This Sunday’s matchups won’t just include NFL teams battling for the top seed with hopes of reaching the Super Bowl. The evening will include the second presidential debate that has friends-turned-rivals battling for the trust of the country and the Oval Office.
Most political pundits gave a slight edge to Trump for the first 30 minutes of the first debate, but say that Hillary’s debate experience, poise, and preparation helped her win the remaining hour.
If Trump wants to win the rematch, he has to realize that his often-controversial track record in business and temperament will be on trial again in the court of public opinion, especially among voters that are independent and undecided. They will decide the election.
So how can he do it?
Fortunately for Trump, who does best in less structured formats where he can feed off the audience’s response to him, this debate will have a so-called town hall format. In stark contrast to the formality of the first debate, with its grand stage looking out to the audience, podiums, and steering by a single moderator, the set will include chairs, two microphones, and a moderator encircled by a crowd of representative voters who will ask the questions. Candidates can move around in whatever way makes them comfortable as they make points about the economy, education, jobs, and other issues and tackle questions likely about controversial actions and statements made in their respective business, personal, and political lives.
The candidates can expect an attentive and politically diverse crowd to include those that are politically agnostic and even a little antagonistic about a political class that has failed to produce sustainable results for the middle class and those striving to overcome poverty. This could also be an advantage for Trump who is the quintessential outsider not beholden to the establishment, and perhaps even as hostile to it as many voters. He has to focus on that salient point heading into the second debate and be mindful of the following key points and political caveats:
- Trump should do what he does best, which is manage real estate and he can start with himself. He cannot afford to let Hillary squat, lease, rent or buy space in his head. Be cognizant that his temperament is on trial and avoid emotional responses to questions. Hillary will mention topics that will push Trump’s buttons to get him off message;
- Trump must focus on getting ‘better, not bitter.’ Stay on message and go on the offensive while avoid appearing too defensive. Observing the performance of governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s performance and how he skillfully pivoted during his debate would serve Trump well;
- Given the town hall format of the debate, Trump must stay in his lane and not invade Hillary’s physical space. Viewers may deem going out of bounds as overly aggressive and disrespectful, which will reinforce the perception of public opinion that Trump is a misogynist;
- Realize that debates are not rallies and refrain from speaking to the choir. Trump’s target market is not those participating in the town hall but the millions of undecided, independent, and women voters that will be watching at home. Moreover, it may be his last chance to make a pitch to black and Hispanic voters that are undecided; and
- He must have legitimate answers for the following residual points that Hillary will carpet-bomb him with: a) birther movement; b) Deportation of illegal immigrants to include families that have resided in America for years; c) A long list of Trump’s actions and comments that are deemed racist in some circles of public opinion; d) An alternative to the “Stop, Question, and Frisk” program. Staying with this policy with ossify his outreach to the black community but promoting the benefits of community policing coupled with training and body cameras will be good complements to his promise to be the ‘law and order’ candidate; and e) Allegations of tax avoidance, almost a billion dollars in business losses and improprieties of the Trump Foundation.
With Trump sliding a little bit in the polls, he cannot afford to go off the rails and risk losing the second opportunity to lure support from Independent, undecided, and Republican voters that may be contemplating voting for Hillary.
About the Author: John Burnett has over 20 years of leadership experience at some of the world’s top banks and business information companies. John is an adjunct professor at Hampton University and Metropolitan College of New York. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in Leadership and Management Studies from New York University and an M.B.A. from The Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. John is an Urban Financial Freedom Fighter and a strategic adviser to New York Republican State Committee.