There are many Americans who expect the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26 to be a wall of sound in which Donald Trump (a) tells numerous falsehoods and (b) frequently deviates from the question and responds with a non-answer, often laced with criticisms of Hillary Clinton. Clinton is not expected to lie, but if recent responses to questions are an indicator, she will likely choose to answer a tangent to the question rather than the direct question. She’ll also take her shots at Trump.
We all know what Trump can do to shock the audience. It’s in his DNA to say outrageous things which often are “pants on fire” untruths. Trump opponents, the media and the American people have essentially become inured to these. Regardless of their veracity, they are headline grabbers.
One solution to the problem that has been suggested is for moderator Lester Holt to interrupt the candidates when they fail to answer the question, fail to tell the truth or engage in a direct attack on their opponent. He could turn off their microphones whenever they commit one of these transactions. But the debate rules are not set up for this, so it’s not going to happen.
A strategy that Clinton could take that would bring order to her side of the debate would be for her to ask moderator Holt to do what the rules do not require. As soon as the first question is posed to her, she could say, “Mr. Holt, I want to answer the question and do justice to the American voters. If a am sidestepping the question, if I am not telling the truth, or if I personally attack Mr. Trump or you, please interrupt and tell me so. If I persist, turn off my microphone.”
Clinton could follow this strategy throughout the debate. The viewing audience would be stunned, and she would have their attention. The challenge for Clinton would be that she would have to directly answer the questions, but in many ways, the content of the direct answers would be overshadowed by the candor of her strategy.
Trump would be caught in a Catch-22. If he refused to ask Lester Holt to do the same for him, it would be more apparent than ever to the American people that he does not know policy and does not have the temperament to be president. If he chose to adapt Clinton’s strategy, he would fail because there is no record of him ever staying on message and not being an attack dog.
I’m not optimistic that Hillary Clinton will try this strategy, but it would be helpful if the idea made its way into her debate camp. She would look good, and more importantly, she would be good.