Yesterday afternoon, I was with my cousin and his wife. Near the end of the day they asked if I wanted to stay and watch the Democratic debate. I said no, that I wasn't watching the full debates lately, since they're largely going over the same material they done in previous debate after debate after debate. The only reason to watch, I thought, was to see how Mike Bloomberg does, and that I expected the others to go after him hard. Basically, I've watched about 30-45 minutes of debates to get a general sense of things and then would watch the post-debate analyses to see what highlights they show.
I got home after the debate began. Did some work. Prepared dinner, and eventually turned on the debate. And for five minutes saw all the candidates having a shouting match meltdown. I was tempted to call my cousin and say, "This is why I wasn't planning to watch."
I don't have a strong reaction to the debate since I didn't watch all that much. As before, I watched about a half hour. And came away with a somewhat general response.
I saw two debates. When the candidates spoke on the issues without interruption, I thought everyone did reasonably well and thought they handled themselves in a way that would be effective in a general election if they were the party nominee. I'm not saying that I agreed with everything they each were saying, just that they clearly felt strongly about their issues and presented them respectably. The other debate was when they were having their shouting and meltdowns. It was ridiculous.
Overall, I had the same overall takeaway that I've had to all the debates -- they should make clear that they aren't running against each other, but that they are running against Trump. Their individual positions do differ from one another, but only in degrees. What they should do is show how their positions wildly differ from Trump and that they offer a strong positive direction for the country. And in discussing that, the viewers would see how they differ from one another. This year, more than most any other presidential election, they have to make clear that Trump is their opponent, not one another.
One last comment. I can't react in detail to how analysts each discussed who they felt did well and poorly in the debate. But even seeing as little as I did, I greatly disagree with those (including one of my favorite analysts, Jason Johnson on MSNBC) who said this was a disaster for Mike Bloomberg and could mark the end of his campaign. I thought that was ridiculous -- even if their comments about how lackluster he was and how badly he was hurt by attacks were 100% accurate. (They may be accurate -- or not. What I saw showed some of those problems, but I also saw some strengths. But for the sake of argument, let's say they were completely right in how badly they thought he did.)
First, I doubt all that many people watched, especially comparatively. The initial debate got 15 million viewers. The last few have had about 7 million each. Perhaps more watched because of Bloomberg's involvement, but after eight previous debates it's no long Must-Watch TV. [UPDATE: I was incredibly wrong about this point. It was a massively-watched debate. The other points below hold.]
Second, Mike Bloomberg isn't even on the ballot in Nevada. So, when the caucus results are announced, he won't be in them. We won't see (for that aforementioned sake of argument) that he finished far below expectations.
Third, his campaign has been centered around Super Tuesday. Unlike most of the other candidates, he can compete in all those states, because to do so requires a strong ad campaign. After all, you can't physically show up in all the Super Tuesday states with enough regularity to make a difference, there are far too many -- 14 of them! -- and further, many are simply much too big. California alone is almost prohibitive to run an in-person race in, especially in such a short period of time. So, you have to rely on ads to cover the fool landscape. Bloomberg can do that. And is.
Fourth, however Bloomberg did in the debate yesterday, he can address his shortcomings and build on his strengths in a new set of TV ads, and hit the airwaves with them almost immediately.
The point is, no matter how poorly one might think Mike Bloomberg did last night (whether that's true or not), I believe that it is utterly foolish to think it marks the end of his campaign.
As for the rest that went on during the debate, I liked enough to appreciate the jobs the candidates are doing. And enough was just foolishness, and I hope they start focusing on who the real opponent is.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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