The Corner

‘How Trump Could Win the Debate’

I write in Politico today about the potentially epic debate on Monday night:
Trump just needs to seem plausible and the very fact that he is on a presidential debate stage, the most rarified forum in American politics, will benefit him. During the Republican primary debates, the intangibles worked in his favor and they presumably will on Monday, too. Trump is a big personality with a dominant physical presence. His critics often sneeringly say he is a reality TV star, but you don’t become one without charisma and a performative ability that are major political assets.
The fact is that Trump will have to stumble badly — and probably sabotage himself — to live down to Hillary’s critique of him. She has made her campaign almost entirely about how Trump is a monstrous madman. This was an understandable calculation — she wanted to disqualify him out of the box and differentiate and isolate him from other Republicans. The cost is that she has done more than anyone to lower the standard for Trump. It’s not as though he needs to mount a convincing, detailed defense of his tax or child care plan or anything else to invalidate Clinton’s critique of him; he just needs to seem a reasonable person.
That is why Trump doesn’t need to be the aggressor. As long as he’s firm and calm, he is implicitly rebutting the case against him on temperament. And then he can look for a big moment or two that will be memorable and drive the post-debate conversation in the media that is arguably as important as the debate itself.