Democratic Debate # 7: Trump’s Default


Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

The Democratic Debate # 6, the last one of 2019, reminded me of the poem about a little girl that goes, “There was a little girl. Who had a little curl. Right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good and when she was bad, she was horrid.” That’s because the candidates, for several weeks, seemed to embrace her good and bad traits before and after the debate

Democratic Debate # 6: The ComparisonsThe Good: They all performed well. (I thought the best was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, followed by businessman Tom Steyer.)

The Bad: As in past debates, the Democrats formed a circular firing squad, but the piñata of the debate was Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Examples (from Debate # 6):

  • Warren attacked Mayor Pete’s fund raising methods, resulting in a spirited, antagonistic back and forth not seen in previous debates; the moderators, showing good news sense not shown in previous debates, let them slug it out.
  • Klobuchar also 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 former veep Biden; both went after Mayor Pete, while criticizing each other’s health plans.

There were other instances of Democrats attacking Democrats, but compared to the past they were not as sharp and were limited.

The debate, hosted by PBS and Politico, was by far the best one during 2019 because of the conduct of the moderators, who didn’t consistently use a stop clock:

Highlights (from Debate # 6):

  • The moderators permitted the candidates to speak, instead of cutting them off every few seconds.
  • The questions were more evenly divided among the candidates.
  • The questions were not meant to cause controversy between the candidates; also, no “gotcha” questions.
  • The moderators showed a better sense of what a debate should be than in the previous ones; no “star” cable news hosts consistently interrupting the candidates; only experienced journalists who let the candidates fully explain their positions.

(Before I give my opinion about Debate #7, the first in the new year and the last before the Iowa caucuses on February 3, here’s my aggregate opinion of the debates during 2019: As George Gascoigne, considered by many the greatest writer of the early Elizabethan era wrote, but might not have originated, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” That goes for the number of candidates allowed on the debate stage, some who had as much chance as getting the nomination as I do.)

You might also remember that between the November and December debates the candidates continued to snipe at each other.

However, during the holiday season, the candidates seemed to take a break from attacking each other. (Spread the cheer, good will to all, etc.?) But there was one unforced error by Biden that resulted in negative damage to him. A photo of his family’s Christmas greeting omitted his son, Hunter and his wife, resulting in negative on line and print coverage. (If people thought, “What was Biden hiding? You can’t blame them.) There’s a quote from the Bible that says,The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” But the question is, “Will the voters blame them both?” For sure, the Republicans will if Biden wins the nomination.

The quiet period might also have been influenced by the peculiarities of the Iowa poll, in which candidates must receive at least 15% in the first round in order to advance. Supporters of candidates who fail short can then back a second choice. Thus, it’s prudent not to assail rivals and alienate their backers.

But as Debate # 7, on January 14, grew closer did the making nice by the candidates hold? Not for long. But mostly.

As 2019 was leaving the scene, Biden’s foreign policy credentials were attacked by both Sen. Sanders and Mayor Pete. Both assailed Biden for his 2002 Iraq war vote.

Despite the attacks from rival candidates, which were minimal, certainly the muddled Iranian and Iraq situations will play to Biden’s advantage with voters who have short memories. (While the former vice president criticized the way Bush handled the war, he wasn’t against using military action against Iraq.)

There also were a few interesting happenings in the days leading to Debate # 7.  Steyer, who many people thought would not qualify for the debate did. Michael Bloomberg, who was ineligible for the debate, because he was self financing his campaign, moved up in the polling. And CNN reported that the Sanders campaign attacked Sen. Warren, ending the nonaggression pact between them. Also, Sen. Booker surprised the pundit set (proving them wrong once again) by suspending his presidential quest on January 13, causing anguish for people who don’t recognize white as a color. (Borrowing a pundit’s hat, the only person of color from those vying for the presidential nomination who I thought, and still think, has a chance to be on a national ticket is Sen. Kamala Harris.)

While complaining to the media about not having a fair chance to debate, the whiners fail to say that the first Democratic debate was the most diverse in the history of a major party’s presidential debates. It included three women and five people of color, including a Latino former Cabinet member, two black U.S. senators and an openly male LGBTQ candidate. (My Take: Maybe instead of complaining about the lack of color on the debate stage, they should seek out candidates like Barack Obama, who I voted for, that can connect to people of all colors.)

Even though CNN had previously reported that Sen. Sanders’ campaign attacked Sen. Warren that news paled to the accusation by the Massachusetts senator that broke on January 13 (and seemed like a counter-attack by Sen. Warren). Ms. Warren accused Sen. Sanders of saying a woman can’t be elected president, during a 2018 telephone conversation, which the Vermont senator denied. (Which reminds me of what I always told people who reported to me: “In PR agency life, even your best friend isn’t always your best friend.)

It was a certainty that because of President Trump’s tough guy Iraq statements, and his continued threats against Iran, that foreign policy, largely a none starter in the 2019 debates, would be a frequent topic during Debate # 7 and the remainder of the debates. And it was.

Would you let Iran get a nuclear bomb was a main topic. Also, the deployment of troops in the mid-East. Biden’s position on the Iraq war, which Sen. Sanders attacked, was another. But in general all of the candidates aimed their arrows at President Trump.

But the big news of the debate was that there wasn’t any big news. Nothing was said, in my opinion, that would get a voter to jump ship and declare for another candidate.

In fact, it was mostly a Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum debate (or if you prefer a peas in a pod discussion). That’s to be expected, because as the number of candidates dwindle it’s likely that the remaining ones, with minor policy exceptions, will agree with each other. Despite the media labeling candidates progressive or moderate, they’re all liberal.

There was disagreement among the candidates on trade and how to expand health insurance, but not enough to have the candidates lash out at each other.

If I had to choose the candidate(s) who I thought stood out during the debate it would be Sen. Sanders and businessman Tom Styer. Sanders differed from the other candidates because of his democratic socialist policy positions, many of which could pass as a left wing Democratic position. Steyer, as he has throughout the

debates, again brought a fresh new outsiders perspective that separates him from the insiders. As he pointed out several times, he is the only candidate that thinks global warming is the most important issue, and that he has advocated the impeachment of President Trump before anyone else has.

While there was no highlight of the debate, there was a low light. It was when CNN’s Abby Phillip asked Sens. Warren and Sanders about the latter’s comment about a woman not being able to win the presidency. But the two senators refused to take the bait, Sanders again denying that he made the comment. However, the friendliness between the two senators that was apparent in the other debates wasn’t evident. (What that question had to do in a national political forum only the cable TV political reporters know.) 

In Debate #6, much of what the candidates said had a short expiration date. Their remarks received limited media attention because of the House impeachment coverage. Remarks made during Debate # 7 will be smothered by coverage of what would happen in Trump’s Senate trial and the continuing Iranian situation.

Because of the uncertainty of what will happen in the mid-East because of President Trump’s targeted take out of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, I awarded this debate to the Democrats before it began. The debates score in my opinion is now Trump 4, Democrats 3.

Will the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump have an affect on the next Democratic debate? I certainly don’t know. But I’m not a cable political TV pundit.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout 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 nonsports 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) or