At least the media is admitting that they've set the bar so low for Trump some excavation was required. pic.twitter.com/etZBC1UVWH— Bob Schooley (@Rschooley) September 26, 2016
On Clinton's side, I think this could have been worse. The two slides are approximately equal in superficiality -- it's not as if Clinton's principal task is "Explain how to destroy ISIS and Al Qaeda while ending the war in Syria, elaborating on specific troop movements and fiscal-year expenditures in a series of detailed slides," while Trump's is "Don't talk about your penis." It's actually acknowledged here that Clinton has ideas for her presidency, which is something, even if the message is "C'mon, girl, give us a big smile and sell those ideas." And it's acknowledged that Clinton is, in fact, personable and appealing in small-group settings. (What, you mean she's not a humorless nut-crushing harridan all the time?) By the awful standards of most Clinton punditry, this is somewhat less than abysmal.
But Clinton will actually have to do all these things, and many more, for the pundits to credit her with a victory. She'll have to put the email question to rest. She'll have to put questions about the Clinton Foundation to rest. She'll have to do an effective job of defending her policy decisions on Libya, Syria, and Russia. She'll probably have to answer a question about why she's struggling in the polls, and the answer will have to seem neither self-pitying nor unrealistically optimistic (while Trump will get away with any chest-thumping boast he chooses to make, about the polls or anything else). Whatever pitch is thrown to her, she'll have to hit it out of the park; anything less will be held against her.
What's infuriating about the Trump slide is that he's highly unlikely to do any of the items on his list, yet he'll still probably be called the winner of the debate. He might not lie brazenly, but I'm sure he'll repeat his claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, daring Clinton and Lester Holt to fact-check him. I'm sure he'll say, if the subject comes up, that birtherism was cooked up by the Clinton campaign. I'm sure he'll say an audit prevents him from releasing his taxes.
But if these are just fleeting moments, they'll be shrugged off as Trump being Trump. If he's not "blood out of her wherever" nasty to Clinton, he'll get credit for vastly improved deportment (even though he'll make quite a few "I alone can fix it" statements and display no "humility" whatsoever). And if he can pile up enough platitudes and critiques of the Clinton and Obama administrations to use up his allotted time on every question without resorting to word salad, no one will care that he's failed to "fill in the gaps in his policy proposals."
Pundits, you can surprise me by not treating Trump this way, which is not so much "grading on a curve" as throwing out all criteria and pre-assigning the man a gentleman's A-minus even before he takes the final. You can surprise me, but you won't, will you?
Media: It's up to debaters to fact-check each other.— Jerry (@js_edit) September 26, 2016
Hillary: Mr. Trump is lying. Here's facts.
Media: She spent too much time attacking him
That's exactly what's going to happen.