Classic debate prep consists of boning up on the various issues that are likely to come up during the event, stuffing the debater’s head full of facts and figures. But political debates are more performance combat than anything else. Toward that end, Team Trump is conducting a sophisticated analysis of Hillary Clinton’s debates dating back to her first 2000 Senate race with the idea of ferreting out weaknesses, Politico notes.

Team Hillary, for its part, will also use psychological techniques to throw Donald Trump off his game with the idea of provoking him into misbehaving and saying something alarming.

The idea is that Clinton has a number of what poker players call “tells” when she is feeling uncomfortable or is faced with a question she cannot readily answer. When Trump picks up on one of these, he will strike and drive home his advantage, making Clinton seem weak and foolish.

The gold standard would be to create a moment that decides an election. In the 1980 debate, Ronald Reagan said, “There you go again” to an attack President Jimmy Carter was making, disarming the gambit and showing the challenger to be affable and non-threatening. In 1984, Reagan, who was facing questions about his advanced age, said that he would not use Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him.

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The president went on to win in a landslide.

Some debate moments are self-inflicted. In 1988 then Gov. Michael Dukakis offered a dry recitation on his opposition to the death penalty when he was asked to imagine his wife being raped and murdered, making him seem cold and passionless. In 2000, then Vice President Al Gore responded to every point that then Gov. George W. Bush with audible sighs, behavior that began to be very irritating.

Gore lost narrowly to Bush.

Clearly, both sides would like to create a debate moment that can define an election. Team Hillary would love to see Trump say something misogynist as he tended to do during the primaries before Kellyanne Conway took him in hand. Just as clearly Team Trump would like Clinton to start shouting and behaving shrilly, or better yet have a health crisis right in front of a 100 million person audience.

Those possibilities are what make presidential debates the greatest reality show ever. Anything can happen and generally does.  

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