Those hoping a top candidate or two would come out swinging on night two of the Democratic primary debates this week probably weren’t disappointed.
There were plenty of fireworks on Thursday night in Miami, Florida — but the problem for the Democrats is that they were swinging at each other and further dividing their party on major issues of the day.
To hold their own against President Donald Trump, these candidates will need to learn how to communicate more effectively with the American people when it matters most. If they don’t, they’ll be knocked off easily and early in their fight for the White House in 2020.
As a strategic business coach and motivational speaker, my top comment about the Thursday night debate is this.
The candidates who stayed focused on their own vision for America communicated more effectively with the audience than others did.
Below are a few observations and insights about the 10 who debated on Thursday night (for my commentary on those who debated on Wednesday night, click here).
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And don’t worry — I’ll be getting to former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris here shortly.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.): The 38-year-old lawmaker lost much of the crowd when he veered off-course with his 32-year-old “pass the torch” anecdote — which called out the advanced age of Biden, who is 76. Swalwell’s swing fell flat. He never connected with the audience and likely turned off many.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.J.): She tried interrupting others to get in some jabs now and then, but overall she had a lackluster performance. It’s true she focused on her vision and stressed the issues that were important to her. Yet in order to successfully move forward as a potential nominee, she must become more comfortable on stage. She did not seem comfortable on Thursday night.
Author Marianne Williamson: When a person is not well-known, being an assertive speaker during a debate is key to getting one’s point across and making a memorable impression. Williamson did neither.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): He came across as overly aggressive rather than confident. Sanders started out by speaking in a loud voice — but it was his campaign rally voice. It only got louder as the night progressed. When folks watching at home need to grab their remotes and lower the volume, that’s a sign there’s trouble connecting with the audience.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: He didn’t wear a tie. Some people may like that easygoing style, but formality and the Oval Office go hand-in-hand, so he missed an opportunity to introduce himself properly. He also used the “a” word on live television when he named Russia as the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. today. He said Russia has been “hacking our democracy successfully … They’ve been laughing their a**es off about it for the last couple years.” The substance of his comments aside, that language almost certainly distracted many.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.): He was quickly thrown off by his first question. He looked nervous and unprepared, which translates to a watching audience as incompetence. Preparation is key to his ability to move forward in the race.
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Mayor Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana: Their comments were well paced and composed. However, while they acted and sounded confident, they each must step outside of their comfort zones in the next round to connect with audiences on a deeper level.
When a candidate loses confidence, he loses the faith of the audience.
Former Vice President Joe Biden: If a candidate can’t handle a confrontation by someone in his own party, how would he handle it from such a strong opponent as President Trump (never mind countless others if elected)? While Biden appeared strong and in charge when he was listing his political accomplishments over the years, he failed to recapture his own stature after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) confronted him about his civil rights record — an exchange that was hard to watch. When a candidate loses confidence, he loses the faith of the audience.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). She pounced at Biden, railed against Trump, and vowed to “release these [immigrant] children from cages” during a discussion about the detention of those here illegally. The former prosecutor may have won the most headlines but not necessarily the audience. Even after she shared her personal story of being bussed as a child — something she clearly planned to mention one way or another — Harris virtually never smiled during the two-hour debate. Her body posture was also not relaxed, both of which can create a disconnect with audiences.
(The Harris campaign, by the way, is now selling T-shirts based on her “that-little-girl-was-me” line on Thursday night when she spoke of how she was bussed as a child as part of school desegregation.)
All of these Democratic candidates, plus those from Wednesday night, have a long road ahead of them if they’re serious about squaring off against powerhouse communicator President Trump.
The next round of primary debates for the Democrats occurs at the end of July.
John Di Lemme is president and CEO of DDG, Inc. (www.GiantGoals.com), a strategic business consulting firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a global turnaround specialist, he has generated over $100 million for his corporate and entrepreneurial clients.