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Seeing is Believing: Trump Wins TV Optics Battle Against Schumer, Pelosi

Brett Davis

Posted on January 13, 2019 02:25

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Forget what was said during last week’s dueling nationally-televised addresses by President Trump on the Republican side, and Sen. Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on behalf of Democrats. In terms of political stagecraft, Trump wiped the floor with Schumer and Pelosi.

Tuesday of last week (Jan. 8) saw the political equivalent of a handicap match. President Trump took on Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-Avuncular, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Caffeinated, in sequential speeches to the nation regarding the partial government shutdown, border security and “the wall.” Nevertheless, the double-teamed Trump emerged victorious by dint of optics.

For better or worse, optics play a significant role in politics. In fact, it’s often the case that style matters more than substance. That’s been true especially since the first televised presidential debate took place on Sept. 26, 1960, between Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Dreamy, and a more jowl-centric Vice President Richard Nixon. JFK’s telegenic good looks and youthful vigor appealed to TV viewers more so than Nixon’s ill-fitting suit, use of LazyShave to hide his five o’clock shadow and enough flop sweat to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Not much has changed since then. When it came to appearance and setting, Trump held all the cards but one, in the form of the bully pulpit of the presidency and the emotional resonance of the Oval Office location from which he addressed the American people. The president’s only disadvantage: his trademark unnatural – possibly radioactive – orange glow was more jarring than usual due to bright lighting and the intimate backdrop.

Nevertheless, Trump and his Cheetos-hued visage managed to come across as much more lifelike than the animatronic Chuck and Nancy show that followed. The not-so-dynamic duo’s on-air performance vacillated between hostage video (you could almost see someone off-screen holding a gun, forcing them to read from the teleprompter), lecture by uncool parents on how disappointed they are in you, and a creepy “Village of the Damned” gaze directly into the camera with a disturbing lack of blinking.

Also not helping the charisma-challenged Chuckie and “San Fran” Nan: There was one podium between the two of ’em. Democrats managed to secure six large American flags to be part of the background for this important rebuttal to the president, but the logistics of providing two podiums proved too much. The result: Schumer and Pelosi awkwardly shared a podium, looking like strangers in a crowded elevator who were forced uncomfortably close to one another.  

As previously noted, this sort of political dynamic is nothing new. Something similar will play out again later this month when Trump delivers the State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, followed by the Democratic response from a comparatively nondescript location. In countering the president, Democrats would be wise to choose someone who doesn’t remind people of the Crypt Keeper. Perhaps fresh-faced Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-You Just Pay For It, will get the nod. After all, she is the embodiment of style over substance. Perfect.

Brett Davis

Posted on January 13, 2019 02:25

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