Debate Preparation: Round One

Barb Wire

By Newt Gingrich

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.

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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.

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The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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