Hillary Clinton is methodically preparing for Monday's presidential debate as, my colleagues Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Anne Gearan report, a veteran lawyer would approach her biggest trial. Donald Trump is not. He's taking debate prep much more informally, chatting with advisers over bacon cheeseburgers and golf. But Mitt Romney's senior adviser in the 2012 presidential election, Beth Myers, cautions we shouldn't be quick to judge whose debate prep is "better," because every candidate is different. The Fix spoke with Myers to understand what she and her team did to get Romney better before the debates and what she's expecting to happen Monday in the first Clinton-Trump showdown. Our conversation has been edited for length.
THE FIX: Is there a formula campaigns follow to prepare for a debate?
MYERS: Debate prep is very personal to the candidate. I don't think any candidates do it the same way, and each candidate brings to the situation their own strengths, their own needs and desires to feel confident when they go out on that stage.
Up until this point in the presidential campaign, there's not a lot of depth and discussion. This is that moment in the presidential campaign arc, so you want to have thought through exactly what you meant to say, because you don't get any do-overs.
How are general election debates different than the primary debates?
In the primary debates, I don't even look at them as debates. I look at them as candidate forums, because there are 10 people on a stage, and you might get four, five, seven minutes actual question answering time. And there's never an opportunity to discuss an issue with any degree of complexity or thought.
The fall debates are just the opposite. You have an hour and a half on a very lonely stage with three people: the two candidates and the moderator. You really have to go onto that stage prepared with a great depth and breadth of knowledge about a lot of topics.
So what'd you do to get Romney ready for that?
We started briefing Mitt on issues back in June, and that constitutes of him getting materials to read on long trips across the country, meeting with experts on the field. We appealed to all his different learning capacities.
So by the time we actually did the mock debates, it was less of a learning mode than a: 'How does this process work?' Because very few people in their life have the experience of being on a stage and discussing an issue with someone for 15 minutes in front of millions of people.
What are some of the misconceptions about debate prep?
Everyone thinks you memorize lines, and we really didn't do that. In the general election debate, you better be darn sure, if you're going to pull a clever line, that you are really good at delivering it, because if not, it's like a thud.
And there's nowhere to hide?
No, no, no. [Laughs.] No.
I think most Americans might view debate prep through the prism of, say, a job interview or a test. Is that a similar enough comparison?
Whenever there's something very important, you want to put your best face forward. That's what this was all about. Mitt felt very honored to be the nominee and very obligated to therefore do the best he could, and so for him, that was a high degree of preparation and a high degree of learning. That might be different for another candidate. But everybody studies for tests differently. That's why I'm very loath to criticize anybody's debate prep.
It sounds like your main goal with Romney was to make him the best version of himself. Based on that, are you expecting to suddenly see a different Trump or Clinton on the debate stage Monday?
I wouldn't expect to see a different candidate at all. I would expect to see a prepared Donald Trump. I think he is preparing. And more than people might think, because he's well aware of what this is all about. But the cat is who he is.
What are you expecting from this first debate between Clinton and Trump?
I don't know how many people are undecided at this point. I tend to think that this debate is important and that it matters because both candidates have high unfavorables, and there are a lot of people still saying: 'I don't know what I'm going to do; I'm not happy with either one of these candidates.' I suspect one of them will come off better on stage, and that will have an impact, at least temporarily. I'm not sure what will happen, but I think it will be impactful.
Last question: Moderators. Should they fact check or no?
I don't think so. Because in my view moderators should be ciphers. They should simply put forward the question. Their role is not to fact check on the spot. I think we saw in 2012 that the fact checking on the spot may or may not be accurate. And it certainly is not what the candidates understand when they get on the stage. They're not expecting a three-way discussion, they are expecting it to be a debate between themselves.
Now you've got me nervous for the candidates!
It's a lot of work, and I believe they're both doing it.