Getting Ready For Tomorrow’s Republican Debate

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Getting Ready For Tomorrow’s Republican Debate on Wednesday, August 5, 2015.

The heated anticipation for tomorrow night’s debate among the 10 leading contestants of the 17 vying to be the Republican presidential candidate, has become superheated by Donald Trump’s surprisingly rapid rise to the top. No matter what the man says—or for that matter, what anyone else says about him—you’ll find the words replicated ad nauseam all over the media. You cannot click on a website, open a publication, or surf a television channel without encountering a story about The Donald. The satirical magazine, The Onion, summed up the phenomenon in an article titled, “Admit It: You People Want To See How Far This Goes, Don’t You?

Undoubtedly, many millions of “you people” (and I) will be turning to Fox News at 9 p.m. EST tomorrow to see just how far it does go.

Any televised political debate resonates backs to the first ever such match in 1960 when underdog John F. Kennedy outshone Richard M. Nixon at the podium and rode the momentum on to victory in the election. Politicians, media experts, and academicians have pored over the dynamics of that event, analyzing every detail from JFK’s patrician composure to RMN’s furtive eyes and five o’clock shadow. According to the Newseum website, the visual imagery made the difference: “Anecdotal reports said TV viewers thought tall, tan and poised Kennedy won by a landslide, while on radio, the debate was either a draw or was won by Nixon.”

But of equal importance to their appearance was what Messrs. Nixon and Kennedy said and how well prepared they were to say it. Alan Schroeder, a professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, described how each candidate prepared in his excellent book, Presidential Debates:

Although both Republicans and Democrats in 1960 compiled massive briefing books—JFK’s people called theirs the “Nixopedia”—only Kennedy bothered to practice for the debate with his advisors…[his] predebate preps consisted of informal drills with aides reading questions off index cards.

According to Nixon campaign manager Bob Finch, “We kept pushing for [Nixon] to have some give-and-take with either somebody from the staff…anything. He hadn’t done anything except to tell me he knew how to debate. He totally refused to prepare.”

Mr. Trump decided to emulate Mr. Nixon. This past weekend, he flew off to Trump Turnberry, a golf course he owns in Scotland, to attend the Women’s British Open. During a press conference there, he told the media, “As far as preparing for the debate, I am who I am. I’ve never debated beforeI’m not a debater, I get things done. I don’t talk about it, I get it done. I’ll show up, I look forward to it, and that’s all I can do.”

His opponents are emulating Mr. Kennedy. According to a report in the New York Times, the other candidates are engaged in “intensive preparations.”

Given Mr. Trump’s success with his shoot-from-the hip style, will the Kennedy role model or the Nixon role model prevail?

20th Century philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

You can find more on how to prepare for any appearance in my book, In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Getting Ready For Tomorrow’s Republican Debate on Wednesday, August 5, 2015.