On the Democratic Debates: Round Two, Night One

The aspect of last night’s debate that I found most interesting was the way that the majority of the panel, recognizing that there was more political hay to be made by contrasting rather than aligning with the avowed progressives, moved toward the political center.

VT Sen. Bernie Sanders and MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Both had weak nights. Whether goaded intentionally or unwittingly by the moderates’ thrusts, they seemingly fell into the trap of appearing crazy and angry [or, if you prefer, perhaps merely unrealistic and strident ;)]. From a general election standpoint, they were wounded by the moderates’ attacks on their Medicare for All and Green New Deal proposals. They also seemed oblivious to the fact that their unrestrained attacks on Corporate America may alarm middle and lower class working people who fear losing their jobs if Corporate America needs to cut costs to accommodate the progressive agenda. Ms. Warren’s pledge not to use our nuclear arsenal in a first strike capacity is misguided, substantively and politically [my characterization of her proposal if speaking on a street corner would be more graphic and emphatic ;)]. After two and a half hours, both also came to appear … tiresome and repetitive.

South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former U.S. TX Rep Beto O’Rourke: for the first time, I felt that Mr. O’Rourke outshone Mr. Buttigieg. Mr. O’Rourke does (as President Trump has noted) wave his arms in a sometimes distracting fashion, but he hit themes of unity for any independents tuning in, was good from a general election standpoint by pledging to retain criminalization of unauthorized entry into the country, didn’t overextend on healthcare, and gave himself some Middle East latitude by only committing to remove our troops during his first term. Mr. Buttigieg was again good at talking about the future and fine on healthcare, but was (also again) a bit too reserved in his presentation, too limited his Middle East options by committing to remove our troops in the first year of his presidency, remained too antiseptic in his discussion of race, missed an opportunity to discuss our need to mitigate the dangers that Artificial Intelligence presents to our working people (where I’ve seen him shine in the past), came out a little paler than U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar in their exchange on the gun issue, and seemed to disappear for long periods.

Former U.S. MD Rep. John Delaney: I like Mr. Delaney. I thought he had a strong night. He had the cleverest debate strategy, seizing the opportunity to energetically engage early with Ms. Warren, recognizing that he would thereby get more exposure. I thought he showed himself to be knowledgeable across a wide range, and exhibited an attractive pragmatism. At the same time, he lacks the inspirational quality Americans want in a President. (A politically incorrect hurdle for him: we haven’t elected a blatantly bald President since Dwight Eisenhower at the dawn of the television age). I have trouble envisioning him effectively countering the President on the debate stage. He remains my candidate for White House Chief of Staff.

I thought Ms. Klobuchar, MT Gov. Steve Bullock, former CO Gov. John Hickenlooper, and U.S. OH Rep. Tim Ryan all acquitted themselves adequately, but none seemed to catch fire. Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Bullock both sounded an important theme: they’ve won where Mr. Trump has shown strength. That said, while Ms. Klobuchar was strong on the gun issue, she talked too much inside Senate baseball and wasn’t direct enough in challenging Sens. Sanders and Warren. Mr. Bullock did well from the edge of the screen – to my mind, he clearly won the exchange with Ms. Warren about retaining our nuclear first strike option and did well on the gun issue from a general election standpoint – but left the impression that he doesn’t realize that if elected, he won’t be in Montana any more. Mr. Hickenlooper did much better than in Round I of the debates – to me a plus, since it could help him if he chooses to seek the U.S. CO Senate seat when his presidential candidacy ends. Mr. Ryan is a solid representative, and perhaps has the most traditional Democratic working class appeal of anybody in the race save former Vice President Joe Biden – which would make him a tough matchup for Mr. Trump in some respects — but seemed to lack the spark that Americans seek in their President.

Marianne Williamson: I thought Ms. Williamson had more good moments than in the first round but still mostly stayed in her own stratosphere. It’s hard to be to the left of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, but I think she succeeded. I enjoyed the “dark psychic force” thing … but it’s not the way to get elected to anything outside of California.

I thought that Mr. Biden was the Night One winner because the evening’s exchanges seemed to weaken the race’s most prominent progressives. That said, tonight is Mr. Biden’s night. I submit that he will essentially be in a one-on-one debate with U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris. Ms. Harris will, in a phrase that has new meaning for me after visiting Alaska, be loaded for bear. An observation: Mr. Biden is, by all accounts, an old school courtly gentleman. If he cannot set aside his basic old school instincts, and go after a woman — Ms. Harris — aggressively while avoiding appearing mean or condescending (admittedly a fine line; remember that Hillary Clinton staged a comeback during the 2008 campaign when Barack Obama appeared too rough on her in a debate), his candidacy will falter. (U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker will try to interject, but Mr. Biden should just blow him off; most of the rest of the panel should already realize that they’re running for the Democratic Vice Presidential nomination on somebody else’s ticket). I would suggest that if the former Vice President again flounders, Democratic realists, recognizing that a progressive’s nomination will probably result in a Trump general election victory, will fill the vacuum by quickly coalescing around another moderate.

Since I deliberately didn’t watch any of the debate postgame before setting this down, all of the learned talking heads — and you 😉 — may have completely different views. On to Night Two …

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