Who cares about debate prep? The press, sadly, seems to depict debate prep as about pretty much nothing but preparing one-liners, put-downs, and elegant evasions. And yet debate preparation for a president or a presidential candidate has an important substantive and systemic function, as it requires the principal to listen to and to read briefings on a range of important and difficult policy matters, to try formulating sensible and persuasive responses, and to hear those responses criticized by smart aides -- forcing the candidate or president to try again--and to think again. In a fine book called the Fourth Branch of Government, Douglass Cater wrote, many years ago, that a presidential press conference has the beneficial effect not only of providing an occasion for presidential communication, but also as requiring the president and crucially the presidential staff to see to it that they had a grasp of everything that was happening in the administration, so as not to be surprised. Without such occasions, the temptation of subordinates to hide bad news from the principal is strong. Debate preparation matters -- as a function of self government.
If Donald Trump does not bother to prepare for the current round of presidential debates but instead treats them as an occasion for extemporaneous mud-slinging and lies, what does that predict about how a Trump presidency might unfold?
Monday, September 26, 2016
Headlines: the face-off, the battle . . . Granted these are not actually "debates" as we academics would describe them, and of course they are dramatic mysteries as well as a rehearsal of presidential speech, but Donald Trump is already programmed to win the sort of encounter that our press describes in its metaphors of conflict. If we sell ourselves on the idea of the debates as mud wrestling, we have decided it before it has begun.