On the Democratic Debates: Part I

We were tending to a toddler grandson for most of last week – a truly cardiovascular activity for Medicare beneficiaries – and although we watched the debates, have seen relatively little of the commentary. Being acutely aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this note offers Selected Candidate Awards, followed by Selected Candidate Impressions:

The Despicable Me Award: CA U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell. His harsh and clumsy attempt to make himself relevant by essentially calling former Vice President Joe Biden old was, indeed … despicable – little better than President Trump’s degrading epithets that have so sullied our national discourse. Although I agree with Mr. Swalwell’s position on assault weapons, his tawdry attack on Mr. Biden ensured he is my 23rd favorite Democratic Presidential candidate only because there aren’t 24 or more such candidates.

The California Dreamin’ Award: Marianne Williamson. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray … and Ms. Williamson should go for a walk before we next see a winter’s day.

The “Really, What Are You Thinking Of?” Award: Andrew Yang. Really – what was he thinking when he declared his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination?

The Invisible Award: Two-way tie between OH U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and HI U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Both were on stage; both are creditable public servants; both said fine things; neither of them made a noticeable ripple.

The Foot-in-Mouth Award: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even toddler-watchers couldn’t miss this one. Mr. de Blasio appeared to me to make headway during the debate; unlike Mr. Swalwell, his aggressiveness from the stage’s edge seemed within acceptable bounds. That said, the next day, the Mayor, in the words of The Miami Herald: “ … uttered [in Spanish] a revolutionary rallying cry deeply associated with … [Marxist Ernesto “Che” Guevara], a man viewed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles as a sociopath and mass murderer.” OUCH. Perhaps this indicates that even if one can make it in New York, one can’t necessarily make it … anywhere

The Clinton Clone Award: NY U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. If the Democratic Party wishes to nominate a not-very-likeable woman running on gender identity issues that has experience as a NY U.S. Senator, it should re-nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; it would then at least enjoy the robust taste of Coke Classic rather than opting for a watered-down Coke Zero.

The Scott Walker Award: Former TX U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He apparently seeks to best former WI Gov. Scott Walker’s record for the quickest disappearance by a supposed heavyweight Presidential candidate.

The State’s Man Award: Three-way tie among WA Gov. Jay Inslee, CO U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and former CO Gov. John Hickenlooper. All three are accomplished, and effective in their respective states … but I have concerns that none has the “It” to translate nationally. I admit to a pang as to both Coloradans: as to Mr. Hickenlooper, because I fear his Presidential hubris may have impaired his ability to make a viable 2020 Senate run against GOP CO Sen. Cory Gardner; as to Mr. Bennet, because I think he could defeat President Trump in Wisconsin, but in what promises to be a razor-thin race, his appeal against Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan may well be more limited than Mr. Biden’s.

White House Chief of Staff Award: Former U.S. MD Rep. John Delaney. Although Mr. Delaney could credibly claim a piece of the Invisible Award, I found him knowledgeable, experienced, practical, and gentlemanly (he was probably seething at the extent he was ignored by the debate moderators, but he strove not to show it). I was impressed with the practical objections he voiced to parts of the progressive agenda. That said, while he lacks any inspirational quality, he would seemingly make a great White House Chief of Staff for a Democratic President wanting to actually get something done.

As to the Selected Impressions:

MN U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Ms. Klobuchar appears to me to have been a mild winner. She can either benefit from or be lost in the shuffle created by the second night’s more raucous and progressive-leaning exchanges. I liked her “all foam and no beer” sop to the Midwest, although fairly transparent. She looked strong putting Mr. Inslee on his heels by affirming the efforts of herself, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Ms. Gabbard on women’s reproductive rights. I liked her references to her work on behalf of farmers and to the fact that she has won in conservative Minnesota Congressional Districts. She wisely avoided endorsing Medicare for All – a political landmine for many Americans that like their current health coverage. I earlier suggested that a good debate performance on her part could help her in Iowa if Mr. Biden faltered, as he did (more on that in Part II). Since Iowa moderates seem unlikely to desert Mr. Biden for the surging progressives, Ms. Klobuchar could benefit from erosion in Mr. Biden’s Iowa support. The claims that she’s unreasonably hard on staff will resurface if she does.

NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker: I thought Mr. Booker had a good debate performance. He presented as upbeat and progressive but not strident; his references to his background and where he lives, and his apparently conciliatory on-stage relationship with former U.S. HUD Sec. Julian Castro were effective efforts to establish his bona fides with minority communities to give him some room in the Identity Lane. (His expression at Mr. O’Rourke’s Spanish spouting was classic.) His problem arose on Night II: CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris — looking to not only chip away at Mr. Biden’s African American support but to claim supporters from the same demographic segment being courted by Mr. Booker – appeared to pick Mr. Booker’s pocket with her very impressive performance. Ms. Harris’ next poll numbers will almost certainly rise; if Mr. Booker’s numbers don’t also meaningfully advance, his campaign may be left in Ms. Harris’ wake.

In an attempt to avoid having these notes take as long to read as the debates themselves, the remaining candidates will be addressed in Part II.

2 thoughts on “On the Democratic Debates: Part I

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