The first debate match up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promises to be epic. Not only because Trump will say just about anything but because of age or illness Hillary Clinton is just not a quick thinker. So they are supremely mismatched and the venue is quintessential Trump, that is, it is reality television. It is a cross between “The Bachelor” and “Survivor” with a bit of “Americ’s Got Talent” tossed in. So what is Clinton to do?
Democrats have some advice for Hillary Clinton at her first presidential debate: Let Trump be Trump.
Donald Trump’s more tightly scripted campaign of late could backfire on him when he squares off against Clinton on Monday in Hempstead, New York, Democrats believe. He won’t be able to rely on the teleprompter he’s been using of late, they say, and Trump’s only recent extended interview with The Washington Post showed that, left to his own devices, he’s apt to stumble back into controversy on issues like Barack Obama’s birthplace.
“He’s going to say some cockamamie stuff,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “Give him the rope.”
Indeed, the best strategy for Clinton, lawmakers advised, is to let Trump do most of the talking.
“Inevitably, he’s going to say enough dumb things to dominate the headlines,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “He’s gonna make mistakes; the question is, how big are the mistakes? And I’m certain there are things she can do that would cause his mistakes to be bigger.”
Clinton will have to parry when Trump comes directly at her, but a more restrained rope-a-dope strategy is preferable to an aggressive posture right out of the gate, Democratic senators said. Trump showed in the Republican debates that he’s best as a counter-puncher, leveling spontaneous one-liners at his attackers that left them reeling.
Essentially, the strategy has two parts. The first, and the most critical part is “HOPE.” Hope he says something disqualifying. (I’m laughing as I write this and am trying to imagine what Trump could possibly say that would stop his campaign.) The second part of the strategy is to “work the refs.” We can bet that Trump will say nothing more outrageous than he’s already said so immediately after the debate the Democrats will be twisting arms in the media to get them to agree to a storyline that will paint Hillary Clinton as the winner, no matter how dismal her performance. We’ve seen that in action with the softball questions and scripted attack lines the media has been feeding to Hillary Clinton now that she’s in danger of losing the race.
Will it work? It could but it is a passive strategy that relies entirely on the other side making such egregious errors that their voters flee from them. Right now Hillary Clinton is the one experiencing a slow bleed from her support. It is hard to see an attack that she can use on Trump that he can’t turn back against her. She can’t credibly attack his honesty. If she points to his inexperience, all he has to do is point to her failures and say he can’t do worse. As we’ve seen over the course of the season, trying to pin Trump down on an issue is as productive as trying to nail Jell-o to the wall.
This may be her best bet but it is a damned thin reed upon which to hang her hopes.