Something’s gotta give, don’t you think?

Twenty candidates over two nights. Raising, basically, two questions: Who stands out? Who falls down?

Must be some casualties, no?

One sign, more an omen, is that the dual debates almost exactly coincide with the anniversary of Custer’s (two-day) Last Stand — 143 years ago, in Montana.

One irony, maybe an omen, is that a candidate who didn’t make the stage for either debate is Steve Bullock, governor of Montana.

Could mean something.

Also, seems to me, staging for both nights sorta suggests whom you should pay most attention to.

On Wednesday, reportedly surging (and wicked smaaht) Elizabeth Warren is center stage, literally and figuratively.

Warren, and her many plans, comes off a positive cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, a front-page profile in Tuesday’s New York Times, and a new Washington Post piece calling her a “new kind of threat” to Bernie Sanders.

Not that anybody reads anything anymore.

She’s to be flanked onstage by Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke. And then, well, others.

Booker’s a powerful speaker. But I honestly don’t get Beto. Must be a Texas thing.

(Oh, and there’s always the chance America’s tweeter-in-chief weighs in before, during and/or after, no doubt with thoughtful, civil commentary. Or a reprise of nicknames. And maybe some new ones.)

But really, it’s Thursday’s show that holds the better chance of shaking the ladder.

Frontrunner Joe Biden is center stage. Flanked by Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders is coming off some slippage in polls. Buttigieg, who was rising, is fresh from policing troubles in South Bend. Both need recovery moments. Be interesting to see how they act and react.

Be more interesting to see how Biden performs.

Debate topics are certain to include health care, foreign affairs, climate change, income inequality, immigration policy, gun violence, and, of course, who offers the party the best chance to beat President Donald Trump next year.

There might even be questions designed to push candidates to the edges of the progressive left (and fire up the hard right) on issues from impeachment to Medicare-for-all to free stuff such as erasing $1.6 trillion in student loans, to reparations for descendants of slaves, hopefully all accompanied by follow-ups, as in, “Say, who pays for that?”

Even though Democrats won’t allow Fox News to host any of their (gulp) 12 primary debates — a mistake, in my view — somebody should ask such questions.

Don’t care about issues?

There’s always debate drinking games. For triggers, I’d suggest “my plan” for Warren, the word “folks” for Biden, the phrase “in this country” for Sanders, and a call for “a new generation of leadership” for Buttigieg.

Got a Pennsylvania jones? The Democratic crowd offers a little something.

Biden, as he always reminds us, was born in Scranton.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, born in Narberth, is, like Biden, up Thursday night.

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, born in Secane, Delaware County, just announced he’s running for president. Lives in Alexandria, Va. Won’t be in either debate.

And, if you’re into stretches, Warren was a Penn Law School professor from 1987 to 1995. So, there’s that.

I mention such ties because for a big state, an important state, we’ve had but one president, James Buchanan, 1857-1861, widely regarded among the worst to hold the office. (Then again, he came from the Pennsylvania legislature.)


The larger question both nights is what tone do Democrats take?

Do they offer a succession of reasoned ideas to address the nation’s critical issues in ways respectful to each other, in contrast to 2016 GOP debates?

Do they devolve into baser political natures, claw and clamor for attention, stressing what’s wrong with other candidates rather than what’s right with them?

Does someone (Kamala Harris, Julian Castro) surprise us with a breakthrough moment? Can debates create new sizzle for someone?

Do we dare hope for a show of politics the way we’d like politics to be?

Or do TV’s talking heads, an ungainly format, and too many candidates turn this double feature into little more than a reason to make popcorn?