This week both the Democratic and the Republican debates were held in Florida ahead of Tuesday’s big vote (where a few hundred delegates are at stake). Altogether that makes more than 10 gazillion debates per party, almost as many as there are seasons of Judge Judy. And like any good reality TV show, the debates have ample doses of commotion, characters and conflict. The frequency and repetitiveness of these debates, town halls and televised rallies have led to information overload and voter fatigue, to the point where viewers are drawn to showmanship over substance, an area where Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have excelled. But should a president really be chosen for their personality over their policies, especially if their policies are considered farfetched or damaging to America?
In the Democratic debate both Sanders and Hillary Clinton were peppered with gotcha questions and swallowed the bait, clashing on immigration, industry and inequality. While Clinton’s answers were well rehearsed and detailed, Sanders’ simplicity and authenticity in his messaging made it difficult to land a blow on him and is what makes him very appealing to his supporters. The Republican debate was uncharacteristically Zen like, with no name calling, insults or personal attacks in evidence. Unfortunately for Rubio, Cruz and Kasich, this new civility seemed to benefit Trump the most, whose stance, expressions and voice seemed more presidential than the rest of the candidates. Both Trump and Sanders as the underdogs and outsiders had the most to gain from the continued exposure of the debates, and both have benefitted much more than their rivals in this area.
Trump’s confident aggression and Sanders’ impassioned pleas for revolution have appealed to voters on both sides. Using the anger of voters and turning it on their opponents or the establishment allows Trump and Sanders to appear dominant onstage, which in turn draws more voters. On the flip side, candidates like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley are criticized for their lacklustre debates and are subsequently forced to bow out of the race. Debates equal exposure and are an important opportunity for candidates to stand out from the pack, but they can also lead to over exposure and brand damage. And with each debate now able to be nationally televised, there really isn’t any need for a dozen debates just to watch the candidates answer the same questions and repeat the same speeches. After all, once you’ve seen three or five presidential debates, Judge Judy probably ends up being more educational.
Can’t get enough of reality TV and stupid antics? Movie for your mood: the Truman Show