The final face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday night could well be the most scorching confrontation in the 56-year history of televised U.S. presidential debates.
To learn how both candidates could benefit from a little performance coaching from an expert, ThinkAdvisor interviewed Alden Cass, clinical psychologist and coach, on how he’d help Trump and Clinton overcome their weaknesses in presentation. Half his international practice consists of financial advisors and traders.
In the interview, Cass provides observations of the traits and behaviors that hamper the two candidates. However, since he has treated or worked with neither of them, it would be unethical for him to provide clinical diagnoses.
Cass, whose Competitive Streak Consulting practice is based in New York City, is known for conducting pioneering research on male retail brokers in the late 1990s. The study showed that 23% of the group was diagnosable as suffering from major depression – four times the incidence of men in the general population.
Here are highlights from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: How could Trump and Clinton benefit from your coaching?
ALDEN CASS: We’re dealing with two of the least liked presidential candidates in the history of politics. Both of them need work! They have blind spots, and not changing their behavior is limiting their connecting with voters.
What’s Trump’s biggest weakness in his presentation?
Trump’s Achilles’ heel seems to be emotion. How easily he gets amped up on stage and his larger-than-life personality have gotten him his base audience; but he’s never been able to get the rest of the independents and undecided voters. He needs to temper his emotions for the debate. Independents are looking for someone who’s much more conservative, calmer and even-keeled. More people might have gone his way if he’d given the world that image.
What’s Hillary Clinton’s worst weakness?
She shows no emotion. She needs to sound more emotionally connected with independents — more genuine and less like a machine. Her Achilles’ heel has always been that people don’t trust her.
Clinton has a habit of often starting sentences with the word, “Look.” Sounds condescending.
Authoritative. I think she’s trying to be assertive. She’s battling somebody who in his own head is very authoritative. Maybe she feels the need to up the ante a little by using that word.
Trump’s typical mode is attacking on a personal level. Should he change that approach?
He’s trying to really get under Hillary’s skin. But she’s a machine, and I don’t think it’s going to work. He needs to come across in a milder manner, focusing on the issues, not on personal life.
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Isn’t Trump harming his chances by insulting and discrediting people, and insisting there’s a conspiracy against him by Clinton’s campaign and the media, and that the election is rigged? Sounds like he feels persecuted.
He probably does. He’s gotten more bad press than any candidate in the history of politics. I would feel persecuted if I were Trump. But if you’re running for president and have skeletons in your closet and did things you wish you hadn’t, [be ready] for [fallout].
How should Trump respond when, more than likely, Clinton will raise the issue of the sexual assault allegations against him?
She’s baiting him each time they bring up an allegation about his sexual past, or his taxes. Then he attacks and makes himself look that much worse. So the strategy of the Democrats is working.
What’s a better way for Trump to respond?
He should first question her on why she’s said nothing publicly to attack him about the [sexual misconduct] but used her “hired guns” to do so. It appears that she’s tried to avoid taking a strong stance for fear Trump may have more damaging information relating to Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs, and that could make her look hypocritical. She’s playing “prevent defense” to avoid being knocked out.
What approach, then, should Clinton take during the debate?
She has an opportunity to get past politics and bring out the sexual assault and harassment of women as a major problem in our society and that if elected, she’ll work to eliminate it. If she doesn’t speak out about this issue, she’ll be letting women down as a gender. But she should be wary of accusing Trump directly and instead focus on the problem in society and how it may have impacted her life and career.
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How else could Trump respond in the debate about the assault claims against him?
He could talk about the Constitution and that we live in a country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty but that the media isn’t allowing him this right. He should show regret that this issue is clouding the election and vow that the allegations will be disproved, if they are indeed untrue.
What should Trump say about the bragging he did on the “Access Hollywood” video?
“I was being really childish. I wasn’t being appropriate. I regret those comments.” That’s it. He doesn’t need to deny them or water them down. That’s been the problem. Anytime he minimizes something, it makes it worse. Hillary suffers from that too when it comes to minimizing the mistakes she’s made.
When Trump brings up Bill Clinton and what Trump says was Hillary’s treatment of women who were with him, she’s not taking ownership of anything she had to do with that or how it affected her on a deep level. I’m sure people would love to hear how it made her feel and how she stuck it out in their marriage for this long.
What’s your advice to Trump concerning the ownership issue?
He’s shown an inability to take ownership for things at an emotional level, like showing sadness or regret. The bravado needs to be toned down. Independent voters would like to see more humility. His reactions aren’t improving his likeability. Both he and Clinton deny everything, and that rubs the American people the wrong way.
During the second debate, Trump was walking around close to Clinton when she was speaking. Later, she said she felt he was trying to stalk her. That’s how it appeared.
He’s doing everything to create intimidation. In some circles, that would be a tactic to throw the adversary off-guard. He’s not exactly playing by political rules; he’s playing by street rules, it seems. That caters to his political base who wants things to be done differently in politics going forward.
Trump can get incensed and overwrought. What would be your advice to him about that?