I’m not entirely sure who decided to call the first debate Trump’s “WrestleMania.” It’s a weird term for a debate because Trump has been involved in a WrestleMania before, and it did not look like a debate. It looked like a wrestling event.
The Washington Post, clearly not filled with wrestling nerds, and their ill-advised terminology aside, there is a lot to take in from this write-up of Trump’s debate prep. There don’t appear to be any scripted rehearsals of a debate in the works. They aren’t going over the talking points. They aren’t making the candidate read briefing books on the issues and the opponent.
Donald Trump is taking a different approach. He summons his informal band of counselors — including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, talk-radio host Laura Ingraham and ousted Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes — to his New Jersey golf course for Sunday chats. Over bacon cheeseburgers, hot dogs and glasses of Coca-Cola, they test out zingers and chew over ways to refine the Republican nominee’s pitch.
Trump’s aides have put together briefing books, not that the candidate is devoting much time to reading them. Trump is not holding any mock debates, proudly boasting that a performer with his talents does not need that sort of prepping. Should Trump submit to traditional rehearsals, some associates are talking about casting Ingraham, an adversarial chronicler of Clinton scandals, to play the Democratic nominee.
I suppose one thing that is considered “right” here is the use of a shrill, mildly insane woman to play the part of Hillary Clinton. Other than that, there’s nothing here that makes it look like Trump wants to win this thing.
See, the debates make or break candidacies, and no candidacy is already more broken than Donald Trump’s. He is regularly behind in the polls and, as a result, is fighting from a position of weakness. That is something the debates can help with. A lot. The chance to show you are better than your opponent when it comes to taking on the issues is what makes the debates a thing we do. But if you’re not even really focusing on the issues and simply practicing some good zingers, you take an unimaginably huge risk with your candidacy.
As the Post admits a few paragraphs later in their story, the Clinton camp has to fight the battle on two fronts: Trump’s unpredictable insults and the level of distrust the American people have for her. A competent campaign would be focusing on the latter right now, and making a case that their guy is the more trustworthy of the two. What this candidate is doing is preparing himself to say something clever and right. What we all know he will say is something along the lines of “Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy. However, I’m unhinged and she probably drinks the blood of the innocent. Mexicans are the ones who steal your socks from the dryer and that’s why you have ten socks with no matches.”*
That’s why this story is so baffling. There are competent people actually on Trump’s campaign staff. Why they aren’t pushing harder to get him ready is beyond me. Why he, a self-described winner, doesn’t want to really ensure he is going to win is beyond me. Even if his strategy works, and he insults Clinton and throws her off her game, he doesn’t necessarily look better because of it. She just looks worse. He won’t go up in the polls so much as she’ll go down. That’s not a winning strategy.
*This is not an admission that I do not believe she doesn’t drink the blood of the innocent, but an admission that the average American doesn’t believe it to be true. I would never be so careless in my study of the politics as to completely disregard the idea that she needs to drink blood in order to stay alive.