December 6, 2023

unexpected debate coach

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Biden’s unexpected debate coach
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., now has less than a month to prepare former Vice President Joe Biden to debate and defeat Pres. Donald Trump. And Biden can use the help. Experience, gravitas, and decency are his strong suits. Debating is not.
          The duo emerged from Super Tuesday with Biden having won more delegates, and more states, and with Sanders having to confront the reality that the huge turnout of young voters he envisioned did not materialize, so his White House dreams will not be realized.
          Biden is favored in Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan and Missouri, and unless something radically changes, the Democratic electorate in the states ahead in the northeast and in Florida also tend towards Biden’s brand of moderation.
          A week after looking like he was a runaway train with the nomination, Sanders is now relegated to the role of Biden’s debate coach.
          He and Biden will debate on Sunday, March 15 in Phoenix, the day before the Arizona primary. Each will bring their A-game to the face off. With Sanders there isn’t much variation. He operates within a narrow bandwidth of proclaiming his ideas, proclaiming them again, and denouncing the billionaires and Wall Street corporatists who have made a mockery of our democracy. Of more significance will be Sanders’ aggressive persona. Like Trump, he is a New Yorker, noted for directness. And although that is the only trait the two men have in common, it will be sufficient for him to play the role of Trump stand-in.
          Viewers can also expect a case-by-case recitation of votes that Biden cast as a U.S. senator over three decades, some of which he would probably like to forget.
          Presumably Biden will have some good answers, including maybe an occasional, “I was wrong,” or if a particular vote came up today, he would vote differently.
          But more than that, it’s his demeanor that will be judged. Can he up his game? No more meandering answers that end with some outdated reference to a record player, no more stopping his answer while there’s still time on the clock, and no more fighting for time and griping that the moderator isn’t treating him fairly.
          There will be lots of time in a two-person debate. He can slow down his answers. He doesn’t have to talk louder to make sure he’s heard. He needs to look and sound presidential. This is serious business trying to unseat a sitting president, and it’s made all the more serious by the coronavirus and the dual health and economic challenges the country faces.
          People are anxious about the health risks to themselves and their families, and they’re not sure they’re getting accurate information.  In exit polls conducted in five states on Super Tuesday, more than half the voters said the coronavirus was a factor in their choice. Almost half these voters went for Biden (47 percent) followed by Sanders with 29 percent.
          During this perilous time, the candidate who projects a calm and confident demeanor and is knowledgeable will emerge the winner. In 2008, Barack Obama sealed the deal with voters when he took the stage in a debate against the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the midst of a global financial meltdown. That’s when the now familiar “no-drama” Obama won the confidence of the voters.
          Judging candidates by their debating skills may not be the best test of leadership, but there is a rough justice to the process. Whoever makes it through is tougher for it, and by that measure Sanders has his work cut out for him. He has about 10 days until the next debate to get Biden ready for the bigger debate that’s coming.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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