Whether the American people are mentally prepared or not, the third and final presidential debate is upon us. Tonight’s in-studio audience will include a slew of special guests, including President Obama’s half-brother, Malik, who surprisingly enough, was invited by Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton. Malik is just the latest invite who seems to have been picked solely to shake an opponent’s game and grab headlines—a strange political maneuver that both candidates are now playing into.
At the first debate, some controversial (though relatively tame) public figures showed up to support their candidate of choice: An increasingly confused Rudy Giuliani—who recently claimed that Hillary Clinton lied about being in New York City on 9/11 despite the fact that photos show the pair in downtown Manhattan the next day—sat in the front row with Trump’s family. Don King, the boxing promoter who has both been sued by Muhammed Ali for withholding payment and convicted (and later pardoned) for manslaughter, joined the former mayor to support Trump. On Hillary’s side, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a vocal Trump-shamer, was front row.
When the second debate rolled around, Trump, perhaps feeling hysterical after PussyGate, ramped up the drama for an arguably cruel display: He invited Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey—three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault—to sit in the front row at the debate. Yes, three probable victims of sexual violence had to sit in the same room as their alleged abuser, in the presence of the abuser’s wife and daughter, and listen to another man who has admitted to assaulting women talk for 90 minutes.
There’s no way Trump could top the levels of depravity to which he’s ascended in the last couple weeks, right? Well…tonight, Trump is bringing along a grieving mother—Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi—to rattle Clinton’s psyche. In an attempt to insult Barrack Obama, he’s also invited the president’s half-brother, Malik, who was born in Kenya but is now an American citizen. Malik has expressed disappointment in his sibling’s leadership; in July, he said he was interested in meeting Trump. The New York Post reports that Malik once called former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi one of his “best friends.” Taking an only slightly higher road, Clinton is bringing back Mark Cuban. Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, will join him. Earlier this year, Whitman, a one-time Republican California gubernatorial candidate, defected from the GOP and endorsed Clinton.
Here’s the thing: invited guests are not allowed to speak, which means parading them in front of the debate stage is nothing more than a scare tactic meant to unnerve and confuse the opposing candidate. At their least effective, they embarrass the debaters; at their worst, they distract the public from policy debates with sensationalism. Today, each candidate is hoping their guests provoke a careless, unrehearsed response from the other. At this point, all we can do is hope everyone in attendance will be on their best behavior. But given the high tempers and higher stakes of this election, that doesn’t seem likely.