The Democratic Disaster Last Week and How the Candidates Can Be Better

In 1980, I visited President Jimmy Carter in the White House.

I was obsessed with politics. With the people who worked so hard to be governor or senator or president.

I think it was because I was insecure. I didn’t want to be just me. I wanted people to like me, to maybe even VOTE for me.

At age 12.

When my friends were starting to hold hands with girls and feel those first unusual stirrings of romance, I would go home every day and call senators and governors and presidential candidates for hours.

I would write letters to them, maybe 50 letters a day, and steal the stamps from my parents.

If I came home from school and there were zero responses in the mailbox I’d be so upset I’d often skip school the next day.

One day I skipped school and I called Bill Bradley, the senator from New Jersey. It was the 100th time I had called him.

I told his staff I worked for the local newspaper, The Home News, which was true because of my paper route. I told his staff I needed to interview him.

He got on the phone and said, “Why aren’t you in school?”
Because this is what I did all day every day.

I didn’t care at all about the issues. I was only 12 years old! I tried to read about “Welfare” and “mutual assured destruction” but I just didn’t care.

I loved the game. How do people win an election? How do people plan years or decades in advance (as was the case with Kennedy) to be president?

I went to the 1980 Democratic Convention. I went to Washington D.C. in 1980 to meet Rex Scouten, the chief usher of the White House.

It was my birthday and he gave my dad and me a special tour of the private wing of the White House where we saw Carter and others.

I had a plan. In this order I’d be: a juror, a city councilman, a state senator, a congressman, a governor, a senator, a president.

I interviewed (my first podcast?) about 50 senators, congressmen, mayors, presidential candidates.

I got the printed list from the Federal Elections Commission of who was running for president.

There were hundreds of people from obscure third parties. I called ALL of them.

I spoke to a guy whose motto was, “When in doubt, mumble.” (Jim Boren, who was specifically running to be Ted Kennedy’s vice president.)

I spoke to another guy (still a well-known economist) Norman Kurland whose entire platform was that employees should own the companies they work for.

I spoke to a guy who said he was Chief Crazy Horse’s grandson and he was running for Native American rights.

One time I spoke to Minority Leader of the House (later Speaker of the House) Jim Wright. I was so excited I called my mom afterward. She said, “I have to go,” and hung up.

Every month when the phone bill came, my dad would hit me as hard as possible. “We told you to stop!” He sold all my toys to pay for the bill.

But I was an addict. I couldn’t stop.

Within a year, by 1981, I had lost interest.

Girls, girls, girls.

One girl I asked out said, “Maybe in 100 years.” Another simply ran away.

But the phone bill went down.

That said, I love the game.

I love watching the debates. It’s such incredible B.S. Everyone is playing out a narrative they think will work. Everyone’s an actor, and usually a bad one.

I feel a lot of times people pick their “team” and root for that team. THAT IS THE WORST WAY to watch a debate.

These are people who are trying to be the President of the United States.

They are going to be eye to eye with the most ruthless dictators and, I suspect, the most difficult economic problems we have ever faced.

I want someone to shine, to impress me, to rise above the rest.

I was so disappointed last week. There are plenty of reviews but I think most of the reviews missed the bigger points.

Most pundits are stuck in their own narratives. They get home and look in the mirror and ask out of insecurity, “Did I seem smart on TV tonight?”


Part of what I look for is: does the candidate sound like he’s talking sincerely? Or is this a prepared act? A pandering to the public?

It’s hard to be honest and transparent in such a high-stakes situation.

And whether they are honest and transparent, it’s almost as important to appear that way. So other world leaders take you seriously.

Kruschev didn’t take Kennedy seriously and that’s what led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and almost World War III.

Briefly, here are my thoughts.


His narrative: He wants people to see him as a natural successor to Obama. If that narrative succeeds, he wins.

With every question he reminds people of what the Obama Administration achieved and he takes credit for it.

He has righteous anger that is louder than everyone else’s, to stress how he is “the adult.”

BUT, he has a problem:

  • Obama doesn’t like him. Obama has even said it’s better to be a woman or younger now.
  • You can’t take credit for one policy, but also say you were secretly fighting for the issues you disagreed with Obama on. That looks like a loser. This is why Obama despises him and Biden senses it.

