The election analysis provided by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., does not constitute and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any candidate or political party.
As the presidential campaign enters its final two months, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are turning their attention to what may be their most significant opportunity to sway voters: the three presidential debates.
The fall debates are crucial because they attract as many as 100 million viewers, many of whom ignored election news over the spring and summer and will be focusing on the campaign for the first time.
When they do tune in, they will likely be getting more than just different points of view. Two completely different debate styles will also be on display. Expect Clinton to employ scripted, carefully rehearsed talking points, while Trump is likely to use his trademark free-wheeling, say-anything approach.
Given these contrasts, you might expect the candidates to be taking very different approaches as they get ready to face off. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the preparations that are taking place in the run up to the first debate.
The debates are managed by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which has overseen every presidential debate since 1988. The panel is co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., who served as chair of the Republican National Committee in the 1980s, and Michael McCurry, a press secretary during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The 14-member board of directors includes former politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as journalists and leaders from other areas, such as the president of Notre Dame University.
The commission has already set the locations and dates for the debates, and will oversee the format, rules and moderators. This fall’s schedule includes three debates, all scheduled for 90 minutes with no commercial breaks:
- Sept. 26, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The first debate will focus on domestic policy and will be moderated by NBC News chief anchor Lester Holt.
- Oct. 9, at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. The second debate will be in a town hall format, with the questions split equally between the moderator and questioners from a live audience. ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate.
- Oct. 19, at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The final debate is expected to focus on foreign policy. Chris Wallace from Fox News is the moderator.
In addition, the vice presidential candidates, Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., will debate on Oct. 4, at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., with CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano moderating.
Clinton has reportedly hunkered down multiple times with aides for debate-prep sessions heavy on policy discussions. She is most comfortable in a policy-oriented debate.
But her aides are aware that Trump will want to make the debate personal, so Clinton’s team is preparing her to rebut what they expect to be a relentless series of attacks on her honesty and trustworthiness. Issues such as the e-mail scandal, Clinton’s role in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the activities of the Clinton Foundation are areas where Trump will probably try to put Clinton on the defensive.
Clinton is also expected to go on offense in the upcoming debates. Her campaign team has reportedly been scrutinizing Trump’s performance in 11 Republican primary debates to find the issues on which he is most uncomfortable. Clinton aides say she will do her best to needle and provoke Trump into losing his temper or making a mistake, which she hopes will make viewers question his readiness for the presidency.
Observers in Washington have been speculating recently about who will play the role of Donald Trump in Clinton’s mock-debate prep sessions. Reportedly, the Clinton campaign had not settled on anyone as of early September—perhaps an indication of just how unique a candidate Trump is.
The Clinton campaign is reportedly considering several candidates for the role, including Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., a former writer and performer with “Saturday Night Live;” Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., a voluble politician from Queens; and James Carville, the long-time Democratic strategist who was a key aide to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Some Clinton advisers are pushing for an outsider, such as Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, to play the Trump role.
No matter whom they choose, that person will have a challenge in replicating Trump’s debate style.
By most accounts, Donald Trump’s preparations have been less policy-focused. Rather than recite scripted talking points, the candidate and his team believe that voters want to see his outsider personality and quick thinking in debates.
Trump recently said he believes one “can prep too much” for the debates. “It can be dangerous,” he said. “You can sound scripted or phony—like you’re trying to be someone you’re not.”
Trump believes his long experience as a television personality makes him particularly well-suited to cutting through the rhetorical styles of more traditional politicians and speaking instead as an outsider ready to take on Washington’s gridlock. According to reports, Trump has spent his prep time trying to anticipate debate topics and discussing how he can keep attention focused on Clinton’s past.
Trump has said he isn’t holding mock debates. He didn’t practice for the primary season debates and doesn’t intend to start now. He’ll rely on his instincts and his confidence in being in front of a camera.
But Trump isn’t ignoring the policy side either. Retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn is providing guidance on security and military issues, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have also been providing advice.
One point advisors are likely making to Trump is that the head-to-head debates this fall will require much more talking than Trump had to do in most of the Republican primary debates, many of which featured a large number of candidates jostling for the opportunity to speak.
So, with less than three weeks to go, the preparations are well underway. Given the candidates’ sharply contrasting styles, both have their work cut out for them.
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