Trump escalates confrontation that could hurt G.O.P. in November.
In a set of talking points sent to supporters on Sunday morning, one day after a cascade of elected Republican officials urged their nominee to withdraw from the race, Mr. Trump instructed his loyalists to attack the party leaders as politicians guided only by self-interest â and vowed to win without them.
âA lot of the people who are being so critical now are the same ones who doubted him before,â read the talking points, which were forwarded by a Republican strategist. âThey are more concerned with their political future than they are about the future of the country. Mr. Trump won the Primary without the help of the insiders and heâll win the General without them, too.â
Mr. Trump amplified the email, taking to Twitter on Sunday to lash out at critics within the party at the very moment some of them are pressing him to show contrition.
âSo many self-righteous hypocrites,â he wrote of the Republicans who rescinded their support. âWatch their poll numbers â and elections â go down!â
Here are a few of the other things weâll watch for in Sundayâs face-off:
How â and how quickly â will Trump apologize during the debate?
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is a top adviser to Mr. Trump, said on ABC News on Sunday that he expected Mr. Trump to apologize during the debate and make the case that he is a changed man. Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trumpâs remarks on the tape âhorribleâ and âreprehensible,â and he expressed hope that Mr. Trumpâs suggestions in the recording that he assaults women were exaggerated.
âHeâs very embarrassed and contrite about it,â Mr. Giuliani said. âThere is no excuse or answer for it, other than âIâm very sorry and I wish I hadnât done it and Iâm not like that any more.ââ
Does Trump go nuclear?
While some strategists have suggested that Mr. Trump should strike a humble tone at the debate, many are bracing for the tenor to become even nastier.
Surrogates for Mr. Trump, and the candidate himself, have been busy comparing what he said on camera in 2005 to Mr. Clintonâs indiscretions with women. On Saturday night, Mr. Trump shared Twitter posts from an account that says it belongs to Juanita Broaddrick, who long ago accused Bill Clinton of rape. On Sunday Mr. Trump posted a Breitbart.com article on Twitter that features an interview with Ms. Broaddrick.
Mr. Trump has been threatening for weeks that he would force Mrs. Clinton to respond directly to old allegations of harassment and assault against her husband in front of a national audience of tens of millions of people.
The temptation is obvious. Mr. Trump is clearly enraged by news media coverage of his own offensive and inappropriate behavior, and believes that only hypocrisy and special treatment have deflected attention from Mr. Clinton. Supporters at his rallies cheer whenever Mr. Trump hints at Mr. Clintonâs infidelities.
But the risks are equally obvious. Polling suggests that a majority of voters arenât that interested in hearing more about Mr. Clintonâs behavior, whether it is his well-established infidelity or more serious allegations of rape and sexual assault, which Mr. Clinton has always denied. And Mr. Clinton isnât running for president â Mrs. Clinton is.
Who will wow the crowd?
The format for the debate, in St. Louis, is town hall style, with an audience of voters who will ask their own questions of the candidates. Mrs. Clinton has extensive experience with the format. Some of her best and freshest campaign moments have come when she is not behind a lectern.
But so was one of her worst: the commander-in-chief forum in September, when the moderator, Matt Lauer, and the questioners in the audience hammered Mrs. Clinton over her violation of email security protocols at the State Department. But Mr. Trumpâs preferred venue is the raucous rally, where he alone has the microphone.
Town halls can be treacherous in ways typical debates are not. The candidates have to interact directly with voters in the audience, showing them respect, paying attention to their questions, and seeking a direct connection obvious to viewers at home. Mrs. Clinton is practiced at these maneuvers. Mr. Trump has a tendency to disappear into his own verbal fog, to ignore the question entirely and to fail to give an actual answer.
And if an audience member drills into sensitive territory â such as the 2005 recording â there is always the danger of an explosive and dismissive response.
Will Clinton control the debate again?
What emerged over the course of the first debate was evidence of Mrs. Clintonâs deep preparation for the encounter. Within 20 minutes, she had taken full control of the rhythm of the debate, pulling Mr. Trump into an array of damaging exchanges: over his responsibility for discredited âbirtherâ theories about President Obama; his avoidance of taxes; and most spectacularly, his shaming of a former Miss Universe contestant named Alicia Machado over her weight. Each time, he took the bait.
Mrs. Clinton will no doubt arrive in St. Louis equipped with a fresh pail of chum to throw in the waters around Mr. Trump, determined to whip him into a frenzy. She will needle him over revelations of the scale of his tax avoidance. She will cite the array of attacks on him from his own party this weekend. To achieve anything resembling a victory, Mr. Trump will need to turn up his nose and focus on the most compelling parts of his own message: trade, the threat of Islamic militants, and the creation of jobs.
And hereâs how to watch the debate.
â Start time: 9 p.m. Eastern
â Duration: About 90 minutes
â Moderators: Martha Raddatz of ABC, and Anderson Cooper of CNN
â Airing on TV: ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, Fox Business Network, Fox News, MSNBC and others.
â Streaming online: We think nytimes.com is a pretty good place to turn to.