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Donald Trump is going to debate Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate tonight ― Jesus, we can’t get over how strange that sounds. The Republican candidate’s campaign spent the weekend lowering expectations, so that if Trump doesn’t kidnap an adorable white girl and pledge his allegiance to ISIS, he should win. And he also namechecked Gennifer Flowers, reminding us how you couldn’t match his sleaziness, even if you managed to blend together Joe Francis, a six-pack of Mountain Dew and the expired “male enhancement” supplements by the checkout counter at your local bodega. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Monday, September 26th, 2016:

Rules for HuffPost Hill’s patented debate drinking game: Drink. Drink until you forget.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR TONIGHT: DONALD UNSCRIPTED (AGAIN) - S.V. Date: “A month of scripting Donald Trump’s words and hiding him from all but the friendliest of interviews is about to pay off brilliantly Monday night at his first general election presidential debate. Or it’s about to come crashing down around Republicans whose presidential nominee cannot possibly get through 90 uncoached minutes without reverting to his natural state. ‘Give me steep odds,’ joked one Republican National Committee member privately when asked if Trump could make it through the evening without saying something outlandish. ‘Wasn’t it Pilate who said: “What is truth?” joked another, when asked if Trump could check his propensity to toss out falsehoods....Trump has all but ended media interviews with organizations other than Fox News, and even those have favored morning show hosts and Trump supporter Sean Hannity. While Clinton, once derided by Republicans for not holding news conferences, has staged several brief ones with the reporters who travel with her, Trump has not had a news conference since July and has had only a single brief discussion with traveling reporters earlier this month. That strategy has resulted in Monday night’s first debate looming as the first real trial by fire.” [HuffPost]

EXPECTATIONS FOR TRUMP LOWER THAN HIS APPROVAL RATING - Shorter message from the Trump campaign: Hillary has been practicing debates since she was murdering Vince Foster. Amanda Terkel: “In the run-up to the first presidential debate Monday night, Trump’s team has been working to lower the bar so far for him that it’s basically just lying on the ground. Story after story talks about how Clinton is spending her time poring over wonky policy details in briefing books while Trump is just hanging out. Trump senior adviser Jason Miller sent a memo last week stressing that Clinton ‘has more debates under her belt than almost any presidential candidate in history,’ whereas Trump has been in a one-on-one debate only once…. This sort of expectation-managing creates an imbalanced scenario in which, as long as Trump shows up on time and manages not to puke or something, pundits will declare him the winner. And the Trump team is certainly making its own preparations. Politico reported Friday that the campaign is building a detailed ‘psychological analysis’ of Clinton by analyzing videos of her 16 years of debates.” [HuffPost]

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ACTUALLY, EXPECTATIONS NOT THAT LOW - Ariel Edwards-Levy: “Yet the American public’s expectations for Trump’s performance don’t seem to be historically, or even unusually, low. By a 10-point margin ― 53 percent to 43 percent ― likely voters say they expect Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to do better than Trump in the debates, according to a September CNN/ORC poll. But that’s a relatively small gap compared to past election cycles. In four of the previous six presidential elections, pre-debate polling from CNN and Gallup found a wider gap in expectations, YouGov’s Will Jordan noted on Friday. In two elections, 2000 and 1992, the ‘expectations gap’ between candidates was only a couple of points smaller than it is this year.… Polarization may also play a role, with expectations lining up broadly along party lines. According to CNN’s most recent poll, 88 percent of Democratic likely voters and 75 percent of Republican likely voters expect their party’s nominee to be the better debater. In contrast, four years ago, only two-thirds of Republicans expected Romney to do a better job than Obama.” [HuffPost]

Context: “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will debate for 90 minutes on Monday. But the winner likely will be determined in the first half-hour. That’s when Al Gore first sighed, Mitt Romney knocked President Obama on his heels, and Marco Rubio, earlier this year, glitched in repeating the same talking point — over and over and over. It’s when Gore tried, unsuccessfully, to invade George W. Bush’s space, Richard Nixon was first caught wiping away sweat with a handkerchief (during the moderators’ introductions!) and Gerald Ford in 1976 made the ill-advised declaration that, ‘There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.’ Veteran presidential debate coaches and campaign strategists say the tone and trajectory of general election debates have long been set in their opening minutes, and that the explosion of real-time spin and Twitter groupthink has only accelerated the trend.” [Politico’s Shane Goldmacher]

Thanks to Washingtonian for publishing this chat about The Beltway Bible.

