‘Tis the political season of debates, attack ads and smear campaigns. To the untrained eye, every move would seem uncalculated and meant with good intentions, but every step politicians make is planned by their team months in advance.
Unless you’re part of a candidate’s dream team, you may not know much about what it takes to run a campaign. Well, according to Washington D.C. insiders, HBO’s Veep is not only hilarious but also the most realistic interpretation of what really goes on. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Vice President Selina Meyer has someone for everything—a writer who coaches her for debates and an assistant who tells her what to say to voters.
Since it’s as close as most of us will get to seeing what goes into elections, here’s a breakdown of how to understand what’s really going on in political debates, as explained by Veep.
Step 1: “The Look”
There is much “to-do” about how the candidate looks, male or female. What color looks best on the stage? Do we care about the candidate’s look from the waist-down? How should the hair be styled? More goes into visuals than you’d would think because public perception can hinge on something as small as the wrong color jacket.
As seen with this Veep clip, Selina’s new haircut, something not related at all to her platform, needs to be defended by both herself and her staff.
Step 2: “Pronunciation and poise are key”
Words and eloquence are the way to higher poll numbers during a debate and the candidate better be sure they are clear and confident when speaking. If there is a word or phrase that the candidate struggles with, or a twitch that won’t go away their team works 24/7 to get the politician’s tongue in tip-top shape and face back to normal. However, if the candidate gets to the stage and fumbles with their words or is not-so-subtly winking at everyone around them, say “bye-bye” to their #1 poll spot.
Step 3: “The Placement”
A whole lot of planning goes into where exactly the candidate will stand. Placed right in the center–as Veep’s Selina Meyer was for her debate–you’re seen as the Golden Front-runner. You are guaranteed more TV time and you are more likely to be the center of the debate talk.
If you are placed off to the side, however, you’ll be fighting for TV time and also forced to get the hint you are not the most popular choice. As seen in Veep, Selina could be giving one of the best debate performances of her career, but if someone steps in front of her, no one will remember it.
Step 4: “Debate Time”
Debate time equals fight time. The candidate’s staff can attest that more action is going on backstage than onstage. With checking polls, social media updates and working on smearing an opponent’s campaign, as you can see on Veep, a candidate’s team is always planning for the next step.
Meanwhile, onstage, the candidate must stick to the script but also be ready for curveballs. Remember when Jeb Bush recently questioned Marco Rubio’s career? That move was more than likely planned by his team. What was unplanned was Rubio’s response and positive feedback for it.
The next time you’re impressed by a debate performance, remember it’s not as simple as a candidate speaking off the top of their head.