Network executives are predicting as many as 100 million people will watch tonight’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That kind of audience is normally reserved for something really important, like a Super Bowl or the last episode of MASH. The previous record for a presidential debate was 80 million viewers of the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980.
I wish I could believe that so many people will be tuning in tonight because they are interested in a sober, careful discussion of the many issues America is confronting and how to address them. Unfortunately, we all suspect that’s not the case. For many people, the debate is must-watch TV because of the spectacle factor — they’re watching to see whether Trump says or does something outrageous, or Clinton faints, or some particularly choice insults are hurled back and forth. It’s like rubberneckers slowing down to check out the car wreck by the side of the highway.
I’m hoping that whatever portion of those 100 million viewers who are tuning in for a gladiator contest are disappointed. I’m hoping that the candidates hold off on the obviously canned wisecracks, that the moderator lets the debaters actually debate the issues, and that an actual policy-oriented discussion breaks out.
But I’m not holding my breath for that result.