The first Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place one week from today. Some pundits are predicting Trump is more likely to win because the bar has been so lowered for him (as long as he doesn’t urinate on his podium to mark it as his territory, he’ll exceed expectations). Others predict Hillary has the advantage because of her command of details and her track record as a skilled and successful debater.
Factoring both of these views together, one may arrive at a concern that Hillary’s debate skills may not be enough and she’ll need to factor in the Trump effect. She may need one or more strategies, depending on how Trump conducts himself, to win the debate not only on substance but when it comes to perception.
So what would be the best strategies for Hillary to prepare to beat Trump in the first debate? Here are some possibilities:
- Provoke – Nothing was more devastating to Trump’s campaign than his attack on the Gold Star parents, the Khans, after their indictment at the DNC convention of his bigotry and anti-Constitutional rhetoric. It doesn’t seem difficult to get under Trump’s thin skin and provoke a hateful, knee-jerk response (and the “jerk” part isn’t limited to his knee). Should Hillary be aggressive in trying to provoke Trump into spewing something that loses him the debate? This seems far too obvious a tactic, one which Trump’s cabal may have well prepared him for. Or it could just drag both down into the swamp and leave all feeling uneasy about both of them. Knowing Trump is likely expecting this, he could use a rope-a-dope tactic to let Hillary throw a lot of punches at him to make her look like the angry, emotional one and himself like the calm, reasoned one. The best plans in debates are not the most predictable ones, better to play the opponent in chess than dodgeball. To this end, it may be best for Hillary to deliver criticisms of Trump to viewers in reaction to his answers, in a thoughtful and calm way which could offer the best of both worlds. Taking down Trump for his bigotry, lying and extremism and hopefully provoking him while reflecting the taking of the high road…as a President might do. She could prepare specific responses based on topics and specific proclamations Trump has made along the way as well as overall summations of his disturbed mentality…but delivered with calm concern.
- Stay Positive – Left to his own devices, Trump ends up saying something offensive and unflattering eventually. Hillary could sabotage his plans to counter her attacks on him by just staying positive and providing simple explanations of how she will make the country and life for Americans better. This could provide a great counterpoint to Trump’s negativity, Trump may just regurgitate hatred towards her and offer only vague promises based on his magical Trumpian powers to solve every issue in America with a wave of his remarkably small wand. This is not to say that Hillary shouldn’t expose Trump’s deceit or defend herself from his lies at times but by refusing to fully jump in the mud pit with Trump, it could improve the perception of her while muddying Trump’s image and undermining his attempt to win the debate.
- Nail Him to his Bigotry – This latest con game of Trump’s, to obviously deceive the public into not thinking of him as the bigot he has proven himself to be over the past five years, betrays that his pollsters have shown him that he can’t win the presidency if he’s seen as a bigot. So if he’s drawing a red “x” on his weakest point, why not hit him where “x” marks the spot? To win the debate and ensure Trump’s loss at the polls, perhaps Hillary should use this debate to permanently hammer the stake of racism through his heart (that is, the empty construction lot in his chest where most humans’ hearts are). Hillary could walk viewers through his history of bigotry, beginning with his violating the civil rights of blacks by coding their rental applications to deny them housing, taking out a full page ad in The NY Times to demand the death penalty for the black Central Park Five who were innocent of all charges, leading the Birther movement against our first black president for five years, entering the race by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists, denigrating women throughout his life and more recently saying that if harassed, they should just leave their job, declaring that Latino judges are unfit as judges because of their heritage, proposing that all Muslims should be preventing from entering America, etc. Not to mention the Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, Anti-Semites and Alt Right/White Power types running and supporting his campaign. If changing the view of him as a bigot is so key to his winning the race, plastering that label on him may not only be lasting, it could provoke him to say something even more damaging to himself that makes him lose the debate and election in a bigger way.
- Focus on The Big Picture – Many pundits insist that voters’ eyes glaze over when Hillary presents facts, details and specific policies. While in contrast to Trump being beside her and blathering about crazy generalizations, that may not be the case, perhaps describing what the next four years will look like under her vs. Trump would accomplish both goals of informing and presenting very simple and accessible concepts. She could describe her vision for improving health care, the economy, infrastructure, cooperation in DC, combating ISIS, etc. while describing the dystopian future a President Trump would bring about. A crashing economy and destroying of the social safety net his policies would bring about, new wars that may even involve nukes, ending the federal minimum wage law, limiting the free speech of people and the press, creating a multi-billion dollar storm trooper task force to arrest and deport 11 million people including the legal American children they have, walling off America to Muslims and inspiring hatred towards Americans who are Muslim, establishing a totalitarian-type loyalty and religious test for those trying to enter the US, committing war crimes against suspected terrorists and murdering their entire families, making ISIS’ dream come true and fueling its growth by affirming that America is in a religious war against Muslims, destroying NATO and giving Russia tacit permission to invade neighboring countries at will, etc. Perhaps those merely thinking of flipping the middle finger to our government by supporting Trump will then consider the real world hell that would await them if he actually did get elected. Comparing those two futures could also help Hillary in the present, by giving her a win in the debate and a rise in her polls.
