How to beat Trump at tonight's debate

Getty Images

For the most part, our boys — ages 6 and 4 — get along swimmingly. Yet quite regularly, one will find it necessary to affirm his dominance over the other in their perpetual turf battle that consists of two primary things: Who's winning their mother's adoration and who among them can spread the tiniest toys over the greatest amount of floor space in our living room.

ADVERTISEMENT
When these occasions arise, each has a variety of demoralizing weapons in his quiver: One of them could throw Superman into the fireplace. The other might withhold his promise to play (which is a devastating addition by subtraction). And when, at his worst, our youngest son lets out a primal scream and climbs atop his older brother like a mountain goat scaling the Sheepeater Cliff at Yellowstone, an intervention by cooler heads becomes necessary.

But by far the most effective arrow the boys use is the age-old practice of repeating every word the other says and mimicking the way he said it. When this — the final shot in their nightly routine — is launched, the entire household knows the war is over. Sissy comes from her violin practice to watch the end. Mom stops cleaning the kitchen. And I might look up from my laptop to see the carnage. Whoever was wise enough to deploy this nuclear option first always wins the night. It's demoralizing and exhilarating all at the same time, and it plays out amid a few square feet between our television and couch. The angst between them lasts until well after teeth are brushed and the oldest one falls asleep. It is the most effective maneuver in their tiny battle of wills and, used sparingly, could be useful when the point of any argument is not to win hearts and minds, but to utterly demean.

The candidates that remain in contention for the Republican presidential nomination after Super Tuesday's votes have been cast would be wise to adopt my boys' strategy against front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton has 14 point lead over Trump in new national poll Aziz Ansari tells Trump to 'go f--- himself' over Muslim ban Va. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes MORE in the next debate, with one twist: Do the repeating in reverse.

Anyone who has listened to Trump speak knows that he has a limited ability to compose sentences containing even the barest of substance. He employs short bursts of hyperbole rather than thoughtfully articulated statements, and does so over and over again. Whoever remains to debate Trump on Thursday night should use this to his advantage.

Trump's entire appeal can fit inside one poorly written paragraph: I'm gonna make America great again. We're gonna win, win, win; so much winning that you'll get tired of it. I'm gonna build a wall and Mexico will pay for it. Our leaders are stupid. Mexico and China and Japan are killing us in deals. The Iran deal was terrible. I'm gonna repeal ObamaCare. I'm not gonna let people die in the streets. Planned Parenthood is horrible. I'm gonna defeat ISIS. Planned Parenthood is fantastic. Paris, wedding parties, Merry Christmas! I love my hands. I love the vets. I love the Second Amendment. I can shoot my supporters. I'm rich. My company is very successful with very little debt. The polls!

Preempting Trump on his answers would be as easy as memorizing the paragraph above. The moderators ask about healthcare? Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioVa. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes The Hill's 12:30 Report Rubio Senate challenger drops out MORE (Fla.) should jump in. "Donald is about to say he's not gonna let people die in the streets, as if that is somehow the strategy of any Republican in America."

A question on the economy? Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzVa. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes Our most toxic export: American politick 'Never Trump' group ad compares Trump to Reagan MORE (Texas) should answer for Trump. "Watch, in 30 seconds Donald will tell us how rich he is and that his company has very little debt. He's going to tell us how we're going to win, that he loves trade, but we have to be smart on trade, big league." Use his phrasing, his odd choice of words, then step back and watch. Yield time to Trump to give him more time to respond.

This strategy could be effective in several ways. For one, it will reduce the yelling and talking over one another. It allows Trump to speak uninterrupted, stumbling through the words other predicted he will utter. Two, his inability to improvise will be telling. He'll either use the talking points that his opponents foretold (which would be a useful sound bite) or he'll stumble, exposing himself again as more wide than deep. Rubio and Cruz missed the opportunity at the last debate. Trump's promise that he "will not let people die on the streets" dangled in the air for what seemed like days during the healthcare discussion, waiting for one of the candidates to preempt him with his ridiculous claim. Yet no one did. This strategy has been around as long as carpets have turned into lava under a child's feet, but no candidate has seized upon it to trip up Trump. If anyone does, it could prove yet another striking blow to Trump's seeming impenetrable, gilded armor.

Of course, there is a very good chance that none of this matters. Trump might well be on his way to the nomination. But as Babe Ruth once said, "you can't beat somebody who'll never give up." Those combatants that remain on the stage with Trump should take that to heart. Those still standing should follow my boys' lead and flummox Trump by simply repeating his vacuous, empty words — before he has a chance to.

Hale is a freelance writer who resides in San Antonio with his wife and three children. He has written for Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports but his first, true love has always been politics. The machinations carried out by otherwise good people are his glorious, guilty pleasure.

More in Presidential Campaign

What happens when the GOP base abandons the party platform?

Read more »