Monday, October 12, 2015

by Reed Galen

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

•    The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
•    There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
•    The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me –

Democratic Debate Participants

Sec. Hillary Clinton (NY)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)

Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (RI)

Gov. Martin O’Malley (MD)

Sen. Jim Webb (VA)

Average Age of Participants: 64.8 years (They can thank O’Malley for bringing it down below Social Security and/or retirement age.)

The American Singularity - Insert: Democratic Debate Pre-Game Report

Tomorrow night in Las Vegas, the comparatively small (six), old and white members of the Democratic field for president will meet for their first debate of the 2016 election cycle. Unlike the GOP, which has so many candidates (15) and so many actually receiving support that is not an asterisk, the Democratic contest features only two candidates sharing the lion’s share of support in Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The third most popular option, Vice President Joe Biden, hasn’t yet decided whether to enter the race and won’t be in attendance.

Despite the fact that Chaffee, Webb and O’Malley barely register in public surveys, they’ve got an opportunity to show their stuff to Democratic and national voters for the first and stand on the stage with the leaders, a chance at least a half-dozen Republicans would kill for.

As the Democrats have figured a debate system so bad it make’s the GOP’s look downright ingenious, the candidates likely don’t have the luxury of using the first get together to find their footing and feel out their opponents. Expect that the long shots (mentioned above) will take their shots at every opportunity.

The Hill Show

If Donald Trump was the celebrity draw for the Republicans, Hillary Clinton fills that role for the Democrats. She will be center-stage and likely receive the most questions and airtime during the 90-minute contest. For a candidate who has expressed her desire to be more “spontaneous” don’t expect to see it tomorrow night.

Her team has likely game-planned as many possible scenarios as they can, loading her up with set piece answers to both a) illustrate her experience and readiness for the job and b) deflect the likely incoming attacks from opponents who in all honesty probably shouldn’t be on the stage with her. But that is the nature of running for the White House. As President, you’re just as likely to face a crisis from some tinhorn dictator as you are from the Chinese or Russians.

How she handles herself will be an indicator of whether Hillary and her team have managed to turn their effort around. Expect her to take full advantage of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s remarks about the Benghazi committee to remind Democrats that the “vast rightwing conspiracy” is still alive and out to get her.

And while victimhood may reinforce with the die-hard Clintonistas that she is the right person for the job, it’s not a particularly inspiring or visionary position to take. This is a big night for the Clinton. She has to answer questions forthrightly, without, as David Axelrod said, looking as if she’s doing the political calculations in her head as she’s standing there.

I’m Bernin’, I’m Bernin’, I’m Bernin’ for You…

Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian senator from Vermont doesn’t have nearly the issues Clinton faces. First, he never expected to be in the position in which he now finds himself. He’s playing with house money. Also, given his long history as a Democratic Socialist (his words, not mine!), he doesn’t have to go back and remember where he stood on a given issue. He’s likely held those stances most of his career.

Sanders, despite his age, is able to speak to young, disaffected Democratic voters who believe the government has not enough on student loans, creating jobs, healthcare or any number of other issues. Sanders curmudgeonly fieriness will likely play well to the crowd, even if Debbie Wasserman-Schulz has disinvited anyone who’s not a Hillary supporter.

He will serve as an interesting foil to Clinton. He is unlikely to go after her directly. He doesn’t need to. Candidates like Martin O’Malley, desperate to make their mark tomorrow night, will likely make Sanders’ best points for him, allowing the Ben and Jerry candidate to stand astride the mountaintop and rage against the machine.

Obama vs. The Future

Like any president at the end of their second term, Barack Obama will loom over the debate stage. All his perceived successes and failures will create the backdrop of a field that believes Democrats should retain leadership of the country. The candidates on stage will have to pick the best parts of the Obama legacy to continue while gently treading on those items with which they disagree.

The President is still very popular with Democrats and any outright criticism of the White House or its policies (outside of trade, probably) brings with it the danger of a boomerang to the side of the head.

That being said, the candidates should expect (and I hope CNN will ask) hard questions about the President’s actions, specifically to foreign policy and national security. Despite his insistence that the United States is a safer place since he took office, the balance of the world is in chaos, and much of it happened on his watch.

Hillary Clinton will have a delicate balancing act to perform as the candidate with far and away the most experience overseas but also not wanting to upset the White House too much and push them further into Joe Biden’s putative camp.

Style and Substance

Fox News and CNN, the hosts of the first two Republican debates, played up Donald Trump’s presence on the stage to spend the first 30-45 minutes of each event playing gotcha and encouraging the candidates to take shots at one another based on past statements. While this may have had some entertainment value, and laid out who could handle incoming fire, we likely could have done without much of it.

Will CNN use the same tactics in their debate tomorrow night? Indeed, will they play the candidates off against one another, trying to manufacture fireworks and drama? Will they ask the candidates hard questions or will they play to type and allow the candidates to expound on run-of-the-mill issues core to more liberal Democratic primary voters? Can Anderson Cooper ask Hillary Clinton a difficult question regarding her email server without worrying about what the Manhattan glitterati will think of him on Wednesday when he gets home? I believe he can; whether he will or not remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Based on an interview he gave earlier today, Anderson Cooper will NOT ask "gotcha" questions of Democratic field.

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AuthorReed Galen