Ahead of this week's presidential debate, Donald Trump's campaign aides eagerly dished to reporters about the Republican candidate's difficulties. Over the weekend, for example, the New York Times reported
that the GOP nominee "has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers."I found
all of this very hard to believe. In fact, I largely assumed this was a shameless attempt at lowering expectations and that Trump had actually done extensive preparation.After watching the Republican amateur struggle for an hour and a half on Monday night, it looks like those pre-debate reports were accurate after all.Of course, this week's event was one of three showdowns pitting Trump against Hillary Clinton, and his aides have time to make him a better and more effective debater. The Times added today
, however, that this is easier said than done.
Campaign advisers to Donald J. Trump, concerned that his focus and objectives had dissolved during the first presidential debate on Monday, plan to more rigorously prepare him for his next face-off with Hillary Clinton by drilling the Republican nominee on crucial answers, facts and counterattacks, and by coaching him on ways to whack Mrs. Clinton on issues even if he is not asked about them.Whether he is open to practicing meticulously is a major concern, however, according to some of these advisers and others close to Mr. Trump.
The Times reportedly spoke to seven campaign aides and advisers who "expressed frustration and discouragement" over Trump's performance Monday night, pointing to, among other things, "the lack of time spent on preparing a game plan."The article, however, also added this gem: "Almost all of his advisers rejected the idea that the debate was a failure for Mr. Trump, noting that he landed some punches and insisting that Mrs. Clinton looked more polished than she was because of her opposition."That's a very odd sentence. It's like saying, "The Miami Dolphins looked like a good team while playing the Cleveland Browns, because the Browns are pretty awful -- said the management of the Cleveland Browns."And what about Roger Ailes' role in getting Trump ready? The Times' piece went on to report:
There were early efforts to run a more standard form of general election debate-prep camp, led by Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News chief, at Mr. Trump's golf course in Bedminster, N.J. But Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings, according to multiple people briefed on the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. That left Mr. Ailes, who at the time was deeply distracted by his removal from Fox and the news media reports surrounding it, discussing his own problems as well as recounting political war stories, according to two people present for the sessions.
First, Trump "found it hard to focus"? That's not exactly a positive trait in a candidate for the presidency.Second, Ailes was apparently "distracted" by a series of sexual-harassment allegations -- a variety of women at Fox News accused Ailes of breathtaking mistreatment -- which made it difficult for him to help Trump prepare for the first-ever presidential debate featuring a woman nominee. There is some irony to this.And finally, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins noted
on Monday that James Carville had a striking prediction: Roger Ailes would get the word out on Tuesday "that he didn't have much to do with Trump's debate prep." Carville may have been onto something.But even putting all of these details aside, what we're left with is a candidate whose own aides are clearly worried. They realize Trump needs to prepare far better for the second debate than he did for the first, but they're just not sure if (a) Trump wants to do his homework; and (b) he's even able to prepare properly for the event.That, in and of itself, says quite a bit about what Trump brings to the table as a candidate for the nation's highest office.Much of this will probably come down to Trump's own impressions of Monday's experience. If he believes he did well enough on Monday, and is confident he already knows how to perform better next time, the Republican will probably continue to blow off his aides' suggestions. If he quietly accepts that he was a dreadful mess on Monday, perhaps he'll grudgingly roll up his sleeves and make an effort to improve -- the way President Obama did four years ago after a listless first debate appearance.Republicans really have to hope for the latter, but they shouldn't get their hopes up.