WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2015 — As the dust settles from the second GOP debate, the Democrats are waiting in the wings for their chance to strut for the American public. The first Democratic debate will take place on Oct. 13 in Las Vegas. CNN will host the debate with journalist Anderson Cooper moderating.
So far, six Democratic candidates have signed up for the 2016 campaign and will participate in the debate: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee and Larry Lessig.
The six — as well as potential seventh, Vice President Joe Biden — can learn some valuable lessons from the second GOP debate:
- Don’t get cute. Florida Sen. Mark Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both had debate moments that probably sounded awesome when their supporters and speech writers were sitting around campaign headquarters, but fell completely flat in real life debate-land. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried to make a joke, but that also didn’t work. Rubio’s introductory statement included a really lame attempt to poke fun at his own water-gate moment when he awkwardly lunged for a drink of water during his 2013 State of the Union response. In the debate opening, Rubio barely contained his own amusement during his opening statement when he said, “”I’m also aware that California has a drought. And that’s why I made sure I brought my own water,” and produced a water bottle. The audience didn’t even chuckle.Chris Christie tried to think “out of the box” and told the camera operators to turn the cameras to the audience, away from him, during his opening segment. This seemed to confuse the camera operators, the audience and TV watchers. The audience looked shell-shocked and wary, rather than emotional and enthusiastic as Christie had probably hoped.Ted Cruz, often characterized as “intense” and “serious” had a break-out moment in the debate where — we think — he was trying to be funny. In one exchange, moderator Jake Tapper said to Cruz, “You’re the third senator.” Cruz quickly quipped, “I think I’m the first senator,” and smiled. He was the only one who seemed to get the joke. So, no cuteness.
- Facts are irrelevant. As is so often the case, it’s not necessarily the accuracy of what you say but how you say it. Little inaccuracies cost few points.Ted Cruz half-truthed the Iranian nuclear deal when he talked about self-inspections by Iran — which is not accurate — and about giving the country 24 days’ notice of inspections — also not accurate. The International Atomic Energy Agency will continually monitor declared nuclear sites and will have immediate access. The issue of self-inspections is not in the agreement, although some have alleged there will be sites where Iran collects its own samples. Carly Fiorina, who by all accounts had one of the strongest performances in the debate, said, “As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” The disturbing and graphic videos released by the Grantham Collection include discussions that suggest something like what Fiorina described, but they don’t show it in the video. Half truth.Likewise, Trump’s statement that he never declared bankruptcy are sort of true, as long as you don’t include the fact that his companies declared bankruptcy four times and he had to give up personal assets in those bankruptcies. Both Fiorina and Trump chose the glass-half-full approach to their business record, which many critics see through the glass-half-empty prism.Chris Christie is confused about his employment timeline, repeatedly saying he was named U.S. attorney by George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001. In fact, he was officially named to the position on Dec. 7, 2001. Trump defiantly stated, “Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world” don’t have birthright citizenship. Actually, that’s not true. At all. Mexico does have a form of birthright citizenship. There are approximately 30 countries in the world that grant automatic citizenship to anyone born within their national boundaries.
Trump also made a statement linking autism to vaccines, which Dr. Ben Carson immediately corrected, and misrepresented his interest — by saying he didn’t have one — in opening casinos in Florida when Jeb Bush was governor.
Fact-checkers love this stuff, but no one else really cares. Say it loud and say it proud.
- Donald Trump matters. No matter how much political insiders, pundits, analysts, observers and journalists scratch their heads and try to dismiss Trump, he matters. As the poll leader, and the loudest speaker on the circuit, Trump is attracting attention.The GOP started by laughing him off and ignoring him, but he didn’t go away. He’s still here. So now there is a new Trump tactic. Well, two, actually. If you are Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, you ramp up the attacks and try to out in-your-face The Donald. If you are Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson, you play nice with The Donald. But either way, the strategy is clearly about Trump. Don’t ignore Trump. Yes, talk about issues, but you also have to talk about Trump. He is the issue, at least for now, and he is lovin’ it.
- Be bold, be rude, and don’t follow the “rules” of the debate. The moderators tried, at least initially, to keep the lid on things, but ultimately folded whenever one of the candidates insisted on speaking. That leads to a very lopsided “discussion.” Two hours into the debate, CNN reported that Trump had spoken for 16 minutes and 1 second. Bush was in second place, with 11 minutes and 32 seconds.In comparison, polite Mike Huckabee was at five minutes. Other quiet candidates at the two-hour mark were Scott Walker and Rand Paul. As Washington Post political news editor Rebecca Sinderbrand tweeted at the two-hour mark, Trump had spoken more than Walker, Paul and Huckabee combined. Which reiterates point 2: Say it loud and say it proud. Even when it is someone else’s turn to talk.
— Rebecca Sinderbrand (@sinderbrand) Sept. 17, 2015
- Social media change everything. No shocker there, but remember, Twitter is live-feeding and Facebook is live-liking, and everything you say can and will be used against you. Don’t forget YouTube. That bizarre super-secret and super uncomfortable high five turned handshake between Donald Trump and Ben Carson is not going away anytime soon.
So keep your hands to yourself. And assume that any gaffe you make will soon appear paired with a cute cat video or an embarrassing hashtag.
- Beware of stupid questions. Apparently, whoever decided to make these debates ridiculously long thought it would be pretty darn hilarious to ask questions that are inane, idiotic or just plain weird. Your secret service name? Really. In case you missed it, the GOP candidates picked:
Chris Christie — True Heart
John Kasich — Unit 1
Carly Fiorina — Secretariat
Scott Walker — Harley
Jeb Bush — Eveready
Donald Trump — Humble
Ben Carson — One Nation
Ted Cruz — Cohiba
Marco Rubio — Gator
Mike Huckabee — Duck Hunter
Rand Paul — Justice Never Sleeps
While that no doubt sparked major discussion by those watchers playing the Skimm’s debate drinking game, the rest of the world was, well, perplexed. No one today admitted they were going to vote for Ted Cruz but then he went and picked Cohiba for his Secret Service name, so now it’s all over.
By the way, the actual process for selecting code names is that the Secret Service gives the president or whomever it is protecting a list of code names and he or she gets to pick what they like. The other members of the family get code names that start with the same letter.
Ronald Reagan was Rawhide and Nancy Reagan was Rainbow. Harry Truman, the first president to have a code name, was General.
It’s rather frightening to imagine what bizarre question Cooper might ask the Democrats. What cartoon character they would be? What is their stripper name? Pirate name?
In any case, watch out for curve balls.
- Families matter. Viewers want to know who you are. Google trends showed that two of the highest searched terms during the debate were “Bush wife” and “Fiorina daughter.”
Hillary Clinton might want to bring up a few tidbits on her grand-daughter during the debate, and someone may ask Bernie Sanders if he’s married.
Want more hype? Mention family. Then watch Google.
- Three hours is too long and 11 people are too many. This is just plain obvious. The first hour was entertaining. The second hour was interesting. The third hour was too long. With so many people on the dais, there wasn’t enough time to really explore the issues or have anything close to a true debate.
Luckily for the Democrats, they have half the field. Hopefully, they will take half the time.