If there is a chance for Donald Trump to turn this race round, tonight is the night.
He will meet Hillary Clinton for the third and final presidential debate in Las Vegas in the midst of perhaps the worst October for any presidential candidate in modern history.
Trump has seen his poll numbers plummet since the first debate, which he followed by fat shaming a former beauty queen. Then came the release of a tape in which he brags about committing sexual assault and accusations from at least nine women (which he has denied) saying he’d done just that to them. Oh, and he’s in an open civil war with his party’s leadership.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker, he trailed Clinton by 1.5 points after that first debate. He’s now down more than six points. Every new poll seems to provide more terrible news for Trump.
Today’s PRRI poll has him down 15 points. Bloomberg shows him down 9. Worse, it shows him losing men – a group that he needed to offset Clinton’s huge advantage with women – 46-44. Clinton is even winning Americans without a college degree by 4 points. Other polls show her leading in Georgia, and close in ruby red Texas, Utah and Alaska.
Trump likes to talk about the “silent majority” that will come out to prove the pollsters wrong and put him in the White House. Matthew Yglesias argues that the real silent majority is coming out for Clinton. Trump supporters, he notes, are pretty vocal – and according to the FT’s poll tracker, which shows Trump at 39.1 per cent, they are far from the majority.
Can Trump stage a comeback? History is not on his side: a presidential candidate has never recovered from this type of polling deficit to win, let alone three weeks from election day, when early voting has already begun in some states.
With that in mind, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll approach tonight’s debate. But here’s a rundown from Courtney Weaver and Barney Jopson of what to look out for.
In a sign that Trump may be taking his cue from the Nobel laureate who wrote “when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose”, he has invited Malik Obama as one of his guests, which is sure to rattle…his estranged brother President Barack Obama? His other guests include people linked to the Benghazi attack.
None of his guests seem like the kind of people who will allow Trump to hammer Clinton on the steady leak of hacked emails from her campaign chair which – even if they don’t exactly contain a smoking gun – highlight Clinton’s greatest vulnerabilities.
But they do conform to part of a strategy Trump tried out at their last debate, where he invited three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to sit in the audience and saw his poll numbers continue their downward trajectory. The Trump campaign had wanted to send them out to shake the former president’s hand before the debate, but the commission running the debates vetoed the stunt.
That may be why the Clinton camp nixed the traditional pre-debate handshake between the former president and Melania Trump.
Many are wondering how low Trump will go now that he’s trailing by an even greater margin.
But will it even matter? This graphic from the WSJ provides an answer: probably not.
Trump’s entire general election strategy – which seems to amount to ramping his primary strategy up to 11 – has been a huge gamble. The polls seem to suggest that it is not paying off.
But you could still make a buck off tonight’s debate. Vegas bookies – and those father afield – are setting odds. The over/under on how many times Trump says “rigged” is five, for “WikiLeaks”, it’s four, and for “tremendous”, it’s nine.
We’d take those bets.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. — Neil Munshi
What expectations do you have for tonight’s final debate? What issues do you hope will arise, and what do you want to know by the end? Join other FT readers and share your thoughts here.
Have any questions about the race, the candidates or the electoral process? Drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll do our best to answer them in an upcoming dispatch.
Click here for full FT coverage of the 2016 race
On the trail
Trump and the Kazakh connection An FT investigation found evidence that a Trump venture has links to an alleged money-laundering network. (FT)
Meet Donald Trump’s biggest backer Rebekah Mercer is using her billionaire father’s fortune to back the Republican nominee. Is she out to dismantle the GOP in the process? (FT)
Two Democratic operatives lose jobs after sting Scott Foval and Robert Creamer, “two little-known but influential” Democrats, were ousted after a sting operation by right-wing media activist James O’Keefe found them “entertaining dark notions about how to win elections”. (WaPo)
Now we got bad blood Trump is reportedly no longer speaking to his long-time friend and one-time adviser Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News who was ousted over his own sexual harassment allegations. (VF)
Clinton and Trump answer reader questions On climate change, income inequality and trade, the candidates could not be further apart (and their approach to this exercise could not be more different). (NYT)
Image of the day
Happier times in the Clinton-Trump relationship, as seen in Trump’s book The Art of the Comeback. (Carlos Lozada, Twitter)
Charts of the day
This election has shown that an educational split is replacing the old culture war. (NYT)
via Nick Baumann from HuffPo. (Twitter)
Number of the day
2m The number of anti-Semitic tweets sent during a one-year period, a disproportionate amount from Trump supporters. (WaPo)
“I’ve never said this before. We had a scene where a minor character gets picked up on a DUI and he’s being a little mouthy to a female police officer and we sort of had a run using p***y. It was pretty funny and they basically threw it in the garbage. [Trump] is ruining comedy.” -David Mandel, showrunner ofVeep. (LAT)
“No, I do not believe that.” -Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, breaking with her candidate to say that she does not think the election will be rigged. (Politico)
“Mr Trump is an entrepreneur.” -Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, asked to comment on reports that his boss in considering starting Trump TV after the election. (CNN)
WikiHillary for president (Tom Friedman, NYT)
The moral majority has lost its morals (Jonathan Chait, NYMag)
Clinton, Michelle Obama and the power of female friendship (Nilanjana Roy, FT)
Trump’s impossible task (Byron York, Washington Examiner)
Trump turns red states blue (Jennifer Rubin, WaPo)
Trump typeface The folks at BuzzFeed created a font based on Trump’s handwriting. The name: Tiny Hand. (BuzzFeed)
Today’s poll average