The Scene Stealer Wins

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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.

The Biden Masquerade

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Joe Biden is currently the frontrunner in an ever growing Democratic presidential primary pack.

However, the time honored maxim of history repeating itself may apply when it comes to the former vice president’s third bid for the Oval Office.

Biden’s campaign speechwriters have been tasked with keeping his stump speeches as lofty and broad as possible. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in Biden’s frequently repeated campaign promise to “restore the soul of this country.”

In his rhetoric, he carefully avoids making mention of any specific policy position. Instead he mouths hack political phrases, conveying ideas regarding a supposed return to “unity” and “bipartisanship.” Lost in his words is any semblance of truth about the administration in which he played a major role, an administration that, among other things, left a legacy of having severely polarized the nation along race, class, and cultural lines.

Biden’s latest campaign has come up with a fictional crisis, one of a “soulless” nation that is in need of fixing. His campaign is doing everything it can to avoid the simple fact that the Biden candidacy carries with it an enormous amount of baggage. The former senator and vice president happens to be the embodiment of establishment politics. In addition, he is an apologist for a massive federal bureaucracy.

The third-time presidential hopeful has been in the political business for an astounding fifty years. He apparently believes that he is just the guy who will be able fix things, even things that over the last half century he helped to break in the first place.

Not only does Biden represent to the Democrat electorate the old ways of doing things, his age is a relevant issue. If he were to be elected, he would be kicking off his presidency at the seasoned age of 78. While there is a lot to be said for senior power, at some point a reality check becomes a prudent option.

The Democratic Party’s energy currently resides in its left wing, and many of its activist members are feeling tepid about Biden’s entry into the race, due to his long record as a politician. The titular leader of the Democrat left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D – N.Y., has already dismissed the notion of a Biden nomination,

“This idea that we can go back to the good old days with Obama, with Obama’s vice president I think, you know, there is an emotional element to that. But I don’t want to go back. I want to go forward.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her likeminded allies do not like that Biden opposed busing to end segregated public schools, voted for the Iraq war, supported the job-killing trade agreements, supported a draconian crime bill, and displayed a prosecutorial attitude toward Anita Hill during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Two important issues with which Biden must contend that continue to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of primary voters are as follows: 1) a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward women and girls, much of which has been captured on video recordings; 2) a penchant for making serious gaffes.

Biden has a history of failed presidential campaigns. His first one came to an end due to a plagiarism scandal. His second one ended as the result of his having finished in fifth place in the Iowa caucuses.

Still, the Dem frontrunner’s biggest problems may be the serious scandals that are swirling around him. These would typically be ignored by the mainstream media. However, because of the more than twenty Democratic opponents in the field, many of whom are well liked by the media, press coverage of the scandals is likely to ensue.

Two stories that have already been publicly exposed involve transactions with the Ukraine and China. The China scandal has received coverage in two mainstream media organizations that would not typically be revealing stories that might be harmful to a Democrat candidate.

The New York Times and Vanity Fair both reported on Biden, when he was vice president, as having conducted high-level diplomacy with Beijing days before a $1.5 billion deal was made with his son Hunter Biden’s private equity firm, secured from the state-owned Bank of China. This may explain why Biden recently brushed aside the idea that China poses a danger to the U.S.

“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man…. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west,” Biden said.

During his term as vice president, Biden’s son Hunter was being investigated in the Ukraine after landing a high-paying job at a major Ukrainian energy company. Biden reportedly used taxpayer money and the power of his office to have the lead prosecutor on the case fired.

Known for speaking before thinking, Biden boasted about the misuse of power.

“We’re not going to give you the billion dollars,” he said. “They said, ‘You have no authority. You’re not the president.’ I said, ‘Call him.’ I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting a billion dollars.’ I said, ‘You are not getting a billion. I will be leaving here,’ and I think it was, what, six hours. I looked and I said, ‘Leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b—h got fired.”

Democratic Presidential Candidates Compete for Hollywood Cash

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When it comes to campaign financing of Democrat presidential hopefuls, Hollywood’s ATM is open for business.

One after another, Dem candidates have been heading west to make their withdrawals. While there, they typically try to grab a bit of stardust wherever it can be found.

