(With Lessons That Apply to Agency Life From The Debate Stage)
Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
The first four Democratic presidential wannabe debates had Democrats attacking Democrats. Thus, I thought the winner of all of them was President Trump.
But the TV script changed during Debate # 5, on November 20, because the candidates mostly turned their ammunition against Trump.
However, probably the most noteworthy news that emerged from debate # 5 was a pleading for voter support (because he had not yet qualified for the December debate) by Sen. Cory Booker who played the race card against former vice-president Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, regarding who best can attract the black vote.
Nevertheless, because the candidates were better able to state their opinions about issues than in previous debates, I awarded # 5 to the Democrats.
Unfortunately, the candidates’ best presentations to that date had a very short shelve life. Because the debate took place the evening prior to the closing impeachment inquiry session their performances were largely ignored the next day. Also, as usual in these lame excuses for debates, the lesser known candidates were largely ignored by the questioners, once again demonstrating the flawed design of the format.
You might remember that prior to the November debate the hopefuls formed a circular firing squad and attacked each other. It wasn’t until they were on the stage that they remembered they were trying to defeat President Trump, but nevertheless Democratic candidates attacking other Democratic candidates continued, but much less than during previous debates.
(During my career as a journalist and PR practitioner, I’ve often noticed the change in a person’s demeanor when they are under pressure. That’s because desperate people do desperate things and often, but not always, their true character emerges. Donald Trump is the poster boy for this type of behavior. After watching five debates, and also watching how the candidates act during non debate media appearances, here is my impression of the candidates. I’m always amazed when an individual thinks that only he/she has the answers to save a situation. The world has survived for years despite the “indispensible person” having died. One thing that’s sure: There’s a lot of ego, but not much humility, on the debate stage. In my opinion, there were two candidates who have demonstrated modesty during the debates, and they have as much chance of getting the nomination as I do — Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who was not in debate # 6, and former veep Joe Biden also come across as the type of persons I’d like to have a cup of coffee with. Sen. Sanders reminds me of in-laws that think they have all the answers. Of course, a “niceness” quality is not necessary in order to win an election, as the bombastic performances of President Trump, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Doug Collins and Sen. Sanders demonstrate when they are in front of a TV camera. Their bombastic speaking styles makes me wonder if they’re after the hard of hearing vote or if they believe that shouting might sway some voters. Of course, I realize that how these individuals might act on a personal one-on-one basis might be completely different and I might enjoy sharing a meal with them, especially if they pay.)
Perhaps because of the debate infighting, President Obama said, a day after debate #5, that the goal is to defeat Trump. “In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that the presidential candidates should stop being concerned with debates over ideological purity and instead focus on beating President Trump,” reported a New York Times story. Did his comments stop the internal strife?
Did their cannibalizing of each other stop in the weeks leading up to debate # 6? Unfortunately for the Democrats, the answer to the question is, “No.”
- During his Iowa bus tour, Biden attacked Mayor Pete Buttigieg for stealing the former vice president’s ideas.
- Biden also went after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, claiming there was a lack of enthusiasm for her during his Iowa tour.
- Bernie Sanders criticized Mayor Pete.
- Warren criticized Mayor Pete, Biden and Michael Bloomberg.
- Booker criticized the entire debate process.
And the above were the attacks that I personally saw or read about:
Also, the race card again was dealt, this time prior to debate # 6 when Sen. Kamala Harris called it quits. It took a New York moment before African-American spokespersons, led by civil rights activists Rev. Al Sharpton, and Aimee Allison (of She The People) to criticize a Democratic debate without an African-American participant. (In my opinion, Sen. Harris will emerge as the leading candidate for vice-president, buoyed by her skilled performance during the upcoming impeachment trial that will provide her with the national exposure that she lacked during her presidential run,)
And after Sen. Harris declined to participate, two candidates for president, Sen. Booker and former housing secretary Julian Castro both criticized the make-up of any debate that would not have a person of color included, obviously either forgetting or ignoring that Andrew Yang was a participant. (Sen. Harris did qualify for the December debate before deciding to bow out.)
Sen. Booker and his allies have been decrying a lack of diversity among the remaining debate participants since Sen. Harris withdrew. That claim is bogus. There was plenty of diversity among the original cast of debaters. If Sen. Booker couldn’t qualify for the December debate maybe he should consider his own shortcomings instead of playing the racial card.
(In my opinion, religion or race should not be a determining factor of who should be in the debate or who is elected. If a candidate can not deliver a message that attracts support, it’s the candidate’s fault and playing the race card only helps divide the country more than it is.)
As the made for TV soap opera-like debate # 6 on December 19 approached, the overall debate score card, in my opinion, was Trump 4, Democrats 1.
