumpy road with Mike Pence (USA TODAY)
  • Once-defiant Ted Cruz now phone-banking for Trump (USA TODAY)
  • Here’s why rural Iowa voters are drawn to Trump (USA TODAY Network)
  • Not Trump? Not Clinton? Alternatives available on more ballots than ever (USA TODAY)
  • Clinton courts Pennsylvania women, cites Miss Universe fight (Medill News Service)

Clinton runs away with the cookie election

If the election was based on recipes, Clinton would win the White House. Family Circle magazine announced the winners of their presidential cookie poll Friday, and the Clinton family’s oatmeal chocolate cookies won by 3-to-1. Melania Trump’s star cookies with sour cream and egg whites just didn’t garner the same level of support in the Facebook poll. The Clintons have done this before — they reused the same recipe that won in 1992 and 1996.

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