The purpose of presidential debates is to provide the voter with an opportunity to really get to know the candidates. Up to this point the individual campaign organizations work hard to paint the image of the candidate presented to the public. They control media access, they dictate the schedule, they choose venues, they select audiences, they write speeches, they choose clothes and lighting, they put out press releases and position papers, they run radio and TV ads and they seek to control the narrative. But when the candidate steps onto the debate stage he or she is on their own. The glare of the lights and the eye of the TV camera exposes the candidate without mercy and creates an indelible image. In a presidential debate words uttered become part of history. Being aware of this and being schooled in the impact of past debates, most candidates prepare with seriousness and intensity for their time before the debate cameras. It became clear during Donald Trump’s debate performance that he doesn’t subscribe to the lessons of debates past.
As the debate began with the candidates walking onto the stage there was great anticipation. There had been endless speculation by pundits and strategic leaks from the campaign organizations regarding individual candidate preparation and strategy. The moderator, Lester Holt, under those same lights and cameras, prepared with the same intensity as a candidate to insure a fair and unbiased debate. He was well aware of the challenges presented by Donald Trump’s style. The fact that the audience size was predicted to be about 100 million from around the world placed this debate in the realm of the Super Bowl. As the lights came up and the audience settled down there was no doubt that this was a very high stakes gamble for both candidates. The outcome could shift the direction of the campaign and the ultimate outcome of the election. With this much at stake how is it possible that Trump tanked so badly under the weight of his own arrogance and ego?
During the preceding weeks we all heard about the seriousness and discipline of Clinton’s debate preparation. We were also informed about the casualness of Trump’s debate preparation. Hillary took full advantage of her advisors and listened to their advice and criticism. Donald occasionally humored his advisors and practiced some Q & A over lunch, but most often kept his own counsel. He told the press that he was a very successful debater, after all he beat 16 opponents during the primaries. He, unsurprisingly, didn’t grasp the differences between the two kinds of debates. He didn’t understand that this wasn’t a Republican Party event with a friendly crowd and a format that required much less of him. It is therefore not shocking that Donald, as he had no doubt done many times throughout his life, refused to do his homework and planned to wing it. After all, the smartest guy in the room could surely beat this “girl”. This space doesn’t allow me to discuss the many psychological issues that Donald’s behavior and personality present. Suffice it to say that this is not an emotionally healthy man. All of this aside, what does it say to the American voter, and for that matter the world, that a candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America was not willing to do his homework for his most important job interview? Will he take this cavalier attitude with him to the White House as he deals with issues of war and peace that touch the lives of billions of people around the world?
Donald Trump shared a part of himself that we have seen many times before. He was arrogant, misinformed, boorish, misogynistic and rude. We all mistakenly believed that he would come to this game with a different self. But the fact is, there is no different self. What you see is what you get. Thanks for sharing Donald.