A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton Wednesday gave reporters a glimpse at how the Democratic nominee is preparing for Monday night's first debate. "We are preparing for the different Trumps that might show up," said senior adviser Jennifer Palmieri.
The anticipation and the stakes are high. "What we have never seen is one-on-one," she noted. "We had a relatively small field on our side in the Democratic debates and we found that ... Sanders and Clinton was very different than Sanders, Clinton and O’Malley."
Advisers say they gained some insight from the recent Commander-in-Chief Forum, calling it a "useful exercise for us to see." She added, "they weren’t together but they were one –on–one, in the same hour and how they compare. We thought that was useful."
One thing they did not glean from that appearance is a course correction for Clinton after reviews that described her as defensive. "I don’t think she needs to anything differently," Palmieri said.
But she did say that moderators should do more. "My biggest concern is not a view of any moderator. But just that people accommodate their questions, and lower the bar of their questions to suit the candidate in front of them and that’s what happened with Trump in the past."
Palmieri says that Clinton gets graded on a more challenging curve. "They ask Hillary Clinton a set of much harder questions and ask him a set of easier questions because he has not put forward detailed material on which you can question him on and so he ends up getting much more one dimensional, simple questions and that is not what you be expected of somebody who’s looking to be president of the United States."
Her challenge to the Debate Commission's selected news professionals: "I think the moderators need to ask substantive questions, factual questions to keep them on an even playing field even though he has failed to put forward a multi-tiered policy positions as she has."
Clinton is said to be reading and working on her debate materials regularly but has not been practicing with an actual rehearsal every day. Asked about the Clinton team's expectations for how Trump is getting ready himself, Palmieri said, "I’m not saying he won’t be prepared. He just prepares differently."
Clinton advisers also wanted to project confidence about her performance, "I’m sure she will perform well. She always does and so our concern is just what kind of standard is he held to."
While advisers remain tight-lipped about specifics of the Clinton preparations, especially the identity of their Trump stand-in, they acknowledge studying Trump's past debate performances. "He does better in multi-person debates. He hangs back a lot, picks his moments."
Asked if reviewing the primary debate interaction between Trump and his only female Republican rival, Carly Fiorina after Trump made negative comments about her appearance, Palmieri said, "we don’t think there is as much to learn from there as you might think."
Clinton advisers note the unpredictability of Trump as a steep challenge in this preparation phase. "It is different in that you’re not sure who’s going to show up so you have to assume that he might approach the debate this way or that way. He may be aggressive or he may lay back. That’s hard to game out."
Advisers say Clinton looks forward to the high stakes show down based on their sense of how she did during the primary season calling it, "a moment where people saw her unfiltered in long stretches of time and talking about issues and mostly issues people care about." They say the debates can favor her strengths, "And if you’re in a debate, in front of the entire country, to be president of the United States, you should be held to the same standard on knowledge, what kind of plans you have, your ability to explain your plans, skill, expertise that you have. And we think that they should be compared on equal grounds."
Clinton, they say, will be prepared to make her own case before voters. "Her focus is on what points does she want to make regardless" of how Trump performs and whether he strays from fact. Clinton will be ready to do some real time fact-checking on her opponent but expects the moderators to "play an appropriate role" as well. "That is the value we see here too but she will also not just rely on the moderator, Palmieri said, "That’s also why moderators are there."