Q of the Week: Trump’s Stand-in for Clinton's Debate Prep?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In the coming months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in what will surely be some of the most riveting television showdowns of all time. But many campaign watchers are wondering how Clinton is going to prepare for a debate with such a notoriously brash and unpredictable candidate. She is reportedly struggling with that question herself.

So this week, we asked readers to recommend who they think could artfully play Trump in a debate rehearsal. Turns out, you have given this a lot of thought, as nearly a hundred responses came in. Props to reader Marc Boissonneault for the winning suggestion of actor Alec Baldwin. You probably remember Baldwin from his role as wealthy businessman/news exec Jack Donaghy on NBC’s 30 Rock:

Marc writes:

Alec Baldwin has the physical presence and acting ability to be a believable Trump. Also, he is smart and politically savvy, so he would know what Trump would say and how he would act. He would totally kill this gig.

But who else could take on Clinton without holding back?

Reader Alison Deck suggested actor Kevin Spacey because of his experience playing conniving politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Alison took us through her thought process:

First thought, Donald Duck: His scattershot, nonlinear speaking style; tendency toward gratuitous repetition; very dubious factual grounding. The “not wearing pants” thing probably too distracting, though.

I then considered Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen; they’re clearly narcissists, after all. Each has had significant negative interactions with women, massive impulse-control issues, problems with substance abuse not dissimilar to Trump’s egomania (branding, incessantly referencing himself in both first and third person). Still, their personal lives/leanings tend to be such roller-coaster rides that compelling them to stay in “Donald” character (for 60-90 minutes!) might be just too much to expect.

So, ultimately, Kevin Spacey. He’s a gifted actor, has played an array of roles, all over the map really. His work on House of Cards may have given him some serious grounding in political skullduggery and at least peripheral understanding of policy. Surveying the roles he's taken on, he seems like a guy who'd be up for the challenge.”

Ultimately, the ideal debate sparring-opponent would be able to channel “The Donald” while not becoming sublimated to the schtick. I truly can think of no actual person in politics who could do this.

Hence, “The Kevin.”

Alison is right that “The Kevin” would probably play a phenomenal Trump. But would he have the guts to attack Clinton personally? Reader Dan Meyer thought that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would be better. Here’s Triumph at this year’s Democratic National Convention:

But reader Chris McCann was less optimistic, saying that “one substitute, no matter how talented in his or her realization of Trumpness, will not capture the element that makes Trump Trump.” More from Chris:

The Clinton campaign should employ hundreds of folks who will love everything he says and a Trump substitute who will be fed on the love. It's the World Series, she's down 3 games to none, she's playing in her opponent’s stadium in front of an adoring fanbase—a fanbase that will roar approval every time he swings the bat, even when he misses.