Arms flailing, face distorted, Trump fell apart in the first debate with Clinton. He could not counter Miss-3-by-5-Card’s charges of stiffing workers, dodging taxes, mocking women and the rest.
If Trump’s people called me for help—and offer me enough money—the following debate strategy could save his butt.
Dear Trump team: Here’s how to avoid rambling defensiveness: Work from a basic, all-purpose framing of Trump’s life.
Trump’s all-purpose narrative frame:
I’m a successful businessman—an outsider to politics—which is what our country desperately needs.
[As a businessman] I believe our leaders have ignored why they were elected—to keep America safe and strong—to make America great – not for pie-in-the-sky global purposes. All our policies—immigration, trade, taxes, education—should be for our people—and especially our people who are harmed by closed factories and failed inner-city policies.
Charge: What about releasing your taxes?
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m a private person. I don’t broadcast my affairs. As a public official you sold access for money, took hundreds of thousands from Wall Street, compromised national security and then lied about what was on your server… Let’s talk about that, not my taxes.
Charge: You declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m an outsider, an entrepreneur playing by the rules… not an elected official. Your party has run Detroit and Chicago for decades—how about stiffing all the poor people who have rotten schools, raging violence and no hope? They trusted your party and you stiffed them.
Charge: As I said, you declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I hire thousands of people, build hotels and create jobs. I fly around in a jet built by skilled engineers. I hire pilots and mechanics. These workers benefit from my enterprises.
Charge: You were given millions by your father—my father worked, and I started with nothing.
Counter: [As a businessman] I was given a million and built it into an empire… You’ve spent 30 years in government and are now worth hundreds of millions – how did that happen?
Charge: You don’t give to charities.
Counter: [As a businessman] I believe in giving people good jobs so they don’t need charity. Anyway, your Clinton Foundation is less a charity and more a money-laundering scheme.
Charge: You call women demeaning, abusive names.
Counter: [As a businessman] I don't live under a cloud of censorship, though I’m not proud of those words. My top advisers are women, and I’ve always treated women fairly. I hope I was respectful to you when you came to my wedding.
Using this simple, credible frame, Trump—who stumbled like a drunk—could have prevailed as a debater.
My fee for this advice is one million dollars—mere peanuts for a better shot at becoming the most powerful man in America. Of course, if Trump pays me, follows my advice and becomes President, I’d probably use the money to move my family to Peru.