1. Which candidate would you rather have an unspecified beverage of your choice with? Everybody knows that debates aren't about outlining each candidate's ideas for confronting the issues currently facing our nation. Debates are for determining which candidate appears most personable in a debate setting. Whether or not the people being nominated for high office are intelligent, competent or know the first thing about the actual decisions that need making is entirely beside the point, so long as each candidate looks good and does not do naughty things like smirking, guffawing or checking his watch. This base level of punditry is known in the business as theater criticism, and all pundits are expert at it, all the time, in every setting. Let them share that expertise with you.
2. Can the candidate convincingly hide his own glaring personality flaws, such that viewers might believe he is a different person from who he quite obviously is? Perhaps you are a candidate who has become notorious for not actually grasping what any normal American might care about. Perhaps you appear to have no core convictions of your own, or convictions which seem to come and go depending on who is asking or what you are running for during that particular season. Screw that: A good pundit will know that all will be forgiven if, for the span of 90 minutes, the candidate can appear to not goddamn do that anymore. He certainly showed us what sort of person he is, a good pundit will say. America was worried about those decades of contrary behavior, but now he has convinced America of the real truth!
One of the chief criteria of punditry is that you are not allowed to remember anything that happened in America more than a week ago. Candidates are expected to take advantage of this, and are frequently punished if they do not. This is why, in particular, bringing up what your opponent actually did in the actual recent past is considered bad debate etiquette.
3. Will the candidate show proper deference to their opponent? Civility is the be-all, end-all of all politics. That is why when Joe Wilson shouted "You Lie!" at the president, he was expelled from the Congress, why Donald Trump's ridiculous embrace of racist-pandering theories about the president's birthplace have led to him being shunned by more serious members of the party, and why you don't see Karl Rove or Alex Castellanos invited on television any more after some of those things they said and/or did. Your political opponent may be incompetent. Your opponent may be an outrageous liar. Your opponent may even be an outrageously incompetent liar, and lie about you, personally, to your face. A good, substantive pundit knows that all of this is proper and expected.
What is strictly forbidden is expressing frustration with your opponent for being a gigantic liar and/or nitwit, even if he is currently doing it while the entire world looks on. That makes Punditry Jesus sad. Then Punditry Jesus has to write a fawning column about the latest explicitly-business-friendly "moderate" third party being launched, and nobody wants to see that.
4. Can the candidate successfully sidestep the glaring policy prescriptions he has that, if fleshed out, would immediately doom his campaign? Carefully sidestepping such gigantic, career-ending holes is, after all, the only reason we have these debates. If we simply wanted to know what each candidate's positions were, there are many simpler and straightforward ways of finding out. What debates actually measure is a candidate's ability to evade critical but uncomfortable policy questions live, in front of a national audience that would really goddamn like to know the answers, preferably without making it look like they are doing exactly that. This is, every pundit knows, the mark of a true political leader.
And this leads us directly to the last thing to watch for in post-debate punditry:
5. Were the lies effective? Screw issues. Screw substance, too, and put competence out to sea on a slow boat with a fast leak. The single most critical question that will be asked of each candidate, by our press, in just a few short hours: Was that bullshit he said effective? How did it make us feel? There is nothing in a debate so pressing as this final question.
The primary purpose of fact checkers may be to check facts, but the primary purpose of pundits is to judge which things sort of sound like facts, and how much they sound like facts, and whether or not your average American might either mistake them for facts or, even better, be so confused by the muddled answer that they forget what it was they originally wanted to know. The advantage of this approach is that determining how supposed answers make you feel requires considerably less research time and staff than determining whether those answers are, in fact, bullshit, and so fits well with today's more streamlined, cost-effective American political process.