Politics as Reality TV: Preview of Tonight’s Debate

June 26, 2019

And an Early Peak at Tomorrow’s Night Two Lineup

“Tributes: Happy Hunger Games! And May the Odds Be Forever in Your Favor…”

By Al Giordano

This excerpt is from yesterday’s Issue #81 of Al Giordano’s América, sent via email to subscribers (who can also log in, read it here, and comment in the backstage area). Tonight and tomorrow we’ll be doing live commentary during the debates and will open a new straw poll upon the end of Night Two’s forum, where subscribers can also vote. Minor changes were made to the essay to reflect today’s date instead of yesterday’s.

Tonight and Thursday the first in the series of 2020 Democratic presidential debates will kickoff.

The debate series, with parts two and three coming in July and in September, will have some similarities to the fictional contest in the popular Hunger Games books and movies. Increasingly tighter criteria for measuring each candidate’s support in polls, number of grassroots donors and other factors will serve to make the debate stage narrower and narrower, eliminating lesser candidates along the way if they don’t show measurable progress compared to each other.

The Democratic National Committee seeks to avoid what happened to the Republicans in 2015 and 2016 when too many candidates resulted in a process that ended up favoring the seasoned Reality TV veteran, Donald Trump. The DNC is apparently determined that next year’s nominee will by then have exactly that kind of experience to fight him. It’s cynical and brilliant all at once.

By the time the field of candidates qualifying for the debates can fit on one stage rather than two, every one of the survivors, in a way, will by then have that same Reality TV experience and they’ll compete until a Mockingjay rises from their ranks able to unite the people of all the regions to topple the despot in power (and one not anywhere near as handsome as Donald Sutherland in the movies).

The first debates happen Wednesday and Thursday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET aired on NBC, MSNBC, Telemundo and each of the media hosts’ websites, apps, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. You won’t need cable TV to watch it.

In fact we’re going to have a watch party right at Organize & Win where subscribers will be able to comment on the proceedings. I’ll surely be adding my analysis in real time, and once the second debate is over Thursday night we’ll open up a new straw poll there to see who, if anyone, rose or fell as a result of their performance. Make sure you’re logged in to read the best stuff I save only for subscribers.

Who gets to be on which night’s stage was determined by two lotteries: one for the candidates that already have better than two percent support in the polls, and another for those that don’t, thus guaranteeing both nights will have a mix of marquee names and little known underdogs.

On Wednesday Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke will be center stage as the candidates that led on the qualifying metrics. They’ll be flanked by Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, who will be next to Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard on the outside and there will be four white guys at the edges who not everyone knows yet: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Ohio US Rep. Tim Ryan at the far left side of the audience and Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Maryland US Rep. John Delaney at the far right side of the stage.

Night two could prove the more conflictive with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders at center stage, flanked by Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado US Senator Michael Bennett, author Marianne Williamson and California US Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Seven Questions Tonight Can Answer

1. Can Elizabeth Warren Effectively Play the Role of Frontrunner?

While Warren isn’t the frontrunner overall – Biden and the others in the top tier drew Night Two straws –  on this debate stage she will for the first time enjoy that treatment. It’s a precarious position to be in as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both experienced at certain phases of the process so far. It takes certain skills to handle it. And because Warren might someday become the frontrunner, this will be our first window into what that would look like and how she would respond to the slings and arrows that follow the person in the lead.

Based on watching Warren closely over the years, I believe there is a better chance than not that she will excel in that role. A clue about that appeared in a NY Times profile yesterday about her early years as a teenager:

“By her senior year, her classmates recalled, she was a debate team star. Her exceptional ability to focus, rare among the teenage boys she was going up against, had made Northwest Classen one of the best teams in the state. Ms. Warren and her partner, Mr. Johnson, would go on to win the state championship their senior year. She was particularly good at rebuttal — taking apart the other side’s argument in four minutes.

“’I’ve seen her work miracles in that slot,’ said Mr. Johnson.”

In other words, the best scenario for Warren tonight might be if another candidate or one of the moderators (I won’t mention any names but my money is on one with the initials of Chuck Todd, being more of a professional prick than a real journalist) does go after her and hands her that “right to rebuttal” that she has a half-century of experience deploying.

2. Why Are Tulsi Gabbard and Bill de Blasio Really in this Race?

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