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Debate prep: Clinton studies up, Trump doesn't want to be too scripted

By Eric DuVall
Debate prep: Clinton studies up, Trump doesn't want to be too scripted
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton preparing in vastly different ways for their first presidential debate, which is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University. UPI file

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- With the political event of the year approaching in less than a month, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are preparing for their first general election debate in ways that have come to define their candidacies.

Aiming to be prepared for any possibility, Clinton is enlisting trusted advisers and longtime party luminaries, poring over policy briefing books and studying tapes of Trump's previous debate performances.

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Trump has hosted free-wheeling sessions of debate prep with a close circle of family, media personalities and campaign staff, testing out zingers and talking in broad strokes about how to approach the debate over a meal of cheeseburgers and Coca-Cola at his golf course in New Jersey the past two Sundays.

Clinton has built ample time dedicated to debate preparation into her campaign schedule. Aides said she will participate in several mock debates during which a campaign ally will stand in as Trump, trying to mimic the gruff, off-the-cuff demeanor he used to great effect in the Republican primary.

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Trump has thus far declined to engage in any formal prep sessions, though at Sunday's meeting in New Jersey, the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham was prepared to stand in as Clinton before Trump said no, The New York Times reported.

Others in attendance at his debate sessions have included Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner; former Fox News executive Roger Ailes; campaign CEO Steve Bannon; campaign manager Kellyanne Conway; and campaign communications director Jason Miller. Two other frequent Trump advisers, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have also weighed in on Trump's approach, The Washington Post reported.

Trump himself has said he does not want to spend too much time prepping for the crucial first presidential debate for fear he will come off as too stiff and rehearsed.

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"I believe you can prep too much for those things," Trump said last week. "It can be dangerous. You can sound scripted or phony -- like you're trying to be someone you're not."

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Clinton, a candidate who has shown herself a diligent student when getting ready for high-profile showdowns, has taken the opposite approach.

The Times reports her campaign has studied all 11 of the GOP primary debates in which Trump appeared, with an eye toward cataloging potential triggers that caused him to lash out in ways they believe will turn off moderate voters.

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Clinton's team is also treading in the potentially awkward waters of Clinton scandals past, including former President Bill Clinton's marital infidelities, seeking to prepare her for a vitriolic attack from Trump on areas of personal vulnerability.

Her advisers are also sensitive to avoiding a typical Clinton stereotype, that she sometimes comes off as too wooden or dispassionate. Instead, advisers are seeking to find the right balance in tone and rhetoric, aware than a 90-minute lecture on policy would do little to help soften her image with voters who view her as too calculating.

"Clinton has to be careful -- she could get everything right and still potentially lose the debates if she comes off as too condescending, too much of a know-it-all," said Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump's autobiography, The Art of the Deal.

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Schwartz, who spent 18 months working closely with Trump on the book in the 1980s, has since turned into a fierce critic and is advising Clinton's debate prep team on the most effective ways to needle Trump.

The first presidential debate is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University on Long Island. It is expected to focus on domestic policy, though the Commission on Presidential Debates has yet to name its moderator, who will write the questions.

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