Even before a word was spoken during debate # $6, in my opinion, the Democrats were the winners, but with a caveat: It was not because of their debate performances. It was because of the impeachment hearings, which made public the unconstitutional actions of President Trump, augmented by his sleazy, low brow remarks about the late Rep. John Dingell.
Thus as we wait for the first debate of the New Year my score card reads Trump 4, Democrats 2:
Here’s why I feel that without the impeachment hearings the Democrats would have lost debate # 6 to Trump.
- The infighting among the candidates prior to the debate.
- The playing of the race card, which turn off many people.
- The impeachment news smothering the remarks and taking away free air time from the candidates.
My take-a-ways from debate # 6:
The debate ledger showed positives and negatives.
On the negative side:
- The Democrats continued to act as headhunters (and I don’t mean those who look for PR talent).
- Warren attacked Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s fund raising methods, resulting in a spirited, antagonistic back and forth not seen in previous debates and the moderators let them slug it out.
- Klobuchar criticized Mayor Pete’s accomplishments and his electoral record.
- Even Mr. Yang, who has not criticized other candidates in the past, found fault with Mayor Pete’s fund-raising methods.
- Sanders attacked Biden; both went after Mayor Pete while criticizing each other’s health plans.
On the positive side:
- This was the best debate to date because the moderators permitted the candidates to speak, instead of cutting them off every few seconds.
- The questions were more evenly divided among the candidates.
- All of the candidates did well.
In my opinion, Sen. Klobuchar was the star of the night. Tom Steyer, the liberal activist who has been calling for President Trump’s impeachment for two years, was a close second.
Even though this was his best debate performance, the way I see it, Joe Biden was the big loser even before he stepped on the debate stage, and it had nothing to do with his polling numbers or performance. As the impeachment hearings revealed, Biden and his son, Hunter, will be attacked by Republicans throughout the 2020 campaign if the former veep is nominated because of Hunter’s relationship with Burisma. And the Biden’s don’t have any good answer to why Hunter was given a seat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas producer.
This should be a good time for the Democratic candidates to aim their knives solely on President Trump. Instead some, led by Sen. Booker and other Democratic allies of color, are constantly playing the race card, and threatening the party with African-American defections on election day because the African-American candidates could not connect with voters during the past debates, as did President Obama. Instead of blaming the debate process, those who play the race card, might consider that the fault is not with the process, (which I think is ridiculous), but the reasons Sens. Harris and Booker didn’t do well is because of the way they performed. (Personally, I was able to connect with Sen. Harris but was unable to do so with Sen. Booker because of his demeanor. Too often, he reminded me of the “end is near” prophets).
The conduct of Sens. Booker and Sanders makes me think that they believe they are the indispensible persons. All the candidates and their supporters who truly care about American democracy should not divide the democratic voters. Sanders did so in 2016, which many people feel helped elect Trump. African-American activists are doing so now. Doing so only helps President Trump.
Most Democratic candidates remind me of loop recordings: They keep on repeating the same dogma regardless of changing circumstances. A prime example: Despite the economic indicators continuing to show strength, they keep on saying that it began improving when Obama was president. Who cares? People are concerned with what’s happening now. As Kris Kristofferson wrote in his great song, “Help Me Make It Through The Night”–“Yesterday is dead and gone.” It’s Trump’s daily actions that they should focus on, not what they consider the inadequacies of their opponents.
Because of the Democratic candidates’ fratricide, and their race card playing allies, they should pray that Donald Trump will run for a second term. Because if the GOP candidate is a rational individual, who is more truthful, honest, doesn’t have totalitarian instincts and believes that Congress is an equal part of the government, doesn’t use gutter language and kowtow to murderous and dictatorial regimes, their chances of winning are greatly reduced.
The daily reports of Trump’s transgressions play to the Democratic candidates’ advantage, lessening the impact of their poor debate performances and circular firing squads. But candidates aren’t chosen from the debate stages. The ultimate winner might not be from the debate pool, and unless the debate candidates stop attacking each other that would be okay with me.
Each of the debates had take-a-ways that could be applied to agency life. Below are a few from this debate.
- I’m always amazed when individuals think that having a prestigious title means they have all the answers to save a situation. Just because someone has a supervisor’s title or higher doesn’t mean they know more than you do. During program planning sessions, speak up (and keep a written record of your suggestions).
- When things on accounts go good, supervisors act differently to their A.E.s than when things turn sour.
- Collegialities among colleagues are prone to disappear when they are after the same promotion.
- As the candidates during the debate do, don’t let others take credit for your ideas.
- Also, as the candidates do, don’t get caught in the “team concept” trap. If you want to get ahead, make your contributions known to top management.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr (at) optimum.net.