So, there are two ways of looking at last night’s debate among the six leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The first is as a collection of six separate, disparate individuals. The second is as a group, as what social psychologists refer to as a small group.
The morning after the night before the overwhelming temptation for pundits is to look through the first lens. To see the six candidates as individuals and to rate them accordingly. This morning, then, the report cards for last night’s performances look something like this:
- Joe Biden: B
- Michael Bloomberg: D
- Pete Buttigieg: B
- Amy Klobuchar: B
- Bernie Sanders: B
- Elizabeth Warren: A
One could argue, however, that if the Democrats are to be believed, if their goal first and foremost and even only is to get Donald Trump out of the White House, the better way of looking at the Democratic field as presented on the stage in Nevada last night is as a small group. As a small group that purports to share a common enemy – the president. How then did they rate as a small group, effectively united against the man they profess most fiercely to oppose?
- Candidates as a group: D
Americans have short memories. Whatever happened in Las Vegas last night will be forgotten by the time of the next Democratic debate next week. Still, as of this morning, the happiest man in America has got to be Donald Trump. As a group the Democrats:
- Failed to address Trump as a dangerous narcissist.
- Failed to address the corruption and lawlessness of the current administration.
- Failed to address even a single issue relating to foreign policy or national security.
- Failed to emphasize their unity against a common enemy.
- Ripped into the political personas of those inside their group instead of those outside their group.
- Ripped into the public policies of those inside their group instead of those outside their group.
- Presented themselves as an entirely dysfunctional family.
- Presented themselves as a random collection of angry, alienated individuals rather than as a small group with shared values core to America’s character and culture.
Social psychologists describe small group leaders as having two different though related responsibilities. The first is affective leadership – keeping group members reasonably cooperative and collaborative. The second is task leadership – keeping the group effectively focused on the task at hand which, in this case, is next November to defeat the incumbent president. The best way then to look at last night’s brawl, last night’s free for all, is not to see the candidates as individuals, but to see them as members of a small group that is as feckless as it is leaderless.