Politics is like poker: You play with the cards you're dealt and against your opponents. And the presidential election is like a big poker tournament. We started with nearly two-dozen hopefuls and now we're down to two. In poker, we call this "heads up." I've won my fair share of big tournaments and heads up confrontations, including 14 World Series of Poker bracelets. So, how can Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton win going heads up for the first time on Monday night at the first presidential debate?
I'm expecting Trump to attack Clinton with his usual playground tactics: using simple, effective, and especially relatable insults, the kind that were used as we grew up on the playground. Trump took out Jeb Bush by calling him "low energy," Marco Rubio by calling him "little Marco," and Ted Cruz by calling him "lyen' Ted." As a neutral observer, I was surprised that Trump seared those images into my mind. Every time I heard Ted Cruz backtrack or lie, the image of "lying Ted" popped into my mind. I couldn't help it; Trump's tactics are that good.
Much like at the poker table, Trump finds your weakness, and then he exploits it. But he has gone well outside of any traditional or standard strategy. Trump has invented his own strategy, his own style of play. And surprisingly, it has been very effective. Throughout modern history, playground tactics have never worked in a Presidential Election. But Trump has been able to tap into something emotional in the American people. Many of us are fed up with a democracy that doesn't seem to work well (even though most of us would probably admit that we have one of the best systems in the world). Thus, an outsider like Trump can surf on the "system needs to be fixed" wave -- and Clinton is hurt by being an insider.
If I were Clinton, I would focus as much as possible on the issues. But she needs more. She needs to needs to find an active strategy to avoid getting called "crooked Hillary" over-and-over throughout the debate and having that stick (Trump's face-to-face labeling is his best move). Instead of trying to ignore the attack and rebuild later, she needs to shoot down the missile before it lands. One way is that Clinton could call out Trump on his use of playground tactics.
When it comes to debating issues, Clinton, a lifetime politician with forty years of experience, has a big edge. But when it comes to the playground, Trump has a big edge. How will Clinton handle Trumps onslaught? I truly believe that if she handles it well, then she will have the momentum going forward. If she doesn't, then I believe Trump will have it.
Welcome to the 2016 Presidential election, where policy and experience take a back seat to playground tactics. In any case, it's must-see TV.