If Republicans were hoping for Donald Trump to be well-rehearsed and ready to go for Sunday night’s debate, they must be pouring a couple extra drinks right now. Trump scheduled a town hall event in New Hampshire, and then proceeded to not treat it like a town hall event at all.
Trump had other plans. “They were saying this is practice for Sunday,” he told the crowd in speech before the so-called town-hall. “This isn’t practice. This has nothing to do with Sunday.”
He wasn’t wrong.
The format was nothing like what Trump will face in St Louis, when half the questions will be posed by uncommitted voters, and the candidates will have two minutes to respond to each question as Martha Raddatz of ABC and Anderson Cooper of CNN serve as moderators.
On Thursday night, Howie Carr, a conservative radio host and Trump booster, played the role of moderator, and the crowd was hand-picked by his campaign. The audience didn’t even ask Trump their questions. Carr did so on their behalf. Before the event, Carr had said Trump would take 20 questions. He stayed for about a dozen.
And while Sunday’s debate will stretch for 90 minutes without a bathroom break, Trump bolted from his town hall in Sandown after barely more than one-third of that time.
It gets even better from there. The unfocused candidate wasn’t able to stay on message even under these tightly controlled circumstances. He was off script (or off his meds) the entire keystone 30 minutes.
Trump’s campaign did place a two-minute countdown clock in front of their candidate on Thursday. He repeatedly blew past that time limit anyway.
“I said forget debate prep. I mean, give me a break,” Trump said at one point. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days. Hillary Clinton is resting, okay?”
Yet even without the duress of an opponent, independent moderators and anything but softball questions from supporters, Trump struggled to drive any type of cohesive message, either about himself as a change agent or Clinton’s shortcomings.
Instead, he whacked at CNN’s John King, CNBC’s John Harwood, polling analyst Nate Silver and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. He digressed about how Hispanics in Nevada would rather be called Latinos. He kept complaining about his microphone at the last debate.
Seriously. That sounds like a child rehearsing for a mandatory school play.
My only regret is that Amazon doesn’t deliver freshly-popped popcorn by drone (Dear Amazon, I will sell you this idea). Trump’s performance was an absolute trainwreck in the first debate, and you’re telling me he learned nothing from that experience? Was he tired of winning news cycles?
I have no idea what he’s got in store for the people watching, or the people selected to ask the questions. What I do know is that it won’t be easy for him. There will be minority questioners asking about his past statements. There will be women who are offended by him. And he is not going to respond well. The real October Surprise here is if he somehow manages to win, which might only be possible at this point if Hillary coughs herself into cardiac arrest.