On the December Democratic Debate

Prelude: In a little-noted Gospel passage, the Lord once remarked that doing one’s share in order to maintain marital harmony during the Holiday Season supersedes any urge one has to enter blog posts; I wisely followed His guidance  ;). Except for the italicized postscript, the following was primarily composed on the night of the debate.

Clearly, having only seven candidates on the stage made for a livelier, more interesting, more substantive exchange among the participants. I would suggest that three gained advantage; three lost ground; and one was present. In reverse order:

Businessman Tom Steyer was present. Mr. Steyer made a solid presentation, is likeable enough, and is clearly hankering to take on President Trump … but I didn’t see the springboard in his performance necessary to propel him to the nomination.

Two of the three losing ground: U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They lost ground because … they were themselves (full disclosure: although I find his ideas too radical, I really enjoy Sen. Sanders; as any reader of these pages is aware, I don’t find Sen. Warren nearly as appealing). They clung to Medicare for All and predictably repeated their assertion that the nation needs Big Change; Ms. Warren specifically repeated her assertion that the party needs to draw a sharp contrast with Mr. Trump. While one admires their sincerity, the impression persists that the agenda that they seek to place before the American people is prohibitively expensive, has no chance of Congressional passage, and will be fatal campaign fodder for Republicans in a year in which Democrats are generally more interested in winning than in specific policy directions.

The unexpected loser of ground: South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In an extended and testy exchange with Sen. Warren about finances and fundraising, both scored off the other if you listened to the substance, but Ms. Warren’s “Wine Cave Fundraiser” appellation for Mr. Buttigieg is the memory that lingers. U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s pointed reference to Mr. Buttigieg’s loss in his one Indiana statewide race and her implication that a South Bend mayoralty was insufficient background for the presidency also scored. The Mayor seemed a bit off-balance in his responses. This year’s Democratic Shiny New Toy seemed to take on a bit of tarnish.

Two clear gainers: Ms. Klobuchar and Businessman Andrew Yang. Ms. Klobuchar, despite a slow campaign start, has persevered and I would suggest that she may have scored well enough to stage an impressive showing in the Iowa caucuses, a must for her campaign’s viability. Even more, she unquestionably laid a very solid case for the party’s Vice Presidential nomination if she can’t secure the top spot. I would venture that Mr. Yang has no chance to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but he’s hung around long enough and done well enough [his adherents apparently refer to themselves as, “The Yang Gang :)], that from at least one perspective he’s beginning to look like an appealing choice for the Democratic Vice Presidential nomination.

The clear winner: former Vice President Joe Biden. In past debates, I have said that I thought Mr. Biden won by not losing; in this most recent debate, he arguably won outright (at worst, he tied for best performance with Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Yang). He was disciplined and decisive in the majority of his responses; he seemed in command. He looked like the nominee. He sounded like the nominee. Most importantly, he looked and sounded like he was ready for Donald Trump. His allusion to the Republicans’ attacks on his son and himself was deft. In his closing, he sounded like he was wishing Americans Happy Holidays and thanking the PBS team on behalf of the Democratic Party, not just for himself. My mother used to say, “One Swallow doesn’t make a Summer,” and Mr. Biden had best be ready to render a similar performance in the mid-January debate; but this performance seems likely to have quieted some supporters’ doubts and solidified or enhanced his lead during the next month – a critical period in which any candidate will arguably need to make a strong run prior to the Iowa Caucuses.

In a CNN post-debate interview, Sen. Klobuchar indicated that in a meeting she had attended just prior to the debate, she had urged Senate Democratic Leadership to negotiate with Senate Republican Leadership for a thorough impeachment trial in the Senate that would include testimony from as-yet-unheard senior Trump Administration officials. Her comments made me reflect ;). Given my political junkie reading over the years, I am certain that if either John Kennedy or Bill Clinton was serving in the Senate today (Mr. Clinton obviously never served in the Senate), poised as Ms. Klobuchar is to launch an Iowa campaign blitz that would make or break his presidential campaign, he would urge Senate Democratic Leadership to forego a rigorous impeachment trial; each would readily justify skimping on a hallowed constitutional process by rationalizing that the country would be better off with him in the White House than by miring him in a lengthy proceeding seemingly destined to yield an inevitable result in which he would ultimately cast a meaningless vote. Ms. Klobuchar’s desire for the Senate to conduct a meaningful constitutional procedure without regard to the potential consequences for her candidacy underscores why she’d make a fine president … and why she perhaps won’t secure the nomination.

On they march.

Postscript: While the prevailing liberal punditry is apparently to the effect that Mayor Buttigieg got the better of his back-and-forth with Sen. Warren, I remain skeptical; if my assessment has validity, the ultimate beneficiary of the exchange ironically might not be Sen. Warren, but Sen. Klobuchar. There are a number of followers of these pages that know Iowa much better than I, but I don’t think they have many Wine Caves in the Hawkeye State, and the viability of both Ms. Klobuchar’s and Mr. Buttigieg’s campaigns seemingly depend in large part on their showing in the Iowa Caucuses.

Hope your Holidays have thus far been all that you wished for.

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