Why was Donald Trump so frequently unfocused and rambling during the first general election debate? According to a new report from the New York Times’s Patrick Healey, Ashley Parker, and Maggie Haberman based on campaign sources, it’s basically because he wasn’t really into practicing.
The Times reports that Trump really, really didn’t like traditional debate prep — the format where you stand up at a podium and, you know, practice debating. So he instead focused “mostly on conversations and discussions with advisers.”
When the campaign did try to plan a more traditional debate prep, the reporters write, “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.”
On one level, this story is a pretty blatant attempt from Trump’s advisers to make sure that Trump, rather than them, gets the blame for a first debate that most now agree went poorly for him.
On another level, the article is a deliberate attempt from those advisers to get Trump’s attention and scare him into shaping up, since we all know how closely he reads his news clippings.
But the big picture here is that Trump has, once again, proven either unable or unwilling to put in the often tedious work that’s necessary both to running a competent campaign and to being a good president.
Indeed, the Times account squares with other reports of Trump’s lack of preparation published even before the debate, which Matt Yglesias wrote about here.
Trump knew full well that tens of millions of people would watch this debate. “There are those who will say it will be one of the highest-rated shows in television history, if not the highest,” he said back in August. He knew it was one of his best opportunities to make his case to the American people.
And yet he wasn’t willing to put in the work to prepare for it in a serious way, even though it was such an important moment for his campaign.
Luckily for Trump, he still has two more opportunities to turn this around. But we’ve already gotten a pretty strong sense of what kind of president he’d be, even on the most important matters to rise to his attention — a lazy, unfocused one.