Last week’s Democrat debate was largely as one would expect from this bloated field of barely viable candidates grasping for relevance.
There were canned shots at Trump like Harris’, comparing him to the Wizard of Oz, and Klobuchar’s, saying that Trump runs the country like a game show. There were the quips at each other that fell flat, like Julian Castro’s ham-handed reference to Biden’s age. There was Yang’s universal basic income gimmick, which by my math would cost north of $1.5 trillion per year.
Oh, and it appeared like Joe Biden’s teeth almost fell out at one point. Perhaps this was done to distract from an unfortunate comment by the septuagenarian former Vice President about parents using a record player.
Candidates that do well in these debates are the ones that exhibit consistency on policy, steadiness behind the podium, and a generally amiable tone.
Pete Buttigieg is slowing suffering from Marco Rubio’s fate on the Republican side in 2016. Well spoken, amiable and youthful, he seems however to lack the requisite gravitas for the top spot.
Biden and Kamala Harris have one big problem in common — they’ve been inconsistent on their policy positions as their careers have changed and the Democrat Party has shifted further and further left. This is more apparent in the case of Harris, since her shifts are more recent. For Biden, the trouble is the opposite in that his positions have swung wildly throughout his nearly half century of being a career politician.
Sanders has part of the recipe for a successful debater in the run-up to the primaries. He’s consistent. Agree with his positions or not, Bernie Sanders has been preaching a socialist, higher-taxes, statist, command-and-control American transformation for decades. The vast majority of voters may not like Bernie’s radical policies, but I bet many appreciate the fact that you know what you’re getting when he opens his mouth.
Perhaps his biggest issue in this field is that he’s increasingly angry — and white, and straight, and a man — and a senior citizen. But let’s stick with angry for our purposes here.
Angry is also a problem for the president. He is perceived as endlessly combative and his personality one-dimensional. He lacks a personal narrative. Voters like a fighter but not merely a yeller and arm-waver.
Warren is the candidate who is slowly proving that she may have the secret sauce, or at least more of it than the others. While she lacks Biden’s personal narrative, which is clearly compelling, she has proven to be steady, predictable, and credible in a field of wannabees. She’s looking more like a leader.
Senator Warren has been largely consistent on policy. She supports so-called Medicare for all that would eliminate private insurance — at least eventually. She supports repealing the illegal entry statute (open borders), raising taxes on higher income earners, making college “free,” restoring voting rights to felons while ending cash bail, and bringing to bear a host of new environmental regulations.
She’s looking like a professor in a classroom of bachelorette students. Her delivery, while somewhat cold and steely, is clear and passionate. Warren also tends to exhibit more discipline with her words and doesn’t rely on cheap one-liners as much as the others. She’s a woman, making her harder to attack and in this first head-to-head with Biden, she let others do the dirty work of attacking the front-runner. That adds to a disciplined and confident demeanor.
Here’s the problem for Trump. While he’s been remarkably consistent in his rhetoric about taxes, jobs, cutting back on regulations, addressing China’s unfair trade practices, and of course the immigration crisis, he is increasingly viewed as undisciplined and erratic.
There is a difference between message consistency and discipline. Trump is consistent on the big issues in terms of his overall approach. However, he and his team have lacked the discipline to coherently articulate policy and real achievements without stepping on their own message. This inability to stay focused is largely driven by the president’s Twitter habit, which is gold for his base and a hostile media, but for obviously different reasons.
For three years now, the media onslaught and the White House’s inability to craft coherent messaging on virtually any issue have made the president susceptible to the oft-repeated criticism that he is rudderless, disorganized, and dangerously volatile. It’s also making it harder to close the president’s likability gap with critical suburban independent voters.
The Trump team should be watching Warren’s approach closely.
Is Warren “likeable enough” (to steal a line from the 2016 elections)? Maybe. One thing is for sure, in a country that more often elects the person they “like” rather than the one they agree with, if she finds a way to be likable despite her leftist policy positions, she could go toe to toe with Trump. "Pocahontas" would be no pushover.
Tom Basile has been part of the American political landscape from Presidential campaigns to local politics. He served in the Bush Administration from 2001-2004, as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party and has held a range of senior-level communications roles in and out of government. Basile's critically-acclaimed book, "Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq" (Foreword by Amb. John R. Bolton), chronicles his time in Baghdad fighting media bias and driving fairer coverage of the Iraq war. In 2011, he was featured in Time Magazine's Person of the Year spread about political activism around the world. Basile is an adjunct professor at Fordham University, a local elected official and runs a New York-based strategic communications firm. He is a member of the New York Bar and sits on a number of academic and philanthropic advisory boards. Learn more about him at TomBasile.com or follow him on Twitter @Tom_Basile. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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