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POLLS TIGHTENING -  Jonathan Martin and Alan Rappeport: “Quinnipiac University declared the race ‘too close to call’ on Monday, as its latest national poll of likely voters found Mrs. Clinton edging Mr. Trump by a margin of 47 percent to 46 percent in a head-to-head matchup. A separate poll of likely voters from Monmouth University showed Mrs. Clinton holding a lead of four-percentage points in a four-way contest, leading by a margin of 46 percent to 44 percent. A month ago, Mrs. Clinton led by 7 points. Polls conducted CNN/ORC in Colorado and Pennsylvania that included Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, also offered little clarity. Mr. Trump holds a one percentage point advantage in Colorado, while Mrs. Clinton leads by the same margin in Pennsylvania.” [NYT]

WHY TRUMP THREATENED TO INVITE GENNIFER FLOWERS - Good lord, can you imagine this man coming up in the age of Tinder? Christina Wilkie: “When Donald Trump threatened to invite Gennifer Flowers to Monday night’s presidential debate, he claimed it was to get back at Hillary Clinton, who’d asked billionaire Mark Cuban to be her guest. But Flowers, a woman long out of the news with whom Clinton’s husband once had an extramarital affair, isn’t much of a counterpart to Cuban, an outspoken Trump critic. No, she serves a different purpose in Trump’s view of the universe. Flowers’ presence would, in Trump’s eyes, shame Clinton for her husband’s infidelity. It’s a view the real estate mogul has pushed for decades: If a woman’s husband is unfaithful, it is always the woman who is to blame. Anyone who’s ever had a tough time in a marriage should recognize what Trump is doing. It’s the same shame with which he smeared his first two wives, Ivana Trump and Marla Maples, after he cheated on and then divorced them. As Trump wrote of his first wife, ‘My big mistake with Ivana was taking her out of the role of wife and allowing her to run one of my casinos in Atlantic City.… I soon began to realize that I was married to a business person rather than a wife.’” [HuffPost]

EVERYONE CHILL ABOUT VOTER FRAUD, STATE OFFICIALS WARN - Or at least about Russia. Feel free to resume your standard worry about menacing members of the New Black Panther Party. Reid Wilson: “State officials are reassuring members of Congress that the integrity of November’s elections is secure amid growing concerns over cyberattacks by foreign actors tied to Russia. In an open letter to Congress, the National Association of Secretaries of State warns against damaging public confidence in the electoral process. The group, made up of bipartisan election administrators across the nation, says security measures currently in place are sufficient to guarantee an accurate vote count.  Vote-counting systems ‘have their own fail-safes and contingency solutions that would make it highly difficult to leverage them for changing outcomes,’ the association said. ‘Poll books, printed records, back-ups and back-ups of back-ups all provide multiple layers of security around this part of the process.’ The association said there is no fix-all to guard against all cyberattacks but pointed out that recent hacks of voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois are unconnected to separate systems that tally votes.” [The Hill]

@SteveKingIA: Tonight’s biggest post #debate question: Inquiring American minds will want to know, was Hillary on her meds or off her meds?

CONGRESS ARGUING OVER DRUGS -  And not the same ol’ debate that breaks out every year over just how dank Virginia Foxx’s edibles are. Bridget Bowman: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to keep the government funded included one below-the-radar addition: funding to combat the opioid epidemic. While senators in both parties support addressing the issue, the move had some Democrats crying foul. The Kentucky Republican unveiled last week a draft continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9, after spending talks stalled between Senate leaders. His proposal included $37 million in annual funds for implementing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, which became law in July. CARA authorizes a series of grants aimed at developing treatment programs, training first responders, and fostering inter-agency cooperation. Some Democrats panned McConnell’s proposal as providing inefficient funds for the CARA bill, which authorized $181 million. Since the $37 million is for the entire year, they say that roughly one fifth, or about $7 million, can actually be distributed in the 10 weeks that the CR is in effect.” [Roll Call]

AMERICA LIKES LEANER SUPREME COURT, ASKS IF IT’S BEEN WORKING OUT - Cristian Farias: “Public perception of the Supreme Court is on the rebound. A new Pew Research survey found that Americans’ views on the court in 2016 have recovered from last year’s rock-bottom numbers. The pollster found that 60 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of the justices’ work, compared with 32 percent who held negative views. By contrast, 43 percent viewed the Supreme Court negatively in 2015 ― the lowest point in the last 30 years. It is unclear what is driving the public’s chipper attitudes about the court, but it is possible that fewer politically charged decisions and a quieter docket may be behind the shift ― possibly driven by narrower and less controversial decisions since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.” [HuffPost]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR - Here’s a skunk who is a metaphor for this election.


- Not all animals eat as gracefully as others.


@elisefoley: He walks to the window and furrows his brow. “What’s wrong?” she asks. “I feel it in my bones,” he says. “A tweetstorm is coming.”

@timothypmurphy: I’m still writing 2015 on all my factchecks

Trolls will come out of the blue

Eggs intent to debate you

For when you wish upon a tweet

Your dreams are through

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