THE ROLE OF DEBATES

The roles of Presidential and VP candidate debates has morphed over the years, just as the role of the national party conventions, they have become more political theater and less working session. But they haven't changed as much as we might think.

One hundred and fifty four years agoLincolndebated Douglas. They certainly had a different format one candidate spoke for 60minutes, then the second candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and the first candidate re-joinered for 30 minutes. Talk about anopportunityfor speechifying instead of addressing the issues on the minds of the people (as represented by the press). In a time when there wasn't a national mass media, those debates served to get the word out in general, in addition to seeing the candidates in action as individuals. Today newspaper, magazines, TV, and the Internet help candidates get the word out on candidatepositions, and the televised debates have become more of a "disqualifying" event loaded with gotchas and zingers.

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A few notes on history though. Debates, and even the tradition of presidential candidate campaigning in person, are a relatively new practice.Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley campaigned from their front porches, doing sit-down discussion and short speeches to whoever showed up at their house. Afterall, the Lincoln-Douglas debateshappenedbeforeLincolnwas the party's nominee. Once Lincoln was in the process of running for thenominationthough, his backers turned many of Lincoln's event into pure political theater, following Lincoln around with troops of men carrying pieces of fence rail they claimed that the self-made man Lincoln had split himself, with a banner reading Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter. By all reports Lincoln practiced a little more humility anddignitythan Biden, but made the same claim to being an "Average Joe." Debates have always been one part explanation of positions, and many parts political theater.

WHAT ABOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL AND VP DEBATES

The candidates are going into the debates with very simply objectives.

For the first Presidential debate, Romney wanted to turn the race by demonstrating he is a knowledgeable, caring, Presidential man. Obama just didn't want to blow his lead by giving the press (earned media) a meme toobsesseson and drive the public dialogue.

My personal theory on the campaigns is that Romney's campaign believes there are fewer people that want to vote for Obama than there was four years ago, and all they need to do is prove Romney a viable alternative. The Obama campaigns theory seems to be similar when it comes to voters, but their plan for winning is to get the base out to vote and make Romney an unacceptable alternative to the undecided. On those grounds, Romney won the first debate.

In the post debate, Obama-Biden used the claim that Romney lied as a way to confuse the undecided and keep their votes uncommitted. Romney tried to drive home his "Acceptability," in large measure by winning in the polls and pushing that story. The polls are a large factor in provingcompetenceand acceptability. If Obama can't get the lead back in the polls (which include the opinions of a bunch of people who won't vote) before the election, he will lose the voting will follow the polls.

In the VP debate then, Joe wanted to rile up the Hard Support, the diehard voters Scott Miller has always said would go out in a snow storm to vote for their party's candidate. He also wanted to keep up the "Romney Lies" meme. Research has shown that for the Undecided, thinking a candidate lies is confusing and stops them from committing. Obama-Biden wants to keep "Romney Lies" in the dialogue until they can show that Obama wants to win, can win, and is a competent President. Ryan's goal in the debate was to reinforce that Romney is a "knowledgeable, caring, Presidential man," and that Ryan is competent enough to be VP (and potential President). This time both candidates seemed to achieve their goal, although Biden's antics seemed to have turned off some women voters and Ryan meekness left some voters wondering.

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Posted in Law Post Date 07/13/2019


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