Democratic candidates who are vying to win the top spot as their Party’s 2020 presidential nominee are set to take the debate stage on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
Twenty out of the twenty-three candidates who are currently running have made the cut, which means they will be participating in the debates on one of the two days listed above. They will, of course, be appearing on national television and several will likely be introducing themselves to the public at large for the very first time.
The political face-off is going to take place in Miami, Florida, with telecasts airing on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, and José Díaz-Balart will be the moderators.
The rhetoric of many who are chasing the Democratic primary plum has been both confusing and unappealing to a sizable segment of the voting population. Candidates that fall within this category have, for the most part, been speaking to their far-left constituents, especially those who tend to be clustered in East and West Coast urban enclaves.
The candidates’ positions on the most crucial issues that our country presently faces appear to be pretty much the same in content and substance. They seem to be relatively distant from the views held by a major segment of the population as well, with the sometimes exception of former Vice President Joe Biden. When not flip-flopping or dodging questions, the former veep does his best to appear above the fray and create an air of inevitability.
The two-day debate drama will feature an unlikely cast of characters that includes the mayor of the nation’s largest city, the mayor of one of the nation’s smallest cities, certain individuals with no previous political experience, one individual with fifty years experience, and even a New Age guru who is a spiritual soul mate of none other than Oprah Winfrey.
The stakes are quite high for the largest primary campaign field ever assembled. As a result of the sheer number of candidates who are participating in the debate, the DNC has resorted to a lottery in order to assign the candidates’ dates and places across the two-day event.
Wednesday’s grouping includes only one of the current five top Democratic contenders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Consequently, Thursday is looking as if it will be a red carpet event, politically speaking. It will feature the four remaining highest placing candidates, which includes the front-runner, Biden.
A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that only 45 percent of Democrats are paying “a lot” of attention to the campaign. The candidates will vie for their share of attention during the two-hour broadcast, while at the same time trying to distinguish themselves from one another. They will no doubt have to make their points in a condensed period of time, because despite being limited to 10 participants the estimated duration that each will be able to speak is only about seven minutes.
For those in the political arena who have not yet achieved the degree of name recognition and fame that is required, particularly when compared with Biden’s levels, the dream of setting themselves apart in an age of social media depends on their wherewithal to generate a “viral” moment.
Before social media came into existence I would characterize a moment such as this as a “magic” one. The impact on the momentum of a candidate’s campaign had the same effect – shooting star.
In 1984 former President Ronald Reagan deftly dealt with his then-age of 73, when questioned on the matter during his debate with Democrat opponent Walter Mondale. Reagan famously responded, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
In 2000, during the third presidential debate with then-GOP candidate George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore, after sighing audibly through most of the proceedings, left his podium and entered his opponent’s space in an apparent attempt at intimidation. Bush merely nodded at Gore and in wry trademark fashion said a single word, “Hello,” continuing to make his point without skipping a beat.
Back in the day magic moments spread the old fashioned way, via television broadcasts, radio, and print publications. Moving like lighting, today a viral moment is fueled by 24/7 cable coverage and social media platforms.
As the intersection of Hollywood and politics grows ever wider and stardust makes its way from west coast to east and back again, analogies between the world of entertainment and of politics become ever more pronounced. What I see as a potentiality of the upcoming debates is what has frequently been observed on the Hollywood front. An actor who plays a secondary role in a film unexpectedly captures the audience’s attention and “steals the scene.” When this occurs, an unknown supporting actor may suddenly be catapulted on to a new trajectory aimed straight toward stardom.
In 1950, appearing in a mere two scenes of the film “The Asphalt Jungle,” little known actress Marilyn Monroe experienced the propelling of her career, which placed her on a path that ultimately led to cinematic icon status.
In 1969, like Monroe actor Jack Nicholson did much the same in the film “Easy Rider.” So, too, did Viola Davis in 2008 with her role in the film “Doubt.”
With today’s vast social media landscape, the type of moment that will thrust a candidate into the political stratosphere must be one that breaks through the Internet noise barrier. Like it or not, when “Action!” is called on the night of the debates, he or she who steals the scene wins.