The problem with this narrative is that it focuses on Obama and not on issues.

This comes out in the debate when he focuses more on the solutions he “solved” from 2009–2017 and not on solutions going forward.

And his stutter has not been a lifelong problem, as he says. He needs to address this.


His narrative is simple. It’s black and white.

With every question: who is the most oppressed by the issues being presented?

This narrative is great. Because all of the solutions are immediate and short-term so people superficially think they will be helped right away.

I trust with Bernie that this narrative is not manipulative, regardless of whether his ideas are right or wrong.

He has truly believed in these issues for decades and has remained consistent.

The problem: The best of intentions often lead to the worst of problems.

The backing of student loan debt by the government since the 1940s and 1960s (great intentions) has now created the worst debt crisis we’ve ever seen for people in their 20s.

Social welfare programs are a mess to manage. Hence the need for solutions ranging from Obamacare to the most outrageous Libertarian solutions.

Bernie’s solution on student loan debt doesn’t fit his narrative… (I’ll explain why in the Andrew Yang section. Andrew Yang missed a chance that I felt was the reason he failed the debate).

And Bernie hammering the problem while not offering solutions (he’s assuming everyone knows his solutions) allowed for people like Biden to say, “It will cost $80 TRILLION!” and Bernie didn’t have an answer ready. (Meanwhile, Warren masterfully answered this attack from Biden so she could easily say, “No it won’t, issue over.”)

Also, Bernie is quirky. He has a better sense of humor than anyone on stage except for Yang.

Unfortunately, his humor is a bit of “old man.” His “I’m WHITE!” was horrible. He might have quietly lost all chances to be president on that one.

NOTE: This is not about who I want but about what actually happened.

And, the sad thing is: he looks old. And he has a bad accent (people don’t like that) and sometimes it feels like he is too mechanically pandering to progressives (his Israel opinion without a real solution).

Plus, too much old-man arguing between Biden and Bernie.

Nobody wants to see two cranky old men arguing.

Going negative is fine. But only losers are defensive. This is a critical thing most of the candidates and their advisors miss.


Her narrative:

  • I’m a progressive like Bernie but I’m more solution-focused
  • I’m a woman but not putting too much emphasis on that other than to show that I care more (which is a feminine stereotype but Warren uses it)
  • Short-term narrative: MAYOR PETE IS A HUGE THREAT!

She did pretty good in the debate. Her answers had solutions.

So when Biden said, “We can’t pay for that” she easily responded, “Sure we can.”

She also did some behind-the-scenes stuff in the debate that people should notice:

THIS IS IMPORTANT. I was impressed that Warren focused on this nuance.

Iowa is the first caucus.

I can’t remember the last time a well-organized candidate in Iowa (or New Hampshire) DID NOT win the nomination.

The only exception I can think of is 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy totally ignored the early primaries and would have won the nomination if he were not killed at the finish line.

2008 is a great example. Giuliani was the frontrunner in the polls at this time in the election.

He decided to skip Iowa and New Hampshire and focus on Super Tuesday, the day when the most delegates are selected.

This strategy bombed spectacularly.

This is the reason Bloomberg probably doesn’t have a chance.


Iowa is not an election; it’s a caucus. Essentially, active members of the party get together in small groups and select the candidate.

Historically, whoever has the most employees and volunteers in Iowa wins this important caucus.

At this moment, Buttigieg has the biggest organization in the state. Warren is No. 2. And Biden is a distant third.

This is why Biden is starting to scale up massively in the state.

BUT this is also why Warren broke with her previous “nice guy” policy for these debates and went on the attack.

She had to. Strategically, Buttigieg is her biggest obstacle in the short term.

Not frontrunner Biden… not Sanders, with whom she overlaps the most with on issues and thus has superficial reason to attack him… but Buttigieg.

Mayor Pete is her enemy right now. And her “wine cave” comments obliterated him.


VERY IMPORTANT RULE: If you find yourself defending yourself, you’ve already lost.

Pete defended himself. He lost the debate because of that. He came across as angry and “#winecavepete” started trending.

You CANNOT go on the defensive.

He had a prepared line about how Warren also “doesn’t pass the purity test.” But it came off as too pre-canned and because it was said on the defense (and she was ready for it), nobody paid attention.

