Hillary Clinton has shut herself away from the public eye for the better part of a week in order to prepare for her first debate with Donald Trump Monday.
However in the face of an unpredictable Trump, an over-rehearsed Clinton could expose her flanks to stinging attacks from the Republican candidate.
“The reason he is the Republican nominee is because he’s a great debater.”
On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton is preparing for the possibility of two Trumps, “an on-message, disciplined Donald Trump and a freewheeling, more provocative Donald Trump.”
“She won’t know what to expect from him,” Bruce Newman, Professor of Marketing at DePaul University, editor of Political Marketing Magazine and former Clinton White House adviser, told LifeZette.
Trump’s “guerrilla style of debating is completely revolutionary,” said Eddie Zipperer, professor of political science at Georgia College. “Hillary can’t surround herself with people who have been studying this style of debate for years because there aren’t any,” Zipperer said.
Regardless of the Trump Clinton faces Monday night, campaign manager Robby Mook knows two things the public can definitely expect from the Democratic candidate.
“I think what’s concerning overall about Donald Trump is that, first of all, he doesn’t often tell the truth,” Mook said on CNN Wednesday morning. “So she’s going to have to spend some time probably correcting the record and making sure voters understand the facts.”
But calling Trump a liar is a blunt barb in Clinton’s arsenal. “If Clinton challenges him, he can respond by reprising his own lyin’ Hillary theme,” Michael Mezey, professor emeritus of political science at DePaul University, said.
Of course, when Democrats assert Trump is not telling the truth, they are more often than not simply upset he is telling the truth about things they rather he wouldn’t, like the true threat of mass Muslim migration, the failures of poorly negotiated free trade deals, and Clinton’s own ethical challenges.
“I can talk about her deleting emails after she gets a subpoena from Congress and lots of other things,” Trump said on Fox News Monday. “I can talk about her record, which is a disaster. I can talk about all she’s done to help ISIS become the terror that they’ve become, and I will be doing that,” he added.
Clinton “will look for opportunities to expose Trump’s lack of knowledge, and his tendency to shoot from the hip,” said Mezey. “And she will try to goad him into the sort of impolitic statement that he could get away with in a multi-candidate primary debate, but which will cause him problems in a two candidate general election debate,” he noted.
However, should Trump arrive well-prepared to lay out his policy visions — and manage to control himself in the event of Clinton’s goading — he will have defanged Clinton successfully.
Mook also noted that Clinton will “make sure that when she gets to that debate that she will clearly lay out the plans that she has developed to make a difference in people’s lives.” In pursuing this strategy, Clinton’s experience could be her undoing.
“Her weakness is that she will do a deep dive into a policy issue, coming across as a know-it-all, the way Gore did in 2000, while Trump comes across as a regular guy,” said Mezey.
If Clinton does come prepared to hammer detailed policy positions, it could also give Trump the chance to do to Clinton what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio during the primary. Staying on message is often indistinguishable from insincere repetition, and Trump could mock Clinton for being scripted and robotic — another plastic politician who is merely better than him at memorizing lines.
While Trump is easily in a position to protect himself from Clinton’s perceived advantages, he will arrive at the debate with his own strengths. “Trump has a number of advantages,” Mezey noted. “First, little is expected of him,” Mezey added.
“Just by showing up and not doing anything egregious, he can clear the bar set by low expectations and come out a perceived winner — see Sarah Palin’s VP debate in 2008,” Mezey said.
Another advantage for Trump is that he “understands television and does better in that medium than most politicians,” Mezey noted. Indeed, this may be Trump’s greatest strength, and it’s largely why he is such a good debater.
“During the primaries, while the jabbering heads were saying Trump was losing the debates, he was actually using them against his opponents,” said Zipperer. “He called Jeb Bush low energy and then Jeb showed up to the next debate pretending to be energetic,” Zipperer noted.
“So far, Trump has used every debate perfectly,” Zipperer said. “Other candidates have over-strategized attempting to compete with him, and the over-strategizing has been their undoing.” Hillary Clinton should take note.
“Just like in sports, if you’re changing your whole game — everything you do — in order to try to contain one player, you’ve already lost,” Zipperer said.