Mickey Goldmill Meets Trump and Clinton
Before he fought Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s immortal trainer, Mickey Goldmill, knew what to tell him. Mickey told Rocky that he would “eat lightning, and crap thunder.” He told a young, unknown boxer that with the right preparation, he would become “a very dangerous person.” A great trainer has a way of telling his fighters exactly what they need to hear, at exactly the right time. Rocky Balboa came from nothing, and got a fight against the world champion, Creed. Rocky had the talent and the skill. What he needed was the confidence and belief that he could win the fight. Mickey gave him exactly what he needed, at just the right time. The result was a club fighter going the distance against the World Champ, in Rocky I.
So what would Mickey say to tonight’s combatants? Many are saying that tonight’s presidential debate will be the most watched event in the history of television.
Certainly as big an event as any boxing match ever staged. The stakes Monday outweigh any ninety minutes we’ve ever seen — on the line is nothing less than the US Presidency, control of the world’s most powerful military, and the title: Leader of the Free World.
(Image retreived: USA Today
) In addition to being a fictional character, Mickey died in Rocky III. So we can’t ask his advice on this clash of the titans. But we can wonder what he might say, and start by asking ourselves, what does each of tonight’s debaters need to hear to win? For Trump, I think the answer is easy and Mickey could give it in one word: behave
. Over the last several months, Trump has been painted as a monster. The message “unfit for the Presidency” has been hammered home by Clinton and her myriad surrogates. “Dangerous,” “unhinged,” “reckless,” and “pathological” are all words the Democrats have sought to hang on Trump. So how does he win? Easy. Just behave
. Act completely normal, reasonable, and calm for the whole debate. Trump can benefit from the low bar set for him. If he doesn’t behave awfully, insulting people, obviously lying, or otherwise acting the fool, he doesn’t necessarily prove he should be President, but he proves his critics wrong. That could be enough to see him declared the winner of the debate and put the Clinton campaign on the defensive for the rest of the campaign. If Mickey was in Trump’s corner, he’d be telling him over and over again: “just behave, Donnie! Stay cool and don’t let her rattle you! If you act like you belong here it’s all yours.” I don’t know if Trump will listen, but I believe that is what his advisers have been telling him leading up to the debate. What about Clinton? What would Mickey tell her? First of all, the whole situation would be culture shock for Mickey — a notorious sexist. When Adrian started showing up at the gym, Mick said “what’s with this domestic stuff? Tend to business!” But if we get Mick past the traditions of his era, he’d probably be happier to have Clinton as his fighter. That’s an easy call, because above all, Mickey hated laziness, showboating, and wasting time. When Rocky started training in a flashy, Trumped-up joint in Rocky III, Mick called it a “house of ill-repute.” Surrounded by dancers and media and a carnival atmosphere, Mick wanted to “go back to the old gym and get some blood and sweat and tears around us.” When you think about Rocky’s disastrous preparation for his first fight against Clubber Lang in Rocky III, it’s hard not to think today that the flamboyant gym, full of ring girls and media, was designed by Donald Trump. But Clinton still has to come out and fight. She needs a plan and cannot count on simply knowing more, or being more qualified. The plan Mick would create for her is the one that exploits her opponent’s greatest weakness. In this case, that is Trump’s pride. Trump may not be a wizard on public policy or facts and figures, but that won’t lose him this debate: George W. Bush became President despite being thoroughly outmatched by Al Gore on policy details. Trump lacks the experience in TV debates that Clinton has, but unlike her, he is a great performer
. His rallies, his TV shows, his countless appearances in front of any camera that would have him testify to his ability to hold an audience and appear to be what they want to watch. His one weakness is his pride and his insecurity — he hates to take even a modest punch. Trump simply cannot stand to be attacked — not on any
matter, great or small. He tells people all the time, “you hit me, I hit back.” He always has to prove himself against every slight. His allies call it “counterpunching,” but they know it could be his fatal flaw as a fighter. To win, Clinton just has to agitate Trump. Get his back up with a little comment here and a quick joke there. If she can, even for a moment, make Trump feel as though he is being laughed at or insulted, there will no longer be any worry that he stays calm, or “presidential.” When his pride is at issue, Trump goes off script and on the attack — wildly swinging to avenge his wounded self-image. So Mick would tell Clinton what he told Rock in Rocky II, the rematch with Apollo: this guy “wants to bury you, he wants to humiliate you, he wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a freak.” Despite being the nominal favorite, Clinton must debate like the underdog,
attackingand working to get inside Trump’s guard and under his skin so she can wound his precious pride. If Clinton can do that, Trump will quickly hang his chin out and the well-prepared Clinton will put him on the canvas fast. Unlike the calculating Clinton, Trump will debate “in the moment.” If he sees himself as having lost a point, he will go crazy trying to get it back, and any preparation he’s been able to absorb goes out the window. On the other hand, if Clinton takes a hit, she’ll simply absorb it. What’s one more blow to her at this point? The fight of the century and it’s just twelve hours away. Who will listen to their trainer? Who will swallow their pride and fight the fight they need to fight, instead of the fight they want to fight? We’ll know late Monday night.