The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Debates: High-Risk, Low-Reward

Rich Galen

Thursday June 27, 2019

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  • Here's what I'm going to do. I'll watch the first debate which begins, as I type this, in about a half hour at 9 o'clock EDT, and watch tomorrow's as well, Then I'll report on both.

  • You know the drill. Ten candidates tonight and 10 more tomorrow night.

  • MSNBC is treating the run-up to the debate like it's the Superbowl. I don't blame them for that, but I believe it would have been better for tonight's ratings if the order of debaters were swapped.

  • More people will want to see Biden vs Bernie than will want to watch Warren vs Klobachar. A lot of them will take a peek tomorrow night, but being first is where the action is.

  • Maybe I'm wrong.


    About polls. Every time someone reports on a poll they add the fact that it's really too early to draw any conclusions.

    Two things.

    1- If they're so useless, why is so much money spent on them and why are they so breathlessly reported as soon as they become public?

    2- Polls are like the in-game score of a football game. If one team is leading 14-10 midway through the second quarter it doesn't mean that team will hold its lead and win. But, can you imagine if football was like boxing and (barring a KO) you didn't know who won (and by how much) until the game was over?


  • Let me tell you how thrilled the polling leader, Joe Biden, is to be involved with this whole thing.

  • Not.

  • In politics, when you're ahead, you try to do things that are low-risk and high-reward.

  • Paid commercials are the best example. You control the content, the look (or sound) and feel, where it will run, how often it will run and when it will stop.

  • Compare and contrast that with a political debate. You control almost nothing and if you're Joe Biden the upside is very modest - you'll come out of it with 30-something percent of the Democratic primary vote.

  • The down side is very scary - should he lose his concentration for a few seconds of the two hour show and say something that makes him a laughing stock, his campaign will have a very tough time climbing out of the hole.

  • Remember then-Texas Governor Rick Perry and his infamous "Oops?"

  • I'm not suggesting that will happen, but that's why frontrunners hate these things.

  • The last time I participated in debate prep at the Presidential level was when I was senior advisor to the late Sen. Fred Thompson's campaign in the 2008 cycle. Unlike some of the other aspects of the race, he took those training sessions very seriously.

  • Two of us peppered Sen. Thompson with questions: I would ask political questions and economic guru Larry Lindsey would ask policy questions.

  • We'd go for about 15 minutes at high speed and then stop so the staff (the few who were allowed in the room) could offer suggestions. Then we'd start again.

  • The first debate in which Fred participated was, like this week, hosted by MSNBC. Chris Matthews was one of the moderators and asked Fred a question about Canada. As Fred was about to answer, Matthews broke in and ask Fred if he could name the Canadian Prime Minister.

  • Matthews was clearly trying to trap Thompson with a "gotcha" question, but Fred knew it was Stephen Harper.

  • After the debate Thompson was sulking as we made our way to the bus. I thought he'd done very well and asked him what the problem was.

  • "I should have said to Matthews: 'Let's have everyone pull out a piece of paper and write their answer to that Prime Minister question.'"

  • I started sulking, too.

  • That's what I mean about high-risk, low-reward. Had Fred not known the answer, every reporter in every small town in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina would have asked him to name the head of state of some obscure -stan country in Eastern Europe.

  • But, because he got it right, it was immediately forgotten.

  • Be back with you tomorrow.

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