Donald Trump is already complaining about the three debates he’s scheduled to have with Hillary Clinton this fall. (The first is scheduled for Sept. 26.) Assuming that they do occur in some fashion, though, Clinton faces at least one big preparation challenge: who to employ as Trump’s stand-in during mock-debate practice sessions. Previous presidential candidates could simply call on comparable politicians in their own party to imitate rivals—Mitt Romney had easygoing, knowledgeable Ohio Sen. Rob Portman play the famously “professorial” Obama, while Obama had patrician Massachusettsan John Kerry play Romney. But Trump isn’t really a politician, and he doesn’t debate like most politicians debate. During the primary, his style consistently threw other GOP candidates, especially Jeb Bush, off their game.
Before Trump, the most unpredictable recent member of a presidential ticket was Sarah Palin, who was portrayed by then-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm during Joe Biden’s 2008 practice sessions. Granholm spoke this week to Slate’s Seth Stevenson about that experience; below are some suggestions of our own about who might best take on the role of the wild-card Republican nominee in the current election cycle, with the most ideal candidate listed last.
Chuck Schumer. New York’s senior senator, is, like many of the people on this list, a career politician, so he might be handicapped by the kind of internalized political norms that Trump disregards. But Schumer has also been in the same New York power orbit as Trump for decades, has the accent, and is a known ham.
Al Franken. Anyone who worked as a satirist in the ‘80s and ‘90s is no doubt familiar with Trump’s demeanor and tics. Franken has also been a Clinton ally since the ‘90s and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him work with Hillary in this role. One potential problem: She might not want a stand-in whose satirical timing is too good, since the whole point of the exercise is to take your upcoming opponent seriously.
Rahm Emanuel. Has the brashness part down as well as the affinity for mercenary, nonideological centrism, albeit of a kind that’s much less populist than Trump’s. Also probably wouldn’t mind the opportunity to “pretend” to attack a fellow Democrat at this particular moment.
Barney Frank. The ex-Massachusetts congressman is famously blunt but also takes pride in his practical understanding of how politics works. He’d likely be able to do a credible take on Trump’s bizarro wit and spoke to Slate earlier this year about why the unorthodox GOP nominee appeals to voters.
Alan Grayson. The most literally Trump-like Democrat out there is probably Grayson, a Florida congressman who’s famous for getting mad at people and engaging in sketchy financial shenanigans. Grayson, who’s running for Senate, is on the outs with the Democratic establishment, which might have made him even more qualified for a debate-prep role as Trump. But Politico reported last week that Grayson’s ex-wife has accused him of abusing her on multiple occasions. (He denies the allegations.) There’s no way Clinton would actually bring him in right now.
Mark Cuban. Granholm suggested that Cuban—a billionaire investor and NBA franchise owner who stars on the ABC show Shark Tank—might be a good Trump stand-in. It’s a solid suggestion: In addition to being a money guy with a frank-talking public persona, Cuban has been relentlessly mocking Trump on Twitter in a way that indicates that he’s been following the campaign closely.
The Republicans of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton often demonstrates a stiffness during debates that suggests she might be a vulnerable, Jeb-like foil to Trump’s nonsense. On the other hand, perhaps her best moment of this election cycle was her October 2015 appearance in front of the most recent House Benghazi Committee, during which she spent hours calmly batting away hyperbolic GOP questions in a way that demonstrated obvious command of the issues at hand as well as what one might call a presidential temperament. “Barely suffering fools” is a good look for Clinton, and Trump will no doubt bring up Benghazi and other conspiracy gibberish at their debate, so if Trey Gowdy isn’t available, she might be well-served to watch some tape of her House appearance beforehand to get in a groove.
Anthony Weiner. Like Trump, ol’ A-Weens is a blustery outer-borough jabroni with a passion for womanizing and an enthusiasm for discussing his own genitals. He’s also married to top Clinton adviser Huma Abedin. Downside: There is no chance that Hillary Clinton enjoys being in a room with Anthony Weiner.
All the individuals above could do credible jobs pretending to be Trump. They’d all work fine. But here is Slate’s choice:
Al Pacino. Why settle for a mere Trump impression when you could have someone who could truly capture and inhabit the man—someone with the talent to submerge his own personality into the deep, bleak well of resentment that motivates Trump’s every outburst? And who better for that job than the actor who has played such legendarily resentful, world-historic grudge-holders as Frank Serpico, Phil Spector, real-life Trump mentor Roy Cohn, Tony “Scarface” Montana, and actual Satan?
Al Pacino would become Donald Trump.
HOO-ah, you’re fired, hoo-ah!