- Be Presidential – The best way to attack Trump may be to stand as something he could never be, presidential. Hillary could ignore all the voices calling for her to be less of a policy wonk and display her knowledge and understanding of the nation and the world when a topic is raised. Whether it’s race relations, wages, trade, war, etc., instead of focusing too much on Trump’s crazy ideas on them (which he will soon share anyway), she could explain the reasoning behind her positions and her plans, looking like the more presidential of the two who will be prepared to act on the crucial issues of the day. She could emphasize her experience and know how over Trump’s ignorance, expressing that crises always pop up and if someone is calm, seasoned and thoughtful, they can be handled more successfully for the American people. When attacked by Trump, she could respond in a mature way, taking apart his attack’s lies calmly. She can look Presidential, he can’t, this is one area where he can’t compete with her.
- Disqualify Trump – As opposed to arguing each and every issue and defending herself against the inevitable personal attacks Trump will hurl at her in the debates, Hillary could instead spend her attention on pulling back the curtain on Oz and exposing him for being a little, deceptive man using all kinds of trickery to con the electorate into giving him power. She could respond to his insults, bigotry, dishonesty and fragile ego by concentrating on what he says as proving he’s unfit to hold the office as our President. She could use the entire debate to lay out an argument that Trump is incapable of acting in the best interests of the people or the world since his ego comes first, that his proclamations against America, Latinos, Women, Blacks, Muslims, the Constitution, our military, generals and Gold Star Parents, POWs,the Geneva Convention, etc de facto make him unfit to be President. His embrace of dictators, his appearance on Russia’s tv propaganda channel to disparage our country and president, his policy to let nukes spread around the world and launch trade wars against our allies and biggest trading partners, his hiding of his financial ties to Russia, China, organized crime and more all disqualify him from occupying the White House. Additionally, she could name some of the top foreign policy experts, Republican and Democratic, who have all come out to say Trump represents a threat to America and the world if he became Commander in Chief.
- Out-Trump Trump – Trump’s ploy to keep his opponents on defense is to concoct a phony charge about them so they can’t do anything but focus themselves and the public on his propaganda. It would be getting down into the mud with him but as the old saying goes, if you’re gonna wrestle a pig, you better be prepared to get dirty. Hillary could turn the tables on Trump and accuse him of something that may be suspected about him but not provable (yet). For example, she could state that she is confident that Trump’s tax returns would prove he is in bed with Putin and Russia as well as other countries like China and that the reason he’s hiding them is to prevent the American people from discovering that for financial reasons, he may sell them out. Knowing Trump won’t ever release his taxes because at a minimum they will show he doesn’t give to charity and pays little if any taxes, Trump wouldn’t be able to refute this with proof which would give this attack on him a more and more powerful life. The worst that could happen is that Trump would feel forced to release his tax returns and if they didn’t show ties to Russia and Putin, they would still be damaging to him. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Either way, if Hillary gives Donald some of his own medicine, he may choke on it.
- Remember Bush? – Trump’s economic policies are more extremist than George W. Bush. Between the massive tax cuts and promises to end regulation of almost everything, it’s like steering a plane into a mountain and expecting to get to your destination (if it was the side of a mountain, you won’t be disappointed). Trump’s foreign policy is far more unhinged, ready to launch war against Iran if one of their sailors flips off one of our ships, keeping nukes on the table to use in Europe, believing that it’s good policy to invade countries and steal their resources, approving of torture and supporting ISIS’ view of The West as on a crusade against the Muslim religion, letting Russia invade the rest of the world, etc. Meanwhile, Trump’s VP pick, Mike Pence has said he would want his Vice Presidency to walk in the same footsteps as Dick Cheney. Compared to the Bush years, a Trump presidency would be like the new Blair Witch sequel, mostly the same story but more expensive and far more disastrous than the original. Don’t we remember what happened the last time we had a President who “represented the regular guy”? Who was anti-intellectual, was the alternative to the “establishment” choice, supported supply side economics and had no reservations starting wars out of ego or financial motivations? Perhaps Hillary should remind Americans of the last time we had a Republican president who believed many of the same things Trump does. If Trump could be painted as the second (and worse) coming of George Bush, a return to those days, maybe it will have a profound effect.
Hillary wouldn’t necessarily need to commit to any of these approaches beforehand but could just carry them in her back pocket, depending on how Trump comes out at the debate, she could pull out whichever may be the most effective or, since some are complimentary, she could combine any that would be ideal.
In any case, my perspective is that coming off a dip in the polls and pneumonia, Hillary will come into the debates from a better position, instead of being the heavily favored front runner the MSM might want to bring down a notch by handing the debate to Trump, she’ll be in a position to be another Clinton “Comeback Kid” that many can root for (especially those who don’t want Mad Max to turn out to be a prescient documentary).