Will Trump Prepare or Dare?

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Will Trump Prepare Or Dare? on Friday, October 7, 2016.

There’s an old gag about the tourist who, newly arrived in Manhattan to attend a symphony concert, stops a man on the street and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

The New Yorker replies, “Practice, man, practice!”

Donald Trump did not follow this advice in anticipation of the first of three scheduled debates against Hillary Clinton. The New York Times reported that, at a debate-prep camp at his golf course in New Jersey, “Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings…he did not seem to pay attention during the practice sessions, one aide said.”

In the days immediately following the debate, the lion’s share of headlines called Clinton the winner; one week later, Nate Silver’s respected FiveThirtyEight site confirmed that her formerly slim lead in the public opinion polls was surging.

Just prior to the debate, I wrote a Forbes blog about how poor performances by Richard Nixon in the first ever televised presidential debate in 1960 and by Barack Obama in the first of three scheduled debates against Mitt Romney in 2012 had a negative impact on their public opinion polls.

You won’t be surprised to learn that a major factor was lack of preparation by each candidate.

In his book, Presidential Debates, Professor Alan Schroeder of Northeastern University wrote:

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.”

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama:

… complained Monday during a phone call with a campaign volunteer that his aides are “keeping me indoors all the time…making me do my homework.” However, a brown tarp blocking the view of the resort’s basketball court suggests Mr. Obama has been shooting some baskets between sessions.

Apparently, Trump shares the Nixon and Obama approach to practice. During his debate against Clinton, he looked at her and said, “I’ve been all over the place. You decided to stay home, and that’s OK. But I will tell you, I’ve been all over.”

But that left the door open for her to reply, “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.”

Even Trump’s own vice presidential candidate chimed in on the subject of preparedness. During Tuesday’s debate, Clinton running mate Tim Kaine charged: “[W]e don’t think that women should be punished, as Donald Trump said they should, for making the decision to have an abortion.”

Mike Pence objected: “No, it’s really not. Donald Trump and I would never support legislation that punished women who made the heartbreaking choice to end a pregnancy.”

Kaine asked: “Then why did Donald Trump say that?”

Pence countered: “We just never would.”

Kaine asked again: “Why did he say that?”

Pence capitulated: “Well, look, it’s—look, he’s not a polished politician like you and Hillary Clinton. And so…”

Which gave Kaine the opportunity to apply a coup: “Well, I would admit that’s not a polished…”

Despite all this, Donald Trump remains undaunted. AP News reported that he is “showing no sign of making big changes to his message or debate preparation before his second face-off with Hillary Clinton…Trump is not planning to participate in any mock debates.”

Will Donald Trump learn from the past and prepare, or does he dare not to?

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Will Trump Prepare Or Dare? on Friday, October 7, 2016.