Feb 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Despite Trump-Bloomberg feud, risers are a common debate secret

Photo: Fox News

President Trump used his Super Bowl interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, taped at Mar-a-Lago, to accuse Michael Bloomberg of wanting "a box for the debates to stand on," which led Bloomberg's campaign to say Trump was "lying."

Here's the thing: TV networks routinely offer a riser to debate participants. For example, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who has since dropped out, used one at September's Democratic debate in Houston.

Photo: Heidi Gutman/Disney via Getty Images

Go deeper: Trump-Bloomberg feuding reaches new levels

Go deeper

In photos: The South Carolina Democratic debate

Former Vice President Joe Biden thinks and Sen. Amy Klobuchar listens while Tom Steyer makes a point at the tenth Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images.

Candidates spoke past their allotted time, punched the air, talked over each other and at times looked into the camera and directly addressed the American public and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, the last before Saturday's primary and Super Tuesday a few days following.

Why it matters: South Carolina's contest on Saturday is a measure of African-American support for the 2020 contenders. It's the make-or-break state for former Vice President Joe Biden after he underperformed in the first three contests. It's also a chance to check Sen. Bernie Sanders' momentum, which has eaten into Biden's lead in the state and propelled Sanders to the front of the pack.

Letter from Planet Bloomberg

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Mike Bloomberg's campaign feels corporate. It's calm, orderly and punctual. His audiences clap politely, and you can't walk two steps without running into a paid staffer with talking points. Nobody whoops or yells. Nothing is left to chance. No expense is spared. The candidate is self-consciously low-key.

The big picture: After being immersed in Donald Trump's freewheeling White House and campaign for more than four years, I found the day I spent flying around with Bloomberg's campaign last week in California to be a foreign experience.

Bloomberg's rough debut

Photo: John Locher/AP

Mike Bloomberg was booed during his debut debate as a Democratic presidential candidate — indicative of a rusty outing where the former New York mayor looked unprepared to respond to obvious lines of attack.

Why it matters ... The debate underscored the Bloomberg’s campaign biggest fear: It's hard to hide to his prickly demeanor. Bloomberg had all the time, practice and forewarning money could buy — and still struggled mightily on the public stage.