While the 2016 campaign has been hard to predict, the media know how they want to play it: Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, will be the dignified victim of relentless "attacks" from her wild and hostile Republican opponent, Donald Trump.
The press has painted the picture clearly in the days since Trump became the de facto GOP nominee. In a May 6 interview, NBC "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt encouraged Trump to "start on her" by asking if there is anything that is "off the table" when it comes to campaigning against her.
"You've said a number of times that you haven't started on Hillary Clinton," said Holt, inviting Trump to strike his opponent. "So start on her. Give me three words that you would use to define her, that you will use as you press forward."
By comparison, Holt interviewed Clinton in January and he asked her to respond to criticism she faces from her political opponents.
"I was wondering, you've obviously been in tough battles, political battles," said Holt. "But do you get your feelings hurt sometimes?"
Granted the opportunity, Clinton took it. "I have led a very public life now for 25 years," she said. "I've been subjected to all kinds of attacks, in large measure because of what I stand for and what I fight for. But I'm going to answer questions regardless of where they come from or who poses them."
Jake Tapper told the same story in a May 6 interview on CNN.
"[Trump] has taken politics to a new place with his negative branding ... and for his supporters, it's really worked," the anchor said to Clinton, prepping the former secretary of state with a how-will-you-possibly-cope-with-what's-coming question.
"He has lately taken to calling you 'Corrupt Hillary,' and he's had some rather personal, pointed tweets. Have you learned anything from watching the way that Republicans dealt with him in the primaries that will inform how you will deal with such an unconventional candidate?"
Clinton took the opening to rise above it all.
"I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak," she told Tapper. "I'm not going to deal with their temper tantrums or their bullying or their efforts to try to provoke me. He can say whatever he wants to say about me. I could really care less. I'm going to stand up for what I think the American people need and want in the next president."
Clinton's national political director, Amanda Renteria, would later apologize on behalf of the candidate's "reservation" expression, writing on Twitter that she "meant no disrespect to Native Americans."
In many ways, the race between Clinton and Trump lends itself to such a dynamic. Clinton will be the first woman elected as the nominee of a major party, which makes her an aspirational figure. Trump, however, has cultivated an image around himself, even before running for president, as a ruthless fire-breather with a knack for low blows.
In 2006, Trump engaged in a long-lasting public feud with comedienne Rosie O'Donnell after she mocked the controversy he was facing over his Miss Universe pageant. He retaliated by calling her "disgusting," "a slob" and saying she had a "fat, ugly face."
His flair for the insult made its way into his run for the Republican nomination. He devastated Jeb Bush's candidacy by calling him "low-energy," an emasculating moniker that stuck. For Marco Rubio, it was "little Marco." For Trump's last standing serious threat, Ted Cruz, it was "Lyin' Ted."
And his cannon was regularly trained on his critics in the media, which could give members of the press a reason to dig into their opposition toward him.
"You know, when I watch a George Will or a Charles Krauthammer, you know, I've watched them for years, they're losers," Trump said last summer, referring to the popular conservative columnists. "They're just losers. They sit there, they haven't done anything."
Of Will, Trump said in January, "Take away the glasses, he looks like a dumb guy."
Trump's barbs were lobbed with glee, and they electrified supporters at his massive rallies around the country. And, though the smart thinkers in Washington thought Trump's mouth would do him in, the opposite happened. He charged his way to the GOP nomination after crushing Ted Cruz in Indiana in late April.
But Clinton hasn't been a quiet bystander, and she seems to relish her role as a critic of Trump's campaign style.
She initiated her first big attack on Trump in December, saying in an interview with an Iowa newspaper that the billionaire developer has "demonstrated a penchant for sexism," citing disparaging comments he had made about some women.
She has repeatedly called him a "loose cannon."
And Clinton allies have said worse. The op-ed pages of the national newspapers, which are more sympathetic to Democratic causes, regularly dub Trump a "racist," "bigot" and "xenophobe."
In an interview with the Washington Post in March, David Brock, a longtime Clinton ally and Democratic strategist, reduced Trump's entire candidacy to "the last stand of the angry white man."
On MSNBC that same month, Brock threatened to "make the case to the American people against Donald Trump in a way that the Republican Party, frankly, has failed to do."
Even so, Clinton is consistently set up by news reports and interviews as the unfortunate recipient of incoming fire.
"Clinton's team is preparing for what could be one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory," wrote Dan Balz, the Washington Post's top political reporter, in a story published in early May. It went on to quote Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook.
"Hillary set out a year ago to be a champion for everyday people and to help families finally start getting ahead again in this economy," he said. "That's what she's going to keep talking about in the general election ... Trump, I'm sure, will try to bully and throw out insults. That's not going to derail her."
NBC News analyst and GOP strategist Mike Murphy said on April 27 that Trump's "method" is "to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton," and that her "big judo move is playing the victim."
The opening sentence of a New York Times report published the next day said that Trump "is likely to attack" Clinton in a general election face-off "precisely because she is a woman."
Bloomberg Politics editor John Heilemann noted the Times' assertion, writing on Twitter, "And the Times wonders why Trump questions its fairness!"
To be sure, Trump has called attention to Clinton's gender. "Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the women's card," he said at a press conference after he was declared the winner of the Indiana primary.
It was, however, a reference to something Clinton has repeatedly said about herself. During a Democratic debate on CNN, moderated by Anderson Cooper in October, she was asked how she could be sure that if she were elected, it would not be "a third term of President Obama."
"Well, I think that's pretty obvious," she said. "I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had up until this point, including President Obama."
Asked later why Democrats should "embrace an insider" like her, Clinton said being a woman was a big qualification.
"Well, I can't think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president ..." she said.
While the setup appears to favor Clinton, Trump hasn't shied away from using the same tactics against Clinton that he used against his 16 Republican primary opponents.
Trump was asked recently by Cooper to account for a tweet the businessman had put out that featured an unflattering photo of Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi.
"Look, I didn't start," said Trump. Cooper said that Trump's response was "the argument of a five-year-old."
Trump's plan also appears to be paying off. Trump's exchange with Cooper was in late March, and less than a month later, he became the presumptive GOP nominee.