The audience is an X-ray machine. They can see canned and will ignore it.


He should’ve reframed his attack to fit his narrative.

Simply say, “My solutions for this country are based on my decades of experience in the military, in public service, as an executive, as a mayor. The other candidates can bicker. But I focus on the solutions this country needs, not the politics of campaigning. We have to think bigger than petty insults to run a country.”

And then move on.

Instead, it turned into a bickering match and he lost more points than Warren.

This debate destroyed him. “Mayor Pete” has now turned into “Wine Cave Pete.”

Elizabeth Warren successfully pulled off a “Donald Trump linguistic kill shot.” Hat tip to Scott Adams for introducing the “kill shot” concept in his book “Win Bigly.”


Her narrative:

  • “Beat Trump” is the only issue. Solutions will take care of themselves after he is beaten
  • Underline her experience in legislation to show she can work with leaders.

Problems with this narrative: “Beat Trump” does seem to be, if not the No. 1 issue for the Democrats, at least the No. 2 issue.

The problem is, EVERY TIME you say the phrase, “Beat Trump,” the brain hears “Trump.”

Not sure this is a winning narrative but several of the candidates, particularly Klobuchar, have been running with it.

She’s doing the best she can with experience. Yes, she has a lot of experience as a senator.

But senators without executive experience (governor, military, vice president, CEO, even mayor) are just small cogs in a big machine.

To manage a country you have to… manage!

She needs to find some way to show she has what it takes to be an executive.

This past CENTURY, only two candidates have won without executive experience: Kennedy and Obama.

Both elections were run on the strength of their personalities, the symbolism they represented (youth vs. age, first African American), and they focused their message AS IF they were executives. (Kennedy ran on Russia’s military buildup. Obama was surprisingly effective in the final weeks of the election on helping Bush deal with the financial crisis, while McCain was surprisingly ineffective.)

Klobuchar has ZERO chance with her current narrative.

BUT the pundits say she was the biggest winner in this debate.

This shows me that pundits have no clue.

Here was the way she expressed her narrative during the debate:

“I passed this bill, this bill, this bill… beat Trump… this bill, this bill, this bill… Minnesota shows that I can beat Trump.”

The problem: yes she passed bills, but did any of them work?

We don’t know. Yes, Minnesota has many political groups (“beat Trump”) but who cares about Minnesota?

Not being cynical. That’s what 100 million voters actually say when they hear the word “Minnesota.”

Not once during the debates did she express a solution other than, “We need unity so we can beat Trump.”



Unfortunately, he doesn’t have one.

Because nobody even knows who he is and he is afraid to express it (he’s afraid to confront anti-billionaire bias), he has no real message.

IMPORTANT TIP for public speaking, debates, and even standup comedy: You must ALWAYS address the elephant in the room.

This is why, if you are throwing a party and someone drops a glass, it’s the your duty to clap (address the elephant in the room) and say, “Now it’s a party!” (diffuse the tension).

The fact that he didn’t prepare for the obvious (“I’m a billionaire”) shows me he’s terrified.

Tells me he doesn’t understand why he’s really running. And his lack of experience gives him no other authority on the issues.


Whether that is true, his entire campaign can flow from that message.

Result: Loser.

And finally (drumroll)…


If I have a “team,” it would be Yang.


Because I feel like I would like to hang out with him. That’s it.

It’s like I want to be friends with him and talk about the issues and even joke around with him. He’s also smart and it shows.

BUT… I was disappointed last week.

His narrative:

  • Focus on solutions to the tech overthrow of the economy (I personally don’t agree with the tech argument but I like his solutions anyway)
  • Keep the progressive wing with universal basic income (UBI — even though he is probably borderline Libertarian)
  • Don’t attack. Don’t get in the mud. Be very honest (since that is unique).

The best line was when he said, “If you have men in a room for a long time, they turn into morons.”

While this is ordinary conversation in the real world, it’s refreshingly different onstage.

His UBI, which he details on his site and in his book, is not just a dream — he outlines specifically how he would pay for it.

His fears of technology dominating jobs is a reasonable message: Invoke fear in the population and then solve that fear.

I don’t like fear mongering but it works. And I don’t agree with him but this narrative is working.

His UBI is progressive in that it helps members of every class in society.

He is funnier than the rest of the candidates. That means his best lines will be noticed.

