Dry run: Student stand-ins take national stage

Daniel Meyerson (left) and Caroline Niesen do their best imitations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Daniel Meyerson (left) and Caroline Niesen do their best imitations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Snapchat vs. Instagram, tape vs. glue, concerts vs. music festivals.

At a dress rehearsal for the 2016 presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, the candidate stand-ins took on the tough issues.

Student volunteers were chosen for their roles because they are roughly the same size as the candidates and moderators, allowing technicians to test the lighting, sound, camera angles, etc. But, as it turns out, the two candidate stand-ins were talented mimics and resourceful debaters, despite having little to no debate or theater experience. Their in-character banter often drew laughs from onlookers in the debate hall.

Daniel Meyerson, a senior majoring in marketing and political science from Long Island, N.Y., answered questions using his impression of Donald Trump’s voice and mannerisms while projecting how the candidate might feel about, for example, “Dora the Explorer.”

Turns out Meyerson’s Trump is not a fan of Dora, the children’s TV character who sometimes speaks Spanish. “We should build a wall to keep Dora out.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Niesen’s Hillary Clinton disagreed. “I think Dora is a national treasure,” said the first-year student from the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Mo., who is studying English, creative writing and computer science.

The rehearsal helped the technical crew test lights and camera angles. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

The rehearsal helped the technical crew test lights and camera angles. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

For hours Saturday morning, Niesen and Meyerson answered questions from Taylor Emerson, a first-year student from Los Angeles, and Theo Boozalis, a senior in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Pyschology from Victoria, Texas. Emerson and Boozalis stood in for moderators Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Anderson Cooper of CNN.

The stand-in candidates said they came up with the questions with the stand-in moderators the night before.

“We discussed questions we would both be able to discuss and debate about,” Meyerson said. “Two minutes doesn’t sound that long, but it is a long time to talk about one thing. We thought about things that we knew about like ‘Game of Thrones,’ for example.” During the mock debate, the stand-in candidates discussed at length who would end up in the Iron Throne at the end of the series.

Then there was the Instagram vs. Snapchat exchange. Here’s an excerpt:

Stand-in Trump: “Instagram, if you don’t post, that’s a little creepy. You’re just looking at other people’s pictures. One time on Instagram, Hillary didn’t post for entire month. I don’t know what her intentions were. I don’t know whose pictures she was looking out. Probably of me. Probably of Melania. I don’t know. Snapchat is the future. Instagram is an abomination to American and the world.”

Stand-in Clinton’s response: “Instagram gives us an avenue to be deliberate and conscious about our actions, as we all should be as we are working toward a better future.”

Meyerson said that he and Niesen had worked out ahead of time who would take which side on each topic, and that he had thought through what he would say for most “issues,” such as what pet the candidates would prefer in the White House.

Stand-in Trump would prefer a small dog because “with a big dog you look like you’re overcompensating, maybe.” And when asked what kind of dog: “That is very, very easy. It would be a miniature dachshund. A little wiener dog. They are awesome, they are cute, they are the best.”

Stand-in Clinton cited the history of White House pets and then said her choice would be a Labrador retriever because “they are loyal, smart and hard-working, and they will meet you halfway in training. … It’s primary purpose in life is to please. … I think that’s a great symbol for the American people.”

Niesen said she had a specific strategy on how answer the questions. “What helped me the most was thinking about how I could take this issue and turn it into a very corny metaphor for all of America. What are my opinions on tape, and now — corny metaphor.”

Other students were playing the part of town-hall participants, asking questions such as, “Which area has the best dining, the Loop or Clayton?” “Do you prefer books or television?” and “Do you think the latest Star Wars movie was successful?”

“We all feel really lucky that we got this particular position because we really get to see inside baseball and see how it all comes together,” said town hall stand-in Sarah Salky, a first-year MBA student.

Emerson, who stood in for Raddatz, said she enjoyed the variety of questions she was able to ask.

“I love the fact that we had a wide range of questions, from serious questions on gun control to to WashU questions such as, ‘Do you like modern or traditional dorms?’” she said.

Meyerson said he was a little nervous at first to be on the debate stage, “but then I got into the character, and I knew Donald Trump would not be nervous in this situation, so I can’t be nervous in this situation. I just wanted to have fun with it.”

Meyerson’s Trump wandered around the stage and often interrupted Niesen’s Clinton. “Wrong!” “Liar!”

“They told us that would help them prepare,” Meyerson said. “They wanted us to wander around and interrupt so they could practice the lighting and the cameras.”

Niesen said she was still processing her place in this historic event.

“I had a moment where I was like ‘Wait, I’m in the debate venue,’ ” Niesen said. “These are the actual chairs they are going to be sitting in. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done. What if I broke the chair or something by accident? What if ruined the entire debate?”

The students were encouraged to walk around and act like a candidate. They more than filled the job. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

The students were encouraged to walk around and act like a candidate. They more than filled the job. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)