This fall’s presidential debate schedule made headlines, as it conflicts with two NFL games on national TV. Donald Trump, who believes this will hurt the debate ratings, had this to say: “You know, Hillary Clinton wants to be against the NFL. She doesn’t — maybe like she did with Bernie Sanders, where they were on Saturday nights when nobody’s home.”
The two dates in question are September 26 when the Atlanta Falcons play the New Orleans Saints and October 9 when the New York Giants play the Green Bay Packers. Trump’s concerns are straightforward. The NFL is a ratings juggernaut, and as he is the underdog these debates provide his campaign an important opportunity to reach undecided voters. Adding to the bad news for the Trump camp is that Major League Baseball has yet to announce its playoff schedule for this October. When it does it is likely MLB will also have some conflicts with the debate schedule. Baseball may not be the ratings king that the NFL is, but baseball playoff games do well regionally, which could diminish debate ratings even further in key, must-win states like Ohio and Florida if the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins make the playoffs.
The media, for its part, is happy to portray Trump as a stooge on the debate over the debates, eagerly pointing out that in 2012 the debate schedule also butted against a nationally televised NFL game and that the debate schedule was set a year ago, long before the NFL announced its schedule. Trump’s critics also made merry over his claims that he was contacted directly by the NFL, agreeing with him that the debate schedule was “ridiculous” when he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against — because the NFL doesn’t want to go against the debates. Because the debates are going to be pretty massive, from what I understand, OK?” After the NFL denied that it had contacted Mr. Trump on this matter, a Trump aid had to clarify that it was someone “close” to the NFL that contacted him.
Trying to change the debate schedule at this point seems to be an exercise in futility. What Donald Trump should really save his energy for are the actual debates themselves. If recent history is any indicator, Trump, as the Republican standard bearer and then some, will need to maneuver around the usual shoddy treatment and landmines Republicans always receive on debate night:
Perhaps the Donald could look to the NFL not as a roadblock to debate success but an inspiration by employing tried but true football strategies come debate night such as:
The best defense is a good offense. Each time the debate panel asks a gotcha question or gives up the pretense of neutrality, Trump should call them on it and fire back with both barrels. For Independents and Republicans, these are usually golden moments and are sure to be instantly tweeted, Instagramed, etc. to people who aren’t viewing the debate live.
Grind out the clock. Trump shouldn’t worry about debate etiquette. If his speaking time has expired and he has more to say, he should finish his point and not end abruptly. By doing this he’ll also be keeping his opponent’s offense on the sidelines.
Monday morning quarterbacking. The Debate will not be won by what was actually said during the debate but in how the public perceives it in the days following. Trump will need to hit the ground running immediately following the debate, reliving the highlights from his perspective. If not he will surely get bogged down with all the Monday morning quarterbacks who will point out what he should have said instead of what he did say.
With less than 100 days until the election, time is short and the debates will be on us in no time. If Trump has any hope at winning, I’d suggest he go into his hurry up offense.