Debate Tips for the President

Dick Morris has ’em.

The strategy required for coaching a presi dent for a debate is the exact opposite of that you have to use to prep a challenger. Challengers need to learn as much as they can to prepare for all questions and become conversant with every area of policy. A president is already informed; the coach’s job is to help him sift through what he knows and hone from it a coherent response to challenges from his adversary. In a sense, a challenger needs to learn more. An incumbent needs to concentrate on what he has to say. To this end, perhaps these ideas can help Camp Bush as they prepare to undo the massive damage of the first debate.

When Kerry says that homeland security is inadequate and that only 5 percent of the shipping containers are inspected or points out that thousands of pages of wire intercepts have not been translated . . .

. . . Bush should say: “It is very easy to pick on one aspect of our security approach and say it is flawed. But remember one basic fact: If I told you on Sept, 12, 2001 that there would be no further attacks on U.S. soil for the next three years, you’d have thought I was out of my mind. But there have been no attacks. If we’re inspecting 5 percent of containers, it’s the right 5 percent. Judge us on our record: We have kept America safe.”

When Kerry says we shouldn’t have attacked Saddam because he wasn’t involved in the 9/11 conspiracy . . .

. . . Bush’s answer ought to be: “Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor. Hitler had nothing to do with it. But FDR realized we needed to fight all fascism, not just the fascist regime that attacked us. Yes, Hitler made it easy on FDR by declaring war on us. But if he hadn’t, does anyone doubt that Roosevelt would have gone to war with Germany anyway?”

All true. It’s not as if Kerry offered up any surprises in the first debate. As with Bush, he just used his stump speech talking points. But Bush needs to do a much better job of it in the next two debates.

I disagree with Morris’ premise, stated twice in the piece, that Bush desperately needs a win to “stay in the race.” By all indications, Bush is leading in the popular vote and running away with the electoral college vote at the moment. He definitely doesn’t need another embarrassing performance. I don’t expect we’ll get one.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Attila Girl says:

    The “massive damage of the first debate”? Morris is out of his mind.

  2. Jeremiad_screamer says:

    I don’t expect another embarrassing Bush performance, either. Even if they have to use TWO earpieces and transceivers…

  3. Peter says:

    One thing we won’t see tomorrow night is a Bush worn out by a physically tiring and emotionally draining day spent with people made homeless by a hurricane. I’m interested in seeing what difference it will make.