NYT: Trump aides frustrated by his debate performance, lack of "focus" in preparing

I think Rich Lowry’s right. The hard part isn’t helping Trump to prepare. The hard part is convincing him that he lost on Monday and needs to prepare. He won the Drudge online poll thingy by 63 points, right? If that’s not a recipe for more of the same next time, what is?

It must be exceptionally difficult for someone at the heart of a cult of personality to change course. They’re fabulously successful; they’re surrounded by crowds who adore them. The advisors who are pressuring them to do things differently lacked the insight to build their own national followings, so why should they be listened to? And yet, to Trump’s credit, he has changed course (somewhat) before. Mike Pence obviously wasn’t his personal preference for VP over Christie and Gingrich but he deferred to his staff and chose the guy who’d be better for party unity. Likewise, since his poll swoon in August, he’s managed to avoid any stupid, self-destructive fights like his dust-up with the Khans. Someone, whether Kellyanne Conway or Roger Ailes, got through to him. They’ve got 12 days to do it again.

Even as Mr. Trump’s advisers publicly backed him on Tuesday and praised his debate performance, they were privately awash in second-guessing about why he stopped attacking Mrs. Clinton on trade and character issues and instead grew erratic, impatient and subdued as the night went on. In interviews, seven campaign aides and advisers, most of whom sought anonymity to speak candidly, expressed frustration and discouragement over their candidate’s performance Monday night…

Mr. Trump’s debate preparation was unconventional. Aides have introduced a podium and encouraged him to participate in mock debates, but he has not embraced them, focusing mostly on conversations and discussions with advisers…

There were early efforts to run a more standard form of general election debate-prep camp, led by Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News chief, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J. But 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. That left Mr. Ailes, who at the time was deeply distracted by his removal from Fox and the news media reports surrounding it, discussing his own problems as well as recounting political war stories, according to two people present for the sessions…

The team had primed Mr. Trump to look for roughly a dozen key phrases and expressions Mrs. Clinton uses when she is uncertain or uncomfortable, but he did not seem to pay attention during the practice sessions, one aide said, and failed to home in on her vulnerabilities during the debate.

One of the maddening things about Trump, even to a critic, is that he’s not leaving it all on the field in his quest for the presidency. He could have sold off some of his assets last year and built a top-notch ground game; if the election is a toss-up in November, Clinton’s GOTV advantage might be the difference. He could have gone all out in preparing for the first debate knowing that if he hit a home run, he’d prove that he was qualified for the job, would probably soar in the polls, and could then seize on some pretext for skipping the final two debates in order to bank his big win. Evidently he didn’t. Imagine having to take an exam and knowing that the outcome would decide whether you get to be the most powerful person in the world. How hard would you study for that exam? How hard did Trump study? For cripes sake, the guy actually told an audience last night that he was “holding back” during the debate, an allusion to him passing on attacking Hillary over her role in silencing Bill’s mistresses. Why the hell would you hold back if you think that’s a useful argument? If, against all odds, Clinton bounces out to a big lead now, she may find a pretext of her own to cancel debates two and three.

One of the most interesting details about the Times story is the number of aides it cites as sources. When seven different advisors decide to talk to a paper that’s unfriendly to their candidate, it’s not because they’re trying to embarrass him. It’s because they’re trying to get through to him and they know that a splashy piece like this will come to his attention. This is Team Trump begging their guy to buckle down for the next debate. Which tells you pretty clearly who they think won the first one.

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