A new report from the Washington Post details how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are preparing for the first presidential debate on September 26, and their strategies are about what you’d expect at this point: Clinton definitely has one, and Trump, sort of, does not.
Clinton is reportedly devouring policy and opposition research, and rehearsing like crazy to get ready. Her debate team is being led by Georgetown professor Ronald Klain — who actually teaches a class about presidential debates — as well as D.C. lawyer Karen Dunn, plus a collection of veteran Clinton advisors. (They still won’t say who will play Trump in the campaign’s mock debates, but indicate the role might be divided up among multiple people.) Overall, the Clinton team says that Hillary is approaching the debates like a series of job interviews with the American electorate in which she aims to come across as the sober and serious alternative to Trump. She is hyper-preparing, accordingly.
Trump, on the other hand, has no official debate team, and is apparently skipping the policy prep and rehearsals so he can rely on his natural talents and showmanship. What preparation he is doing, at least right now, consists of hosting Sunday get-togethers with friends, advisors, and family members to test pitches and zingers over cheeseburgers and sodas. Among those who attended last week’s meeting at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, according to the Post, were former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Fox News chair Roger Ailes, conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, and communications advisor Jason Miller. The group apparently strategized with Trump “as he read print-outs of news articles and monitored television news.”
Compared with Clinton’s job-interview approach, former Trump advisor Sam Nunberg told the Post that Trump is probably thinking more along the lines of Wrestlemania, with him being, as his campaign manager put it, the “unpredictable X-factor” versus Clinton’s “scripted statist.”
Conway went on to say that they aren’t going to try and force Trump to be someone other than himself, i.e. someone that prepares for things or has an attention span:
He’s an unconventional candidate, so debate prep in the classic sense doesn’t apply to him. That applies to the accoutrements that are usually associated with getting ready for debates: contrived gestures, lecterns, a group of consultants in belted khakis holed up in a cabin, the Socratic method of peppering questions. That’s not him.
Veteran GOP debate coach Brett O’Donnell certainly doesn’t agree that Trump can skip the standard preparations, telling the Post:
[Trump] thinks he won all the primary debates, but he picked his spots, beat up on a candidate and then evaporated for a while and stayed out of the substance. He’s not going to be able to hide like that with just the two of them on stage … He can’t just name-call her and have a wrestling match for 90 minutes.
Then again, Trump still hasn’t actually agreed to participate yet. Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein would definitely like to go, but they still need to obtain the 15 percent polling threshold necessary for inclusion.