The Democratic Alliance Debate - The Die is Cast

2015-04-30 16:54

Quo Vadis DA?

So far Mmusi Maimane has the momentum and the wind is on his back to become the Federal Leader of the Democratic Alliance come the DA Conference on the 9th and 10th of May. Wilmot James is still firmly in the race but for now is behind. So this Monday televised debate will put both candidates in the spotlight.

Mmusi Maimane's rise in politics has been meteoric. Who knew about Mmusi Maimane 5 years ago? His youthfulness and newness has been an asset to him, and he has positioned himself well within the DA. Maimane's short record and relative obscurity meant he could define himself on his own terms.  As charmer-in-chief through his constant rolling of eyes and broad smiles he has built an enthusiastic grassroots base of supporters, surrogates and volunteers. Further his closeness to Helen Zille has facilitated a host of logistical advantages.

So Mmusi Maimane and his team as they go into this televised debate know that they are ahead. The burden of proof is with Wilmot James. The debate is an opportunity for Wilmot James to swing the race in his favour away from Mmusi Maimane.

Wilmot James will make this debate as a referendum against Maimane's youthfulness and supposed inexperience. He will be projecting himself as a person with vast experience and maturity. He will be telling potential voters that he is offering the Democratic Alliance a greater and larger story than that offered by Mmusi Maimane. He will also project an element of trust - that quality that comes with maturity and experience.

This deliberate strategy will shake Mmusi Maimane and he will be forced to come out of the closet to defend himself. And that is where Wilmot James wants him.

In order to do just that Wilmot James will rattle Mmusi Maimane throughout the debate. He is going to get under Mmusi Maimane’s skin and pummel him with a flurry of punches. But he is going to do that in a pleasant manner. Wilmot James is shrewd enough to know that Mmusi Maimane is naturally a likeable guy, and people will not forgive him if the perception is created that he is being nasty and mean on Maimane.

Wilmot James will have to establish his themes and launch his most important attacks early on in the debate shaking his fist on the face of Mmusi Maimane to draw him to misspeak and make big gaffes.

That Wilmot James is 61 will not be working against him. Helen Zille has also made the point that the DA leadership race should not be about age. Also recall in 1984 how Ronald Reagan at the age of 73 won the American presidential debate over the much younger Walter Mondale. During that debate Ronald Reagan in his opening statement began by saying: "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

And recently here in Africa, in Nigeria a 72 year old man by the name of Muhammadu Buhari won the Nigeria's Presidential elections against the much younger energetic Goodluck Jonathan. Goodluck Jonathan through out the race was front runner and leading - but Buhari came from behind and in the dying minutes or rather dying seconds snatched the Crown.

Another thing Wilmot James will do is to remove the perception that he aloof and out of touch with the reality of the politics on the ground. Wilmot James has been a university professor for quite some time and his talk still sounds professorial:  that slow moving meandering stroll talking before laying out a point. He is going to chip away at these images by appearing energetic, engaging and in command of the facts.

If he does that — with empathy, compassion, understanding and cool strength — he will certainly change the dynamics of the race to his favour.

Simply put Wilmot James needs a breakthrough performance….to turn the race.

As for Mmusi Maimane the sale has already been made, he just has to stand there, make an appearance and connect with the audience signaling to them he is ready despite what James is saying. Typically a leading and front runner candidate (as Maimane is) during these kinds of debates is undone more by his own mistakes than by what the opponent does or say. He has to remain calm and composed, avoid making big mistakes that could cause his supporters to review and reassess their support.

If Mmusi Maimane does this, he will leave no opening for Wilmot James to jump in and steal the ball from him.

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