We see Hillary Clinton as methodical and thorough, approaching the debates like any test demanding lengthy preparation. She may not be the most natural performer, but she's going to do her homework and try to prepare for every eventuality. She's immersing herself in briefing books and the meticulous research she has instructed her people to carry out.True enough. But, of course, Clinton and Trump have been showing us exactly who they are throughout this entire campaign, stretching back to the primaries. That "plenty of spin and plenty of attempts to give misleading impressions to viewers" has long been a problem, because most voters don't tune in for entire debates, or entire speeches, but instead rely on clips provided through the filter of the media who want to tell specific narratives about each candidate.
Trump, on the other hand, is impatient, intuitive, and impulsive, easily distracted and bored with details. He doesn't care about policy. Instead, he's shooting the breeze with a bunch of media people, including Roger Ailes and Laura Ingraham. If Clinton believes that substance is essential to winning a battle of optics, Trump thinks that optics are the only thing that's important. That has been the defining characteristic of his career: succeed through creating an impression of success until the image becomes reality (or at least until you've sold enough seminars to take your money and skedaddle).
So even if there's going to be plenty of spin and plenty of attempts to give misleading impressions to viewers, in the end these debates will probably show us the truest expressions we could get of who these two candidates are.
The debates will be yet another iteration of the media reinforcing their preferred frames. Often, the debates are when those frames become hardened in a way they hadn't to that point.
It was during the 2000 debates that the narratives of Al Gore being a boring nerd and George Bush being the guy with whom you want to have a beer emerged as unshakably defining tropes about each man—despite the fact that Bush is a teetotaler and Gore is a guy literally determined to save the planet.
Setting the narrative as FUN vs. BORING was a tragic mistake.
We all remember when the media decided Gore was a boring nerd & Bush was the guy they wanted to have a beer with right? How'd that turn out?— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) August 30, 2016
I certainly hope the media resolves not to repeat history, but I fear, regrettably, that they will.