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What You Want To Know About The Presidential Debate


Over the past few weeks our NPR Politics Podcast team has been taking questions from listeners about tonight's debate, everything from candidate preparation to drinking games. Here are some of the insights from NPR's Domenico Montanaro, Ron Elving and Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: OK, first question today comes from Ryan, who writes, so with the big debates on the way, what exactly does debate prep involve? I've heard they actually hold mock debates with surrogate candidates and moderators. I wish so badly I could see who's playing Trump for Clinton or Clinton for Trump. How tough does it get? Thank you, my loves, Ryan.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Thank you for the fairness there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: I think we all agree we'd love to see the mock debates, too...


MONTANARO: ...If they hold them.

ELVING: They might do as well as the hundred million people expected to watch the real thing.

MONTANARO: Right. So when it comes to debate prep, Hillary Clinton seems to be undertaking what is very traditional debate prep. She's got binders and briefing books. She's going through nuance of policy. She's holding mock debates. Donald Trump - very different debate prep.

ELVING: Donald Trump tends to wing it on these kinds of things. He is very confident in his ability to mix it up with whomever and of course has had the experience of being in many, many debates with many, many other candidates on the stage all firing at him. So the challenge for him is to change that dynamic to only have one focus on one other candidate. And it is a woman, which sometimes can change the dynamic.

Some people feel - I feel that the one moment that he had in which he probably came off the worst in all the Republican debates was when he was called out by Carly Fiorina. He had made a crude remark about her and her appearance. She called him out on it, and he really was pretty much flummoxed.

KEITH: All right, onto our next question. It comes from Allie in Anchorage, Ala. She writes, how do the debate moderators go about writing and/or collecting the questions for the debate? Do the campaigns get a peek at the questions or topics in advance? Sincerely, Allie.

MONTANARO: First off, heck no do the candidates get a look at the questions.

ELVING: Do we get a look at the questions before we answer the podcast questions?


MONTANARO: Yes, but I mean as somebody who used to help moderators do questions for debates, you start with people like me who nobody knows their face or name for the most part, and then they go and do lots of research into the issue positions that these candidates have. You whittle it down. You try to figure out how you can sharpen a question so that that person can answer the question and not wiggle out to their talking points.

It's a very difficult thing to do with politicians because they're primed and ready and they know how to do that. And with a candidate like Donald Trump, it's particularly difficult because his positions tend to be Jell-O-like in some ways. And he is prone to attack moderators. And I wouldn't be surprised if that's a tactic that's used. It's often used in Republican debates as something of a crutch.

KEITH: Thanks for the question. And our last question comes from Tracy in Indiana. She writes, Hi, y'all. Things are tense at my house since my husband and I are supporting different candidates for president for the first time ever. I will let you guess our respective candidates. We will be watching the debates, and I was wondering if you knew of any debate-specific drinking game that would ease the inevitable tension. Thanks for making this election season a bit more bearable, Tracy. I would just say pre-game. Who needs a drinking game? Just pre-game it.

ELVING: Well, there's the old Ted Kennedy debate game, which was, mention the economy; do a shot.

MONTANARO: Well, I was going to say you can create your own bingo card probably for this. I mean that's what a lot of people do, and you could tick through however...

ELVING: Email.

KEITH: Believe me - foundation, both of them...

MONTANARO: Big league.

ELVING: Big league.

MONTANARO: Yes, not bigly.

ELVING: Not bigly but big league.

MONTANARO: Big league - winning.


KEITH: Oh, but you would be on the floor.


KEITH: Well, I think we've got more than a bingo card.

MONTANARO: All right. Delete your account. We're done. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.