5 Debate Tips Donald Trump Should Have Listened To Before He Took The Stage At The First GOP Debate
Prior to last week's Republican debate, there was plenty of speculation on how much — or how little — GOP frontrunner Donald Trump might have prepared for the heavily watched showdown. Lauded by some corners of the Republican Party for his blunt, no-holds-barred approach to the political limelight, Trump made it clear early on that he wasn't interested in providing practiced responses in his first head-to-head contest against more experienced politicians. But on Monday, a leaked debate memo showed Trump received extensive advice from campaign advisers heading into the evening. According to multiple news sources, the 13-page memo went into detail on policy positions that Trump's political and policy team had hoped to inject into the candidate's platform. Still, there were at least five debate tips Trump should have had on his cheat sheet on how to take jabs at his competitors.
According to The Washington Post, longtime Trump adviser and legendary political operative Roger Stone delivered the lengthy debate plan to help the Republican candidate focus on policy topics that differentiated him from the rest of the field. The Post reported the memo even included the perfect sound bite to capitalize on Trump's strengths: "I'm running because when I look at this field — all perfectly nice people — I know that none of them could ever run one of my companies. They are not entrepreneurs."
Instead, Trump decided to wing it — in front of 24 million cable viewers. Here's the reason Trump gave the Post for his decision to ignore Stone's advice:
I don't follow any memo, actually, because no memo can prepare you for what goes on in these campaigns or at these debates. I've got to be me. That's why I am where I am, leading the polls. It's not because of memos. The whole thing — the debate, asking me to raise my hand about running as an independent, everything — it was wild.
There's some disagreement on how Stone left the Trump camp following the debate; according to CNN, the campaign says he was fired, but Stone maintains he resigned.
In an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow, Stone said a major driver behind his decision to leave the Trump team was his tendency to ignore policy messages in favor of more inflammatory and off-putting public attacks.
According to CNN, among the debate advice given to Trump in the private memo were tips to go after Wall Street, push his position on illegal immigration, and leave open the option to run as an Independent (which Trump infamously did). The campaign team could have simply scribbled those headlines onto a napkin and passed it to Trump before the debate, so I'm betting the real memo went into a lot more detail.
It's also a missed opportunity for Trump's political advisers to include some fun tips for the outspoken Republican. Here's what I would have stuck in there. But it probably would have been for nothing anyways since I'm sure it was pretty apparent to Stone and the rest of the Trump team within the first five minutes of Thursday night's debate their candidate hadn't read a single word.
1. Try Not To Insult Anyone Who Isn’t Running For President
Given what Stone had to say about the "counterproductive" nature of Trump's attacks on those outside the presidential race, this one was probably high on the list. It's fair to challenge the positions and politics of people who, like Trump, are campaigning for president. But if Stone didn't warn his candidate about the dangers of insulting people beloved by conservatives, like Megyn Kelly, he probably should've.
2. Memes Are Real, So Watch Your Facial Expressions
As a Twitter aficionado, Trump likely understands how quickly images and clips can go viral. Still, his advisers probably wanted to remind him that the camera is always on, so paying attention to body language is crucial. Then again, if they had, the world would have missed these fantastic Donald Trump debate memes.
3. Show Some Policy Knowledge, But Don’t Fence Yourself In
Trump is starting to see criticism for lack of detail in his policy position. In a campaign against Republican candidates who have had entire careers to eke out defensible policy agendas, Trump appears to be a lightweight without a solid policy platform. A seasoned vet like Stone would have warned Trump that should he make it to through the primaries (dear God, no!), his inability to articulate clear plans to support his economic, immigration, and foreign policy positions would put him at a distinct disadvantage against heavyweights like HRC.
4. You’re In The Lead; The Price Of That Is A Target On Your Back
Trump complained quite loudly after the Republican debate that the questions posed to him by Fox News were unfair. After the debate ended, Trump told reporters that "The questions to me were not nice [...] I didn't think they were appropriate." But one of the goals of a debate during presidential primary season is to shake up the poll trends. That means the hosts — and the other candidates — normally look for chinks in the front-runner's armor. Perhaps buried somewhere in Stone's memo is a reminder that U.S. presidents don't have the luxury of a thin skin.
5. Remember Who The Real Enemy Is (H/T Haymitch Abernathy From The Hunger Games)
OK, so that reference might have only made its way into Trump's briefing if his advisers are die-hard Hunger Games fans, but hear me out. The real question during the primaries is "which candidate can carry the party and recruit enough votes to win the general election?" Not 10 minutes into the first Republican debate, Trump said he wouldn't support the party's nominee if he didn't win the primary. That would be a nightmare for the Republicans since it would divide GOP voters and almost certainly hand the general election to the Democratic candidate. So, in huge letters at the top of any memo Stone passed to Trump should have been a reminder that ultimately, he needs to be able to beat the other party in order to get to the White House.
Certainly, a seasoned politician would know all of this without any prompting. The trouble is that part of Trump's appeal is that he's spent a career outside of the horrors of politics. Still, that's why someone in his position would hire a crack team of advisers and strategists: to navigate the nuances of a presidential campaign. But those people can only help if the candidate takes the time to listen.