Trump gets soft­balls as de­bate looms

‘For­get de­bate prep, give me a break’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


It had the trap­pings of a town hall de­bate. There was a mod­er­a­tor. The au­di­ence mem­bers had ques­tions. There was a two-minute count­down clock for an­swers. And Don­ald Trump car­ried a mi­cro­phone while pa­trolling a small stage. But the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween what Trump faced Thurs­day night in New Hamp­shire in a warm-up town hall and what he’ll see to­mor­row night in St Louis ver­sus Hil­lary Clin­ton end there.

Trump didn’t ac­tu­ally in­ter­act with the au­di­ence, in­stead only con­vers­ing with a friendly mod­er­a­tor who read the ques­tions -nearly all soft­balls sub­mit­ted from the in­vi­ta­tion-only crowd. And he pub­licly scoffed at his aides’ pre­vi­ous fram­ing of the event as a warm-up for his piv­otal sec­ond de­bate against Clin­ton. “This isn’t prac­tice. This has noth­ing to do with Sun­day. We’re just here be­cause we just wanted to be here,” Trump told the crowd in Sandown, which was com­prised solely of sup­port­ers and lo­cal Re­pub­li­can lead­ers. “I said, ‘For­get de­bate prep.’ I mean, give me a break,” said Trump, who mocked Clin­ton for spend­ing days pre­par­ing. “She’s rest­ing. She wants to build up her en­ergy for Sun­day night. And you know what? That’s fine. But the nar­ra­tive is so fool­ish.”

For pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, a town hall de­bate is a test of stagecraft as much as sub­stance. Trump and Clin­ton - she has far more ex­pe­ri­ence in the for­mat - will be field­ing ques­tions from un­de­cided vot­ers seated nearby. In an added dose of un­pre­dictabil­ity, the for­mat al­lows the can­di­dates to move around the stage, putting them in un­usu­ally close prox­im­ity.

“There’s a lot more in­ter­ac­tion, phys­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion,” says Judd Gregg, the for­mer New Hamp­shire se­na­tor who helped Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush pre­pare for de­bates. Gregg said a can­di­date who is too ag­gres­sive in a town hall, ei­ther with the vot­ers or a ri­val, “can come across look­ing re­ally chippy, not look­ing pres­i­den­tial.”

Unique chal­lenges

Af­ter his un­even show­ing in their first de­bate, Trump’s can­di­dacy may rise or fall on his abil­ity to avoid that trap. The Re­pub­li­can re­peat­edly in­ter­rupted Clin­ton in their open­ing con­test and grew de­fen­sive as she chal­lenged his business record and re­cited his de­mean­ing com­ments about women.

Those close to Trump have stead­fastly in­sisted that the can­di­date did well in the first de­bate, but the hastily added New Hamp­shire town hall was a tacit ac­knowl­edge­ment that this par­tic­u­lar for­mat poses unique chal­lenges and that Trump needed to fine-tune some of his re­sponses to Clin­ton’s barbs. The Re­pub­li­can nom­i­nee has re­viewed video of the first de­bate and his aides have stressed the need to stay calm and to not let Clin­ton’s at­tacks - such as her in­vo­ca­tion of a for­mer beauty queen that sent Trump into a days-long tail­spin - get un­der his skin.

Trump has tried out some new at­tack lines in re­cent days, though most of his de­bate prep continues to be rapid-fire, ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sions with ad­vis­ers on his plane as he kept up a busy cam­paign sched­ule that took him to Vir­ginia, Colorado, Ari­zona and Ne­vada in the first half of the week. But while the cam­paign has built in more re­hearsal time in the days be­fore the sec­ond de­bate, no other mock de­bates are planned and the cam­paign is not us­ing a stand-in for Clin­ton.

That stands in stark con­trast to the metic­u­lous de­bate prepa­ra­tions un­der­taken by the pre­vi­ous Re­pub­li­can nom­i­nee, Mitt Rom­ney. The for­mer Mas­sachusetts gover­nor pre­pared for the de­bates months in ad­vance, study­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s po­si­tions and style, ex­chang­ing brief­ing books with staff, and start­ing full-fledged prac­tice de­bates sev­eral weeks ahead of their meet­ing.

The re­hearsals were com­pre­hen­sive. Podi­ums were built to the ex­act specifics of those on the de­bate stage and the mock de­bates were pre­cisely timed. At a cam­paign re­treat and in ho­tels across the coun­try, the di­men­sions of the town hall for­mat were copied to give Rom­ney chances to prac­tice walk­ing around while an­swer­ing au­di­ence ques­tions.

Aides cre­ated the stage set up, com­plete with where the can­di­dates would stand and where the mod­er­a­tor and ques­tion­ers would sit. Know­ing that town hall events are dif­fer­ent an­i­mals, they fo­cused on Rom­ney pre­sent­ing him­self: how he should walk, how he should ges­ture and smile, and how he should take the an­swer to a po­ten­tially spe­cific au­di­ence ques­tion and broaden it to make a larger point or use it to pivot to an at­tack on Obama. In to­tal, Rom­ney did 16 mock de­bates. — AP

NEW JER­SEY: In this Wed­nes­day, July 6, 2016 file pho­to­graph, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton stands near the faded sign of the Trump Plaza casino, which closed per­ma­nently on Septem­ber 16, 2014, as she waits to ad­dress a gath­er­ing on the Board­walk in At­lantic City. — AP

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