Bimbo Banter

Debate Icebergs

  • Leadership
  • August 3, 2015
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Nine tenths of the volume of an iceberg is unseen, below water. It’s the same thing with the upcoming debates for the Republican presidential candidates.

Critical strategic decisions are being made now, before the TV cameras turn on, because Thursday night isn’t mostly about policy ideas. Rather, the outcome of the debate will be heavily influenced by how the candidates and their staffs answer the following questions:

  • Who’s our audience? Do we focus on our base, undecided voters or somebody else’s voters? That determines how our candidate shapes all his comments. Are we trying for likeability – or the kind of determination that signals that our candidate can take on President Putin and the rest of the international community?
  • Can we think of a zinger line and look for an opportunity to slip it in? Think something like President Reagan’s comment about Vice President Mondale, that he would not exploit his opponent’s “youth and inexperience.” Or Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s crack when VP-candidate Dan Quayle compared his age to JFK’s and the Senator interjected “I knew John F. Kennedy; you’re no John F. Kennedy.” Both zingers were prepared and probably rehearsed beforehand. Can our candidate turn to Sen. Cruz and say, laughingly, “Are you going to call me a liar, too?” (Obviously doesn’t work for Sen. Cruz.)
  • How do we help our candidate “stay in the moment?” Think Newt Gingrich’s critique of Romney’s performance in the second debate with President Obama when moderator Candy Crowley weighed in to confirm President Obama’s assertion. According to Gingrich, that was the moment for Romney to turn to the audience, assume a wry expression and say “See what I have to put up with?”
  • Should we plug the campaign website? Timing is everything in this department. The goal is to be the first to mention to avoid the “me too” look.
  • What should our candidate do when the others say something untrue or ridiculous? Should he gently shake his head – or does that make us look like Al Gore in the debates with George Bush? We want to attract the camera but avoid the loser comparison.
  • Who’s managing the social media campaign? This is arguably as important as the debate itself. It is imperative to share a steady stream of comments and images on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and every other social platform. Audiences now expect it. Which groups should we be targeting to engage, hoping for retweets and comments?
  • How aggressive should our candidate be? Can he respond to a question by starting with, “That’s the wrong topic—and just what I’d expect from you when the real issue is….”

Finally:  no mistakes. No BIMBO comments—repeating and denying a negative word—and don’t take the bait on any cheap shot or off-topic question.

By the time the candidates walk onto the stage Thursday, the strategic answers to these questions will go a long way to how well the candidates do. If done well, the candidate will be the perfect iceberg that impresses cruise goers:  magnificent, memorable and overshadowing all the other scenery—er, candidates.

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