Quick Hit Friday: The Debate Podiums Have Been Assigned!

It’s been nearly four years since, in the run up to an early Republican debate from the 2016 cycle, I unveiled PPFA’s considerable Microsoft Paint skills to the public.

Good times.

Now, for the first debate of the 2020 cycle, we’ve learned that polling averages have determined placement of the candidates’ podiums. It is therefore time to rummage through my electronic closet, dust off my Paintbrush, and once again deliver to you art that could only be described as Michelangelic.

Here are the podium spots for Wednesday night’s debate:


Debate 1

And here’s how Thursday will look:

Debate 2

Considering how these placements can make a candidate look on television — specifically, the closer one is to the center, the more important they look, while the closer one is to the end, the more marginal they look — campaigns are probably reacting to their placement in a certain way. Here are my guesses about their reactions:

Group 1: I’m just happy to be here!

This cohort is generally comprised of candidates who regularly poll at 0 or 1 point, and they should therefore be happy to have a podium at all — even if they’re found near the margins.

  • First night: Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, John Delaney
  • Second night: Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell

Group 2: Not happy

I think there are a couple of cantankerous reactions out there. Incredibly, this is not one of those times where the word “cantankerous” is applied to Bernie Sanders.

  • First night: Everyone’s at least mostly pleased.
  • Second night:
    • John Hickenlooper: “I’m a two-time governor of Colorado who can’t believe the Democratic Party is embracing socialism… but only no-name Marianne Williamson is between me and the end of the stage while Bernie Sanders is at a center podium? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
    • Joe Biden: “I have more than twice as much support as anyone else, yet I have to share the same stage with six people polling under one percent? And I have to stand next to Bernie Sanders?? Can I at least get a podium twice as large as his?”

Group 3: Mostly pleased

These candidates like their podium placement.

  • First night:
    • Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar: A “middle-four” podium is a good look despite being ranked seventh and eighth in polling (and, more importantly, in Presidential Politics for America’s Power Rankings).
    • Elizabeth Warren: A center podium is a great look for her strengthening campaign. She’d only have been “thrilled” (see Group 4 below) if there were an odd number of candidates with her dead center among them.
  • Second night:
    • Kamala Harris: Similar to Booker and Klobuchar, it’s nice to be in the middle four despite a relatively underwhelming campaign.

Group 4: Thrilled!

Five candidates should be thrilled with their podium placement.

5. Bernie Sanders: “Even though Biden has twice my support, tonight I stand next to him looking just as prominent. Time to close the gap.”

4. Andrew Yang: “Six months ago, no one had heard of me. Now there’s just one person between me and Joe F’n Biden! #YangGang”

3. Kirsten Gillibrand: “My campaign has been hilariously bad. I’m a prominent Senator who’s averaging just 0.3 in the polls. No one’s campaign has gone worse. Yet, now I’m just one podium over from the middle four. Here’s my chance to turn this thing around.”

2. Pete Buttigieg: “I’m a mere mayor of South Bend and am standing next to the last Democratic Vice President. He’s also 40 years older than me and out of touch with the progressive movement. This is going to go well.”

1. Beto O’Rourke: “I’m elevated to a center podium?! How is this possible? What have I done to deserve this good fortune? Now everyone can see my spastic hands. Oh, man, I hope I don’t knock out Elizabeth Warren.”

On the suggestion of reader Stephenigma, this column has been edited to reflect Bill de Blasio’s enormity.


5 thoughts on “Quick Hit Friday: The Debate Podiums Have Been Assigned!”

  1. […] Who dislikes him more — his country or his city? Although he is one of the few people on here who was progressive before progressivism was cool, he’s also the least popular guy on the list among constituents and Democrats at large. On the bright side, a PPFA reader had an exquisite recommendation for how New York’s 6′ 5″ Mayor should be reflected in my debate art: […]


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