I shared my presidential debate predictions and answered questions live on Facebook this afternoon. Watch here>>
With the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate coming up Monday night, a lot of people have asked me about debate preparation.
I have been watching presidential debates since the first series between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. I am certain the Clinton-Trump debates will be different than anything we have seen up to now.
Secretary Clinton will approach the debate with an enormous amount of studious preparation. She is by nature a policy wonk and she will know massively more details than Trump. That may be an advantage or a disadvantage.
Trump is like an athlete who is a big game performer but not especially impressive in practice sessions. When it is real, extra adrenaline seems to kick in and he moves to a different speed and capability.
It is a disadvantage for Trump to be overly studious. His strengths are three unusual traits.
First, he listens to the moderator, the opponent, and the audience with a remarkable inner ear which allows him to orient himself to the best position. He may or may not answer their attack. He will focus on communicating with the audience on his terms about the messages he thinks will work to his advantage. It makes it very hard for him to be pinned down in a traditional sense.
Second, he intuits the other person's point of vulnerability. Throughout the various Republican primary debates he could size up a competitor and figure out a definition which would resonate with the audience and shrink or cripple his opponent. "Low-energy Jeb", "Little Rubio" etc. were doubly devastating. They rang true to the audience and they got inside the head of the other candidate.
Third, and this may sound a little complicated, Trump has an unusual capacity for creating a gestalt or bigger picture in which his words resonate and begin to create an entirely new dialogue. No one would have believed he could move the immigration debate as far as he has. No one would have believed he could take on the whole bipartisan elite establishment on the wisdom of our 15-year war in the Middle East and create a new debate. But he has. Now he is beginning to start a debate on saving lives by strengthening police with stop and frisk, etc.
The last point requires reinforcement. Like Reagan, Trump does not create issues. Trump articulates for the country issues which already exist among the American people but have been ignored or suppressed by the elites including the news media. Fox example, back in the 1970s, Reagan did not invent the Panama Canal issue, he simply highlighted it. (The entire foreign policy establishment was as aghast in 1976 at Reagan as it is today at Trump.) Trump did not invent concern about terrorism in the United States -- he clearly stated it and repeated it strongly.
These three unique characteristics make it very important for Trump to enter the debates relaxed and with a lot of energy. His job is to intuit the general patterns of the debate and then put them within a context that the American people will approve and support.
Because his advantage is speed, he cannot be overly coached or he will be slowed down trying to remember what his consultants told him.
Clinton has a totally different challenge.
She can never match Trump in speed or intuition.
She has to study everything like a policy wonk so she can sound authoritative and draw a contrast to Trump’s lack of political experience.
She will also have spent weeks working with her staff and consultants on techniques to get Trump off balance, to get under his skin, or to get him angry.
Trump's best response is to relax and laugh at her efforts which, if he refuses to fall for them, will look increasingly childish and desperate.
Secretary Clinton knows an immense amount and has an extraordinary background of public service. One of the problems for her this year is that many if not most Americans now regard experience in public service as a liability that disqualifies the candidate. Ask the GOP Governors and Senators who had far better government resumes than Trump but as a result were rejected by the people who wanted change, not management.
The other two challenges for Clinton will be that most of the facts she knows will be irrelevant to normal voters and the very depth of her knowledge renders her vulnerable to contradicting herself (note her multiple explanations for Benghazi, the emails, and the Clinton Foundation).
It should be a fascinating debate of two dramatically different personalities and skills sets. I look forward to watching it.
P.S. I hosted a Facebook Live this afternoon to share my debate predictions and answer questions.
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