Former veep Joe Biden, mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg, senator from California Kamala Harris, and senator from New Jersey Cory Booker have either already held Left Coast fundraisers or are in the process of scheduling them.

Harris has shaken the Tinseltown money tree a couple of times so far. She will be returning to the Golden State on May 19 for a campaign event in LA’s Hancock Park, hosted by Gotham Group’s Ellen Goldsmith-Vein.

In the first quarter of the year, Harris was able to garner a greater amount of cash from individuals and entities in the entertainment biz than her fellow contenders. But that was before Biden entered the race. She now plans to hold a number of events in late May, including one co-hosted by media investor and producer Peter Chernin.

Booker has plans for a two-day LA tour starting on May 29, complete with several events hosted by prominent entertainment industry figures.

Hollywood has always been a tried-and-true money source for Democrat Party politicians. The Party and its candidates are well aware that when then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sought cash for her campaign during the previous election cycle, contributors such as Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg donated mega-bucks to Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super-PAC that was allowed to collect unlimited contributions.

Entertainment sources contributed $22 million to Hillary, and to the super-PACs aligned with her, through mid-October 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, the same group of Hollywood donors gave less than $290,000 to then-candidate Donald Trump.

Biden and Buttigieg were the most recent candidates to seek financing from entertainment industry sources for their respective campaigns.

Back in 2007 Biden had a difficult time, though, competing with the then-presumed frontrunner Hillary and new face in town at the time Barack Obama. Currently, however, Biden’s chief advantage is the name recognition he has acquired, having been around in politics for the past fifty years.

As writer-director Adam McKay recently tweeted, “Free slogan for Joe Biden’s campaign: ‘You’ve heard my name before.’”

During his first Tinseltown trip of the 2020 campaign cycle, Biden’s notoriety paid off in a big way. Hollywood gave him a massive take in the form of a fundraiser at the home of ex-HBO executive and former ambassador to Spain James Costos along with his partner and ex-White House interior designer Michael Smith. The event brought in more than $700,000. The host committee included Katzenberg, Chernin, actor Rob Reiner, and CBS Films President Terry Press.

The former veep appears to be staying away from specific issues and is instead focusing on a liberal pie-in-the-sky cliché that he will somehow bring unity to the nation should he be elected.

“I promise you if we elect a Democrat this time — I predict to you whether it’s me or someone else, but I guarantee you if it’s me — what’s gonna happen is, we’re going to see this country come together like it hasn’t in a long time,” Biden said.

While on the Left Coast, he attended a lunchtime campaign meeting as well as a late afternoon public event with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Although Buttigieg is not as well known as Biden, Hollywood, the home of professional story tellers, is enamored with the saga of Mayor Pete’s unlikely contender status. Biden’s entourage may be concerned that Buttigieg could run the table like Obama did in 2007.

Even the most imaginative screenwriters have been intrigued with the idea of a military veteran who describes himself as a Christian, is openly gay, a Rhodes scholar, and mayor of a small city in Indiana, who has unexpectedly become a top-tier candidate, according to the polls in early primary states.

The Hollywood elites have already opened their establishments and homes to hold events to introduce Buttigieg to the entertainment community and to additionally raise campaign dollars. Buttigieg has notched television appearances on the shows of Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Maher.

At the same time Biden was in town, the South Bend mayor chalked up a slew of Hollywood events, including a breakfast organized by producer Jordan Horowitz, a public event with Garcetti at SEIU Local 99 to support a ballot measure to raise the parcel tax, a gathering with Gina Gershon, Christopher Guest, and Laurie David, a lunch in Brentwood, an event at The Abbey in West Hollywood, and a cash-seeking get-together at Gwyneth Paltrow’s home, where he answered questions from more than 100 attendees, including actors Bradley Whitford, Amy Landecker, and Martin Sheen, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, director Rob Reiner, Costos, and Smith.

Buttigieg is planning a momentum-seeking return trip to the Left Coast in June to raise money and connect with Hollywood power players, including a fundraiser at the home of producer Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller.

Expect the mayor to leave with piles of cold campaign cash with a lot more to follow.