WASHINGTON — Democrats have been preparing for the first debate for weeks. Some are studying their opponents' policy positions. Others are working on spinning their own very long records of public service. But the biggest question mark the two Democratic debates could be: Will the president of the United States live tweet it?
Last week, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked President Trump whether he planned to comment during the debates to his 61 million Twitter followers. Naturally he took the bait.
“I wasn’t thinking about it, but maybe I will now. Instead of fake news, I’ll make them correct news. And that’s OK,” Trump said.
While candidates are on stage without cell phones during the two-hour debates, campaigns have the ability to send rapid-response statements or engage the president in real time, though it appears that most aren't going to.
“We don’t give a shit about that at all,” said Sawyer Hackett, spokesman for Julian Castro’s presidential campaign, as to whether they'll respond to the tweeter in chief if he criticizes Castro on stage. Hackett added that the campaign is “not dedicating any staff resources to what he’s thinking about.”
“This is not the point of the debate,” he said, adding that they are focused on Castro’s message. “He can’t even let the Democratic process play out without inserting his ego into it.”
A top adviser for Beto O’Rourke demurred, saying the campaign doesn’t have anything to preview about their strategy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is “focused on the audience of voters,” according to a senior aide to the top-tier candidate. The aide seemed surprised by the inquiry, not realizing that Trump had declared his intentions already.
“Amazing, amazing. For me, I never assumed he wasn’t going to be watching and commenting live.”
Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential bid, told VICE News that a normal incumbent would never do such a thing as live-tweet the very first of the Democratic debates — but Donald Trump is “an asymmetrical candidate.”
“He’s going to do whatever he wants. He is the main counterpoint to what these Democrats do,” Madden said, adding that Trump’s input during the evening could “singularly alter the debate.”
“He will loom as large if not larger than anybody on the debate stage,” said Madden, now a cable news contributor, who described Trump as the executive producer of the daily news cycle, and has the ability to change a show rundown with a tweet.
But rather than ignore the president’s attacks on Twitter, Madden thinks candidates might try to get a rise out of Trump and engage him in debate.
“They [Democrats] are going to have a really hard time convincing everybody that they are ready for the big stage if they aren’t ready to take on Trump directly," he said.
When VICE News asked a member of Trump's campaign staff how the president's tweets during the debate would play into their strategy for tonight, an official said, "We shall see!"
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks after signing an executive order imposing new sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office at the White House on June 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)