The Rushmore Report: Previewing the Big Debate – What Trump, Clinton Must Do to Win

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is set for Monday night, 9:00-10:30 pm, Eastern Time. It is expected to be viewed by a record 100 million Americans. The moderator will be Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News. The event promises to make news for weeks to come. The “winner” will move into the lead in the race for the White House. This is our preview of the Big Debate, with analysis of what each candidate must do to win.

How Donald Trump Wins the Debate

For Trump to be seen as the winner, he must accomplish five things.

1. Avoid the big mistake.

All debates are remembered for one line. Remember “There you go again” and “You are no Jack Kennedy”? Trump must avoid his propensity for making news with one bombastic comment or insult. Such a line will be played over and over by the media.

2. Focus on body language.

Trump must watch out for the occasional sneer. Because 93 percent of communication is non-verbal, he must remember he is being judged more by how he looks and his facial responses than by the words he says.

3. Be the agent of change.

Trump must tie Clinton to the past. America wants change; almost all agree the country is on the wrong path. Trump must think “macro,” not “micro.” Don’t get mired in the weeds. Focus on your status as an outsider. Say it over and over: “Clinton isn’t the right person to fix the problems she helped create.”

4. Repeat three issues again and again.

Remember, you are not there to answer the moderator’s questions, but to make your own points. Whatever the questions are, your answers must be a) Hillary wants to incrase the flow of refugees by 550 percent, b) Hillary has been proven to be blatantly dishonest (give examples – there are plenty to use), and c) Hillary has never created a single job, while you have created a zillion jobs.

5. Make a move for minority voters.

Remind the audience that you are the only candidate for school choice and who wants to outlaw sanctuary cities and partial birth abortions. All three issues resonate with minority voters.

How Hillary Clinton Wins the Debate

For Clinton to come off as the winner, she also must accomplish five objectives.

1. Let Trump be Trump.

You can’t win this debate; you must let Trump lose it. Needle him just enough to get under his skin. Let him implode. Make sure that any crazy lines found in the next day’s headlines came from him and not you.

2. Look presidential.

Nixon won the 1960 debate against John Kennedy according to those who heard it on radio. But those who saw it on television said Kennedy won. Here’s the point – looking the part matters more than what you say. Clinton must look presidential, in command, and steady.

3. Remind viewers of Trump’s most outlandish lines.

There are many from which to pick. Focus on his insulting remarks about women and minorities. And it’s okay to take his words out of context to make a point – this is politics, after all.

4. Repeat two words or phrases as often as possible.

Say “Trump University” and “bankruptcy” as much as you can. Remind the audience of the fiasco known as Trump University and repeat that some of Trump’s businesses have filed for bankruptcy. Again, it doesn’t matter than he has created thousands of jobs and been incredibly successful – the word “bankruptcy” makes him look weak.

5. When in trouble, give long answers.

You will be asked about your emails and your record as Secretary of State. The moderator and your opponent will point out serious discrepancies in your multiple versions of the deleted emails and they will ask you why ISIS was born on your watch. Give long answers. On these subjects, say as little as possible, with as many words as possible.


This will be the most watched political debate in American history. Such clashes rarely change the polls much. Most viewers tune in as they would watch a heavyweight boxing match – they are watching to root for their guy/gal. The election probably won’t be won in the debates, but it could be lost there. History is clear: Nixon lost the 1960 debate, Carter lost the 1980 debate, Gore lost the 2000 debates, and Romney lost the 2008 debates. It’s not about who wins, but who loses. In each of the aforementioned examples, the “winner” said nothing memorable. They let their opponent lose the debate. Debates are not won on points, but style.

There is an old adage in persuasion that says, “A man convinced against his will remains unconvinced still.” Trump and Clinton are not likely to convince many of their positions. Neither is likely to win the debate Monday night. But one of them can lose it – and in so doing, their presidential aspirations can go up in smoke – all in 90 unforgettable minutes.

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