A Dozen Democrats Debate
The fair question to ask outside the breakdown is, “Is anything going to be different tomorrow?” Probably not much.
The ridiculously large Democratic Debate rolled into Ohio as Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer crowded onto the same stage for nearly 3 hours of political fun.
Our friend and election map guru Drew Savicki summed up the proceedings well.
Every time we do one of these, the pieces after the debate are basically written before but you fill in the blank of who did what specifically. “Winners & losers of debate” and “X candidate surges” and “Y candidate stumbles” and so forth. This time will be no different.
But is anything really changing here, is the question.
The debates themselves have changed the polling very little, if at all. The big “viral” moments did not help out any of the candidates who were involved in anything other than momentary attention. There were not any huge fireworks from this one, so the fair question to ask outside the breakdown is, “Is anything going to be different tomorrow?”
Probably not much.
The three leaders in polling of Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders each had different reasons for attention. Biden has been the target of President Trump constantly over Ukraine lately, Warren trying to establish herself on equal terms with Biden or overtake as frontrunner, and Bernie Sanders coming off having a heart attack. Bernie was his usual self and seemed fine, putting in the performance you would expect from the senator. Warren was shaky in her first real test under fire, skirting awfully close to “Robot Rubio” territory when she repeatedly refused to say that Medicare for All would require increased taxes, despite Bernie Sanders saying so and several other candidates imploring her to just admit it. A candidate who almost a year ago to the day was dealing with the DNA test mess really needs to ace things like “yes or no, senator” questions without all the squirming.
Outside of them Pete Buttigieg showed well and stood out, being more aggressive than his previous debates, perhaps sensitive to the “choir boy” criticisms that floated around after the last debate. His undressing of Beto O’Rourke on his current habit of demanding things he has no plan on how to actually accomplish was rather enjoyable. Senator Amy Klobuchar had her best debate, save a flat “mom” joke, finding a niche as the more moderate voice on the stage, and was very effective at going after Warren.
And the rest are just kind of there, and frankly probably shouldn’t have been.
Kamala Harris has been in a tailspin since flirting with top three to barely staying ahead of the Yangs and O’Rourkes of the race. She got a big applause line when she brought up women’s reproductive rights, but that was demonstrative of the problem: she inserted it into a question about something else, and the discussion immediately moved back to the topic at hand and the whole thing felt like something she planned to get in. You could see the buildup of “I’m going to insert this here” which showed the lack of timing that has hurt her in these debates. Her lark about banning Donald Trump from Twitter is such a small ball political issue it just comes off bizarre.
Cory Booker deployed his “why are we debating each other” schtick three times at a Democratic debate, which sums up the problem of the Senator’s odd combination of earnestness and silliness he manages to amalgamate into his current persona that is going nowhere in this campaign.
Beto O’Rourke is basically a punchline of stereotypes at this point and not worth the nation’s time or attention
Andrew Yang is new and different, but his campaign is a windmill tilt and there is plenty of holes once you get past the “freedom dividend” money giveaway that made him a social media darling.
Tom Steyer spent nearly $50 million to speak utterly forgettable claptrap for 7 minutes and will now disappear back into the ether of activism from whence he came.
Tulsi Gabbard’s pre-debate threat of boycott and social media hype train as to who she would attack fizzled into her now constant victimhood of a rigged primary and unfair media. Hopefully this is the last debate we have to sit through Rep. Tulsi the Martyr (D-Syria) trying to play to a sliver of a constituency that likes both Bernie Sanders and Tucker Carlson.
Julian Castro got in a good applause line, but was a non-factor and didn’t recover from his poorly received attack on Joe Biden’s age last debate. He is probably done.
So the focus now some 100 days before Iowans light this 2020 Election candle is back on the leaders. Our Democratic friends have some thinking to do.
Joe Biden is not steady, at all. He rambles, he raises his voice at odd times, he mixes words, he goes to name two friendships and names one then launches into 3 points and a poem. He was hardly touched at all last night, partly because of what happened to Castro in the last debate, and also because the base has made it abundantly clear there is no appetite for discussion of the Joe Biden/Hunter Biden Ukraine stuff President Trump and his allies have been flooding the media zone with. He didn’t really address it last night either nor was he pressed on it, and Warren’s first debate in the stock as the focus of fire let him get by. But despite the hissing of the crowd, and whether it’s true or not, if Donald Trump is going to be slinging it at you, there had better be a better answer than “my son addressed that lets focus on this guy.”
Elizabeth Warren only has one gear in these debates, and that is a problem. Once under fire, she went with ploughing ahead doggedly. The problem is sticking to script in that circumstance reinforces the criticism of “I have a plan” but that is all you have. She needs to display some more nimbleness and touch to situation at hand. There is enough book on Senator Warren that it is a known issue that Liz is very personable one-on-one but it gets lost in translation when in a big venue or on screen and the Professor Warren gets going. She has little time to get better at it.
Bernie Sanders is static. He isn’t winning and he isn’t going away. That’s a problem Elizabeth Warren is going to have to figure out if she wants the nomination.
Can Pete make a run? He has some movement in Iowa, was strong last night, and managed the neat trick of punching up to Elizabeth Warren and punching down at the ridiculous Beto and getting the best of both. He has plenty of money, but winning Iowa might be a bridge too far and anything short of that would be the end of his campaign for all practical purposes. But he has impressed, and will be coming out of this campaign better off than he started it. As will Amy Klobuchar, who isn’t winning or probably even placing in the primaries but folks’ opinions will be higher of her now that they have seen more of her.
President Donald Trump is an embattled, under investigation, possibly going to be impeached, not very popular president. But he is president, and he will not be losing the 2020 election by default. Democrats have to nominate and run a candidate who can beat him. Folks that espouse the sophistry that “anyone can beat Trump” need to be shouted down; an incumbent is still and incumbent and there is no Barack Obama-type candidate in this field. The longer that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren fail to knock the other out and take control of the primary, the more it looks like two candidates with issues and separate bases of support within the party that aren’t strong enough to get the job done in the general election.
With a progressive base that is constantly harping about not attacking each other or the childish “don’t bring up Republican talking points”, there is a real danger of not properly preparing whoever the nominee is for the scorched earth campaign that the historically well-funded Trump campaign is going to unleash come summer. There were no questions last night on China, immigration, climate change, or several other issues that need addressing despite the 3 hour run time. Plenty of work still to be done convincing Democrats in Iowa and South Carolina, let alone the rest of the country, of which candidate should be the nominee.
At least the next debate will be, hopefully, finally, cut down to size.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on October 16, 2019.