The Guardian reports that Nigel Farage, the one-time leader of Britain’s xenophobic, pro-Brexit party UKIP, may coach Donald Trump before the next debate. As usual, there have been mixed signals from the Trump camp. The message from Trump himself is that he won handily and that implies that he does not need any debating advice. But others in the party and his camp are worried that he may repeat his widely panned performance and want to try and steer him away from another poor showing.
Farage is supposedly a good debater, not surprising in the parliamentary system where good debating skills play an important role.
Politics aside, Farage is considered a skilled orator and debater. In the days leading up to the June EU referendum vote, the then prime minister, David Cameron, refused to debate with him, agreeing only to appear on the same programme. And following a one-on-one televised clash with former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg on the issue of Europe, polls suggested viewers were swayed by Farage.
But I do not think that any debate preparation will help. Trump’ problem is not that he is slow-witted or inarticulate or doesn’t know how to go for the jugular with the well-timed quip, the skills that are popularly identified with good debaters. His problems are much deeper than that and the kind that cannot be rectified by a few preparation sessions. One is his Palinesque levels of deep ignorance and lack of interest about almost everything except for a few pet topics, and even there his knowledge of facts is highly selective and self-serving. Confirmation bias dominates and restricts his thinking to the extent that he ends up saying things that are too extreme or flatly untrue.
The other problem is his lack of impulse control. He can be easily distracted, like a dog that sees a squirrel and chases after it impervious to the danger even if it results in running into heavy traffic. When Trump is confronted with anything that threatens his image of himself as perfect in every way, he forgets everything else in a single-minded pursuit to destroy that threat. The fact that he did not learn from the Khizr Khan episode and repeated it with Alicia Machado shows how deep-rooted that flaw is.
His need to be seen as the dominant person in every sphere can be seen in one of his latest comments where he says of Clinton, “She’s nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be.” This is undoubtedly true. There is no doubt that he can win such a nastiness contest, if for no other reason than Clinton is too smart to be rattled by it and go off message and respond in kind. If he unleashes savage attacks on her, it will undoubtedly please his supporters who will respond rapturously, the more so the nastier and more personal he gets. But is it a winning strategy? Clinton will likely adopt the same strategy that she did with her email question if hit with any charges that she cannot rebut effectively. She will say a few words of excuse or apology and then move on to other things. She knows how to ignore squirrels.
I have no idea what squirrels the Clinton campaigning is planning to let loose on the next debate stage. But you can be sure that they have several ready and they will target his extremely fragile ego.