And the Award for Best Actor in a Debate Goes to…?

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I’ve never been a follower of the Oscars, Grammys, Tonys or other major awards shows, but if there were Emmy’s for debates, several categories could have been awarded last night.


Last night was the second Republican primary debate in the lead-up to the 2024 election, and as always, my analysis is completely APOLITICAL, looking strictly at patterns and moments reflecting effective leadership communication skills, as lessons for us all – whether or not we’d ever cast a vote for anyone on the stage.


The “Awards” I would bestow are in the categories of:

  • Setting the Bar
  • Most Presidential Moment
  • Most Shameful Moment
  • The Most United Front
  • Taking the High Road
  • INconsistency in Messaging (another dubious honor)

And my final prediction at the end — not an award, but notable nonetheless.


Interestingly, I actually found some of the most noteworthy moments in the minutes just before and after the actual debate itself.


The Award for Setting the Bar


In the very last comment before the debate officially began, Kellyanne Conway observed:

“People want somebody who’s tough, they want somebody who fights. But they don’t want somebody who fights for fighting sake; they want somebody who fights for the people.”


Well said, Kellyanne. You win the award for setting the bar. But was that bar reachable, or just wishful thinking?


Mostly, it was wishful thinking, unfortunately, as more often than not at least three of the seven candidates on stage were all talking at the same time, arguing over who should be allowed to interrupt whom. Nobody wins when that happens, least of all, the viewers.


Fortunately, there were several breakout moments where others very successfully hurdled Kellyanne’s bar.


The Award for Most Presidential Moment


The winner of the “Most Presidential Moment” goes to Senator Tim Scott (SC). Moderator Ilia Calderón cited a rather… loaded… line in Florida’s education curriculum about slavery and Governor Ron DeSantis for his message to descendants of slaves.


While his response was… questionable… alluding to some comment Vice President Kamala Harris had made about it, but when Scott was invited to respond, he knocked it out of the park:


  • Instead of attacking DeSantis, Harris, or the textbook authors, he offered a simple solution: that they all “should have taken the one sentence out.”
  • His statements surrounding slavery and the Black experience were drama-free, non-incendiary and did not create or take sides
  • He spoke with pride of the historical challenges overcome by Black Americans and acknowledged that he personally has experienced discrimination, but without any trace of blame or bitterness – both of which would have been justified
  • And he drew a clear distinction between certain government policies that DID hurt Black families and communities, specifically Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960s, and the country overall, explicitly asserting that America “is NOT racist.”


Now, whether or not you agree with any of his statements is totally up to you.


But given the political division in the country, and the fact that he is the only Black candidate in a party whose registered voters are still 85% white, he did an exceptionally diplomatic job of walking the line and making an argument without putting any major voting constituency on the defensive.


He hurdled Kellyanne’s bar: He was there to fight for the people – not pick a fight with people.


It was authoritative, unifying, and very “Presidential.”


And he knows that he will be able to be much more vociferous in speaking up for the rights of Black Americans as president than as a single-digit-polling candidate. He played his cards right.


Most Shameful Moment


One other moment that initially made me bristle, but turned out to be the best moment of the night was in the penultimate question of the evening.


To my dismay, moderator Dana Perino asked a question that seemed to be competing for the “most shameful moment in a reality show” award (if there were such a thing).


She asked all the candidates to take the pen and paper on their podiums and write the name of the one candidate they each thought should “be voted off the island.”


It struck me as pandering to our lower selves, deliberately instigating a fight among the candidates, and seeking melodrama for melodrama’s sake. A cheap shot to create fodder for morning-after gossip.


Then a minor miracle of redemption happened.


The Award for the Best United Front


The candidates all looked at her and either in words, facial expressions or both, said some version of, “You can’t be serious.”


DeSantis took the lead this time, and outright refused to answer that question, asserting that they were all up on the stage to engage in meaningful debate, so to get back to more substantive questions. All the other candidates expressed their agreement, and the debate moved on.


The award for “Best United Front” goes to all of them. Kudos to all of them. They all hurdled Kellyanne’s bar, together. (If only they could show that kind of unity and integrity on ALL the questions… but I digress.)


The “High Road” Award


The final stand-out moment of the night was actually after the official debate ended. Sean Hannity was interviewing each of the candidates one by one, and Vivek Ramaswamy stole the post-game show.


Hannity asked him about some tense moments when Ramaswamy was under fire, most frequently by Nikki Haley (former governor, SC, and Ambassador), among others. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to fire back, uninterrupted.


But he didn’t.


Instead, he dismissed the attacks with a wave and a smile, reiterating a statement he had made earlier in the debate that all the candidates on the stage were inherently “good people.”


Instead of trying to “set the record straight,” cry victim, or otherwise feed into the animosity and division, he was going to be a good sport about it, and show that we’re all in this together.


He controlled the narrative, and framed the attacks as part of a rite of passage as “the new guy” who needed to “earn people’s trust.” To him, it was merely part of a fraternity hazing, and he was willing to see it through.


It was a fabulous example of grace under fire, and ability to turn the other cheek (at least in public).


The “Taking the High Road in Leadership” award definitely goes to Vivek Ramaswamy.


So there were definitely some good examples of what leadership looks and sounds like amid the chaos of the rest of the evening. You just need to know where to look!


The Award for Inconsistency in Messaging


Side note: the “Inconsistency in Messaging” award goes to Fox Business News. They moderated the debate and came up with the questions, including one that referenced the fact that TikTok was blocked from all government-issued cell phones and devices because of alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party… which is fine, except that TikTok was allowed to buy airtime on the FBN network during both debates so far, in the very first advertisement slot with each commercial break of the night.


Is it just me, or is that weird?


Final Prediction


Last point, just for fun – I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction.


On multiple occasions in both debates Ramaswamy has consistently stated that he thinks Donald Trump was an excellent president whom he would fully pardon, if elected. Might he be vying not for the presidency, but more realistically at this stage in his political career, for the role of vice president?


Of all candidates, Ramaswamy’s stance has indirectly demonstrated “loyalty” to Trump — a quality that the former president has state that he values above anything else.


For that reason, I predict that if Donald Trump is not in prison or otherwise banned from running for office again, the 2024 Republican ticket will be Trump-Ramaswamy.


Time will tell if my “Magic 8-Ball” speaks the truth…


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