Since I know Donald Trump reads my column every week (I mean, wouldn’t you, if you were running for POTUS?), I thought I would share my thoughts on how best to defeat Hillary Clinton in Monday’s debate. The psychology might be the most important part of this debate.
As someone who has prepared candidates for debates, as well as consulted in crisis-management strategies, there are some things I want to share that I think will help not only defeat Mrs. Clinton soundly in the debates, but reverse her intention of making Mr. Trump look unfit and expose her mental unpreparedness for the presidency.
Clinton’s staff knows she can’t win the debate on policies that have failed the Obama administration, or on magnetism, so the campaign is taking a different tack. Mrs. Clinton has hired a team of psychologists and other mind gurus to prep her for the debate Monday. Her goal is to ensnare Mr. Trump to play into her “he is temperamentally unfit for the job” narrative.
If Secretary Clinton tries to back Mr. Trump into a corner by tossing accusations at him to bully him, he is in a bit of a spot. As a man, if he battles back too strongly, our very sexist society will turn it on him and paint her as the victim.
I would have Mr. Trump open the debate with a statement that goes a little something like this: “Mrs. Clinton, so glad you are feeling better and that you are able to join me here today. My staff, many of my supporters and I have been praying for you.”
I believe this statement alone will throw her off her game before she ever gets off the ground. It does two things, psychologically:
- It upends her ability to attack him and try to paint him as a “temperamentally unfit” candidate.
- It puts her in the emotional position of responding to his compassion with something respectful, even gracious. If she fails to do so, she looks unfit right off the bat.
For the body of the debate, I would like to offer this unsolicited advice to Mr. Trump. I call it the “Three Ds” – defend, deflect and de-escalate.
1) Defend: When Hillary crows an accusation at Mr. Trump, correct her like this: “Secretary Clinton, I appreciate your strategy to paint me to your advantage, but I won’t allow this level of disrespect in a presidential debate.”
2) Deflect: When Hillary comes back and starts making more defensive accusations, Mr. Trump should say: “Secretary Clinton, you should be more respectful to the American voter than to play games in a presidential forum. I am respectfully asking that we give this honor the decorum it deserves as we each make our case to the American people, respectfully.”
3) De-escalate: When Hillary pushes harder, hurling more demeaning accusations to try and paint Mr. Trump as he is not, he should respond finally: “Mrs. Clinton, I came here to have a meaningful debate with you. If you are unable to control yourself, we should take a break and come back when you feel better and more capable of conducting yourself with the dignity befitting the honor of this presidential debate for the American voter.”
If Mr. Trump labels every accusation she makes of him as an indictment of the American people instead, she will be psychologically trapped in a triangle of whether she should cede accusations, or continue to look as though she is insulting the American people.
This will put her in a psychological panic, because she won’t be able to stick to the plan that her team of psychologists devised to try to trip Mr. Trump. She doesn’t do well off script.
Ever since debates were first televised – the 1960 debate between Kennedy and Nixon – data has proven that personal magnetism and the appearance of integrity from the stage matter most to viewers.
Since most will watch the debate on TV, and not merely listen on radio, Mr. Trump has yet another advantage. He can capitalize on that advantage (which he is adept at doing) by communicating more with the audience. A little grin at the audience, a wink or his classic “eye sparkle” will tell the audience that he is friendly, calm and on their side (not acting selfishly), and it’ll help him avoid any appearance of him patronizing or otherwise demeaning her. It will also put him squarely on Team America, and force her to choose between further attacks that will only make her look bad or changing her tactic entirely.
One other note: Mr. Trump will be asked about releasing his tax returns. He should agree to release his taxes on one condition. He could say: “Although I have been advised that it would be a bad idea to release my tax returns while I am under audit, I will release them on one condition: The books of the Clinton Foundation and speech transcripts that earned Bill, Hillary and Chelsea hundreds of millions from shady players and hostile foreign leaders must be completely disclosed.”
I sent a copy of this column today to Steve Bannon, with whom I worked when Andrew Breitbart was creating the revolution that Mr. Trump will bring to fruition in November. It has been an honor to be on the winning team for more than a year now.
My prediction is that Mr. Trump will have a Babe Ruth game Monday night, whether he gets my advice or not.
I will be doing post-election analysis with Neil Cavuto after the debates. I will grade both candidates in their delivery that night, and I will look at your grades if you tag me on Twitter: @realDrGina. I hope you will watch!