Donald Trump got off to a relatively strong start during Monday’s presidential debate, but quickly unraveled from there. During much of the contest, the GOP nominee failed to parry attacks (from Hillary Clinton) or answer questions (from Lester Holt) that you didn’t need to be a high-priced political consultant to know were coming. And why, exactly, did Trump seem so unprepared on stage? Apparently, because he was. The New York Times has the details of a debate crash course that never came close to reaching full speed:
Mr. Trump’s debate preparation was unconventional. … 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.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and a friend of Mr. Trump’s who has been traveling with him extensively, took over much of the preparation efforts by the end. But with Mr. Trump receiving so much conflicting advice in those sessions, he absorbed little of it.
Those members of Team Trump who spoke anonymously to the Times made a handful of other excuses as well, including the candidate’s packed schedule and the large number of what the paper diplomatically called “voluble people on his prep team.”
If Trump wants to avoid a repeat performance next month, it stands to reason he’ll need to make some changes to the process and show up at the next debate more prepared. Remarkably but unsurprisingly, however, those same staffers and advisers who are blaming Trump’s lack of practice for his poor performance don’t seem all that positive their man is willing to change—or even if he believes he needs to change. “Before his advisers can shape Mr. Trump’s performance for the next debate,” the Times reports, “they need to convince him that he can do better than he did in the first one.”
Before Monday, that would have read to me as one more example of the Trump camp intentionally lowering expectations for their man. Today, though, I’m willing to believe they may be telling the truth.