You might not believe this, but we're just four weeks out from the first presidential debate and behind the scenes, prep is well underway. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that Laura Ingraham is helping the Trump campaign prepare for the debates and may even wind up playing the part of Hillary Clinton. It's an interesting idea—Ingraham is smart and quick on her feet. But I'm not sure she's a good analogue for how Clinton debates. Clinton is a slow and careful plodder. Never spectacular, but never exposed, either.
A better sparring partner for Trump would be Mitt Romney (whose debate style is not wholly dissimilar from Clinton's) or Ted Cruz (who is brilliant enough to imitate anyone). Obviously, those picks are off the board.
The best stand-in would be Carly Fiorina, who is smart and careful and has the virtue of being a woman, which is more of wrinkle for the optics of this debate than you might think. But I doubt that Trump would ask Fiorina; or that Fiorina would agree to do it. (As my buddy Mike Warren noted a couple weeks ago, the obvious Trump stand-in for Clinton's debate prep would be Anthony Weiner. I hear he's got some free time these days.)
I doubt very much that the debates are going to do anything to alter the trajectory of this race—as I said last week, the numbers for Trump are so bad that this cake is already baked. But they could be the difference between a four point loss and a seven point loss.
As the Post piece makes clear, Trump-Clinton is an asymmetric contest. It's not like most presidential debates that set politicians of varying capabilities against one another, with only minor differences in style.
The closest analogue is probably the Biden-Ryan veep debate of 2012, in which the dissimilarities between wonky Ryan and crazy Uncle Joe were exotic enough to make it seem like alligator-versus-shark. By comparison, Trump-Clinton is like gorilla-versus-poltergeist. It barely makes sense.
Trump will be all hay-makers and insults, because he has a grasp of neither general policies nor his own positions. His only play is to catch Clinton off-guard with taunting and induce her into melting down. (Chances he uses "Lewinsky" as a verb? 50-50.)
For her part, Clinton goes into the debates with two big problems: (1) She's far enough ahead in the polls that her upside is limited; and (2) The expectations will be pre-set to favor her, since she's an actual political professional.
Alligator-versus-shark can produce unexpected results—Biden crushed Ryan, even though Ryan was far and away the smarter, more knowledgeable candidate. But I'm inclined to think Clinton will fare pretty well against Trump.