Think of the best lines of the night:

  • Warren: “I’ll also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.”
  • Warren: “Wine Cave Pete”
  • Yang: “Men are morons.”
  • Yang: “I’ll give everyone my book.”

And then the failure of the night from a humor perspective:

  • Sanders: “I”M WHITE!!!”

Think of 1988:

Lloyd Bentsen vs. Dan Quayle vice presidential debate.

Dan Quayle compared himself to John F. Kennedy (primarily because of looks).

Lloyd Bentsen said, “John Kennedy was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no John F. Kennedy.”

Nobody ever liked Dan Quayle again.

But… it was just a VP debate. The economy was great. Dukakis was a horrible campaigner. Bush was rising on Reagan’s massive popularity. Etc.

Yang’s unique non-political humor, his transparency, his eagerness to give everyone money, his clear IQ advantage over the other candidates, has given him an amazingly loyal and rabid fan base.

He doesn’t seem canned or like he’s acting.


After every debate, part of his narrative is, “They don’t let me speak!”

During the debate, #LetYangSpeak was trending on Twitter.

People buy into this narrative.

But… it’s not true!

If you want to speak, speak. Raise your hand. Interrupt.

Everyone else has done that during EVERY DEBATE IN HISTORY.

You will be facing the most ruthless leaders on the planet. You need to be forceful. To speak up. To not be intimidated or afraid.

He needs to raise his hand. He needs to show he cares. He needs to interrupt.

A classic example: A question was asked about student loan debt.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren debated, responded, debated their sides of the issue.

I kept begging the screen, “C’mon Yang, I KNOW you’ve got this.”

I WAS YELLING AT THE SCREEN. This is such a big issue for Yang.


Ugh! You got this. I know you do. Everyone who has read your book or listened to you knows you can crush Bernie, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!

I would have interrupted and said this if I were Andrew Yang (using Yang style of not attacking his opponents):

Eliminating student loan debt sounds great but does not help the people who need help.

The top 1/3 of the population has a degree or goes into a higher education program.

When you eliminate student loan debt, you are only helping the top 1/3 of society by using money from the bottom 2/3.

Not the people who really need help.

The guys building bridges, men and women who work in jobs that help every aspect of our lives, the homebuilders, the electricians, the plumbers.

We can’t just spend trillions helping the top 1/3 of society.

It takes us two steps backward as we try to pay for this top 1/3 of society.

My UBI, fully paid for by a VAT tax and other methods I’ve described, will help EVERY member of society as we move forward in this new technological age.

Good intentions sound nice. But the best solutions are when we can help the parts of society that need the most help as we transition into a new revolution in innovation. That’s what my policies uniquely do and why I need to be president.


The fact that Yang didn’t even move or speak on this issue he could’ve DESTROYED was very disappointing to me.

Again, a debate is not a sports event. You can’t root for your team to win.

You have to ask, “Which of these people have the fortitude to take the hardest job in the world?”

To qualify for that job, you have to raise your hand instead of just letting people walk all over you.


This debate was disappointing.

Nobody came out as qualified to be president.

I understand all the main narratives:

Experience (Biden), beat Trump (Klobuchar, Warren a little bit), help people (Sanders, Warren), prevent disaster (Yang), calm, diplomatic approach (Buttigieg).

But during the debate, none of the candidates effectively demonstrated their narrative.

They felt too rehearsed (Buttigieg and Klobuchar) and when you feel someone is doing an “act,” they become less sympathetic.

Or they got into fights (Buttigieg/Warren, Biden/Sanders) and that just looks like little kids slinging mud.

You have to go negative to win to some extent, but you have to do it with humor and step lightly, as opposed to doing it with vitriol, which looks ugly.

They focused too much on Trump, giving him a free ad.

They focused too much on their past accomplishments (Klobuchar and Biden) rather than looking forward.

Or they simply weren’t aggressive enough, and then complaining it wasn’t fair later (Yang).

Given the polarization and angst over the impeachment (in BOTH parties), the most serious issue in the Constitution, this was the time to demonstrate leadership.

This was the debate to show who could be president.

But this debate didn’t show it.

(NOTE: This is not partisan. I wish all the candidates had done well so we have real choices.]

Share This Post

Other posts you might be interested in: