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DeSantis Is Taking Wednesday's Debate Very Seriously

In contrast to Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis is taking the debate very seriously. He is so serious that he has hired the #1 Republican debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, to help him. O'Donnell is legendary. He was a big reason now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) trounced former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen in their debate and went on to be elected to the Senate. One insider said that O'Donnell is William Shakespeare and Vince Lombardi rolled into one.

DeSantis doesn't need any help with the material. He can memorize crime statistics, jobs created in Florida since 2019, and the number of migrants from California to Florida on his own. What he needs help—and a lot of it—with is how to impersonate a normal human being rather than acting like a larger, more wooden version of Pinocchio. Also, with Trump not showing up, DeSantis is going to be the target of many attacks and he has to learn how to fend them off without appearing to be a complete jerk. Training DeSantis to parry attacks and still seem like a nice guy will test all of O'Donnell's skills. DeSantis' plans have leaked out. In short it is attack Joe Biden and Vivek Ramaswamy, defend Trump, and say something positive once in a while.

But debates aren't about content or who knows the most. It is about likability and often about avoiding flubs (see next item). Remember Mitt Romney offering to bet someone $10,000 over something? Nobody remembers what the bet was about or who he challenged. All that anyone remembers is that he is an ultrarich guy for whom $10,000 is something he could find under the sofa cushions in 10 seconds. He has no idea of what life is like for ordinary people. Or do you remember which three cabinet positions are so useless they should be abolished? We don't, but neither did Rick Perry—just after he said he wanted to abolish them. This cemented his image as a dumb hick who was in way over his head. O'Donnell can tell DeSantis to pause for a few seconds to think before responding to incoming fire. Maybe O'Donnell can tell him that a way to stall for 3 or 4 seconds is to say: "Well, Martha, I'd like to say something in response to that." Then pause for 2 more seconds while thinking furiously. But DeSantis largely has to think of the response on the spot.

O'Donnell can also make up a couple of good zingers about Biden, Kamala Harris, and each of the other Republicans on stage and have DeSantis memorize all of them and practice his delivery and timing. Nevertheless, O'Donnell can do only so much. Under pressure, DeSantis could forget some of the advice the master is trying to drill into him. Debates are important because they are the most spontaneous and least stage-managed parts of any campaign and show how candidates manage under great pressure. No president wants to get a call at 3 a.m. from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying: "There is a missile from North Korea heading toward the U.S. It will be here in 30 minutes and has a 50-50 chance of wiping out D.C. What are your orders, sir?" But being able to make the right decision under pressure is part of the job description. (V)

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