Don­ald Trump is an un­known quan­tity in 1st Repub­li­can de­bate

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY IVAN COURONNE

As nine can­di­dates pre­pare to take their place Thurs­day along­side Don­ald Trump for the first U.S. Repub­li­can Party pres­i­den­tial de­bate, a ques­tion looms: how does one deal with a ri­val whose bom­bast is part of his DNA?

The real- es­tate ty­coon turned White House con­tender is also the United States’ most pro­lific po­lit­i­cal in­sult gen­er­a­tor, im­pos­ing a sense of must-see-TV on the open­ing duel of the 2016 cy­cle.

He blasted fel­low Repub­li­can White House hope­ful Jeb Bush as “weak,” Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Graham as an “idiot,” and Texas ex-gover­nor Rick Perry as a buf­foon who wears glasses “so peo­ple will think he’s smart.”

And that was in just one cam­paign speech.

De­spite or per­haps be­cause of his out­ra­geous prom­ises and harsh in­vec­tive since launch­ing his cam­paign in June, the brash bil­lion­aire has snatched a wide poll lead.

Trump has trumped many who have spent years metic­u­lously pre­par­ing for this mo­ment — writ­ing mem­oirs or pol­icy books, es­pous­ing causes, pol­ish­ing their im­age and court­ing wealthy donors.

Should they now hit back at Trump to get no­ticed, but at the risk of le­git­imiz­ing a man the U.S. Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee has begged to tone it down?

Am­mu­ni­tion abounds: Trump in the past has sup­ported abor­tion rights and uni­ver­sal health care — heresy for the Repub­li­can base — and has backed Democrats like Hil­lary Clin­ton.

But ri­vals would note that tak­ing pot­shots at Trump could trig­ger a re­sponse in kind.

Bush quipped he was re­as­sured that re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son will par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate be­cause “be­fore that thing’s over we might just need a doc­tor.”

Graham, who branded Trump a “jack­ass,” in­sisted Trump might make more sense to de­bate view­ers if they were drunk. New Jersey Gover­nor Chris Christie vowed not to let any­one in­ter­rupt him on stage.

A vet­eran of pri­mary de­bates, Sen­a­tor and for­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee John McCain, rec­om­mended so­bri­ety.

But “I clearly would chal­lenge some of his as­ser­tions,” McCain told AFP. “Pre­pare to dis­cuss the is­sues.”

Carmine Gallo, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert and au­thor of “Talk Like TED,” a ref­er­ence to the renowned speak­ers’ se­ries, of­fered ad­vice for those chal­leng­ing The Don­ald: “Stay in your lane.”

“Above all, you can’t out-Trump Trump,” he said. “Amer­i­cans like their he­roes to be au­then­tic and you’ll look like a phony if you try to match some­one else’s per­son­al­ity.”

Win­ning can­di­dates, he said, “are of­ten those who paint an ir­re­sistible por­trait of a bright fu­ture. Amer­i­cans like op­ti­mists.”

Trump Against Type?

Univer­sity of Mis­souri po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sor Mitchell McKin­ney, who has stud­ied voter re­ac­tions for decades, said de­but de­bates are es­sen­tial for form­ing opin­ions about can­di­dates.

That rings more true this year with 17 Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing lesser­known per­son­al­i­ties, vy­ing for the nom­i­na­tion.

The top 10 in re­cent na­tional polls will take the stage Thurs­day, with the re­main­ing seven rel­e­gated to a fo­rum four hours be­fore the main event.

“This is their first sort of job in­ter­view with the party faith­ful,” McKin­ney said.

View­ers will be look­ing for the suit­able tem­per­a­ment of a fu­ture U.S. pres­i­dent more than a propen­sity to fling zingers at Trump.

“Can they at­tack an op­po­nent, a fel­low Repub­li­can, and do it in a way that they don’t seem hate­ful or mean­spir­ited? Or do they seem like they’re noth­ing but a bully,” posed McKin­ney.

“Most folks don’t find that qual­ity par­tic­u­larly en­dear­ing in a pres­i­dent.”

Can­di­dates who cross into bul­ly­ing be­hav­ior risk back­lash from vot­ers.

In their 2000 de­bate, Repub­li­can Rick Lazio in­ter­rupted fel­low Se­nate can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton by walk­ing to her podium, cam­paign fi­nance pledge in hand, and urg­ing her to sign it.

A heated 2011 pri­mary de­bate turned phys­i­cal when a frus­trated Mitt Rom­ney, the even­tual Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, placed his hand on Perry’s shoul­der.

Trump shines when he faces the cam­eras alone. It may be dif­fer­ent when he shares the stage, al­lot­ted the same time as nine ri­vals.

Trump di­aled down the loose-cannon threat Sun­day, telling ABC News: “I’m not look­ing to at­tack them.”

He also down­played ex­pec­ta­tions of his own per­for­mance, stress­ing: “I’m not a de­bater.”

The big­gest bomb­shell could come if Trump goes against type, emerg­ing as thought­ful, com­posed and not lob­bing ver­bal grenades.

“I ac­tu­ally pre­dict that Mr. Trump will be fo­cused on pol­icy and re­spect­ful,” grinned Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Rob Port­man, who played the role of U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Rom­ney’s 2012 de­bate prep.

Fox News re­leased the de­bate lineup Tues­day.

Join­ing Trump will be: Bush; Wis­con­sin Gover­nor Scott Walker; exArkansas gover­nor Mike Huck­abee; Car­son; Sen­a­tors Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio and Rand Paul; Christie; and Ohio Gover­nor John Ka­sich.

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