On the Democratic Debates: Round Two, Night Two

I’ve heard some commentary, so will try to hold my echoes to a minimum. Frankly, while I understood the candidates’ many attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden from a political standpoint, my overriding impression was that these people wouldn’t be making the same criticisms if they weren’t running for president … that indeed, their desire to further their careers is no different in kind (if not as severe in degree) as the many Republicans who reportedly privately consider President Trump’s behavior aberrant but nonetheless fail to criticize him publicly. To repeat a point I’ve made before: while neither party is the den of all iniquity, likewise neither is the font of all virtue.

Mr. Biden: Here, I will join the chorus, but with the phrase that came to my mind: from a nomination strategy standpoint, Mr. Biden won the debate by not losing. Unlike the first debate, he looked sharp enough. Someone very close to me felt he did better than the first time out, but didn’t look ready for a debate matchup with the President; I did think he looked good enough — although perhaps only because of the President’s high antipathy quotient and Mr. Biden’s own reservoir of good will. He didn’t have any trouble mixing it up with U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris. Holding his own was all he needed to do (I suggest) to maintain his lead over the rest of the field until September and the next debate.

Ms. Harris: I thought – no surprise – that she was the debate loser. Her persistent attacks on Mr. Biden, even when she was scoring technical points, made her appear strident; she lost some ground as a result of his criticisms of her prosecutorial record and the cost of her healthcare plan. Something that I haven’t seen heavily commented upon was what I consider the most telling – and perhaps politically mortal – blow she took during the debate: U.S. HI Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s claim that Ms. Harris approved withholding evidence of innocence against a defendant in a capital case. The attack clearly took the Californian off stride, but more importantly, if the claim is substantially true (I haven’t seen any fact checking on it), I would suggest that it will ultimately be the death of her candidacy as her opponents and the Republicans will use it to suppress her turnout. I expect her to slip to some degree in polling over the next few weeks.

U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker: I will again briefly join the chorus: from an ad hoc standpoint – relating to this night – I thought he won the debate. He had a positive presentation. When he reminded his colleagues that squabbling among themselves only helped Mr. Trump, he looked above the fray. He got the best of his exchanges with Mr. Biden without looking like a gut fighter. Since he and Ms. Harris seek support from the same Democratic segments, I suspect that Mr. Booker picked Ms. Harris’ pocket in the second round as she picked his in the first. He looked like he could hold the stage against the President. That said, I don’t think he can beat Mr. Trump in Wisconsin; if that’s right, he’d need Arizona as well as Michigan and Pennsylvania (plus Hillary Clinton’s Electoral states) to win the presidency.

Ms. Gabbard: Although I’ve seen no comment on it, I thought that she had a very strong night – a surprise, given her lackluster first round performance. Her answers relating to foreign policy and the Middle East had true credibility given her military service. Her environmental comments carried weight if, as she claimed, her efforts predated the Green New Deal. She looked like the heavyweight in her exchanges with Ms. Harris. In my view, she laid a solid bid for a Vice Presidential slot if Mr. Biden does secure the nomination.

U.S. CO Sen. Michael Bennet: I thought Mr. Bennet had a strong night. He isn’t smooth, but has a dogged credibility and practicality about him that I think would play well on the stage against Mr. Trump and could carry the Midwest, including Wisconsin. Mr. Bennet is seeking support from the same segments being mined by U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former U.S. MD Rep. John Delaney, MT Gov. Steve Bullock, and former CO Gov. John Hickenlooper. Although I’m a fan of Ms. Klobuchar and have developed a sneaking liking for Mr. Delaney, if Mr. Biden falters and I had to pick one of this group to get behind, I’d ponder hard between Mr. Bennet and Ms. Klobuchar.

Andrew Yang: The guy had a good night. I misjudged him after the first debate. His idea of the Freedom Dividend will never play politically and he’s not going to win the nomination, but he’s really smart, has a wry sense of humor, and cuts to the chase. If a Democrat wins the White House, he should be made Commerce Secretary or Czar of a federal program to deal with the looming dangers of Artificial Intelligence to our working people.

Former HUD Sec. Julian Castro: I thought Mr. Castro had a flat night. Nothing in particular, but his exchanges with Mr. Biden seemed tinged with animosity – a hint of difficulty between the men perhaps dating to the Obama Administration [purely gut; I have no substantiation for this, but this isn’t the news pages of the Times, the Post or the Journal; a blogger should be entitled to a little spouting ;)]. On a more substantive level, the more I reflect on it, the more that I consider Mr. Castro’s proposal to decriminalize illegal border crossings not only a political loser against Mr. Trump but objectively bad policy. There appears an obliviousness among some in the Democratic field that one doesn’t change an objectively appropriate law – a version of which I suspect exists in over 90% of the world’s nations — because it is being subjectively abused by a racist to divide families. You instead get rid of the racist and stop dividing families.

WA Gov. Jay Inslee: Although he would present a formidable physical presence on stage against the President in a debate, he reinforced my impression of a capable executive effective in his own milieu who is insufficiently aware both that the entire country doesn’t think like Washington State or that Presidents have to deal with issues – such as the Russians and the national debt – in addition to the environment.

U.S. NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: I thought her attack on Mr. Biden’s long-ago piece about women working outside the home was a cheap shot. On a larger level, she just reminds me too much of … Hillary Clinton. Perhaps more important, someone very close to me – an unabashed Clinton fan – agrees. Although I voted for Ms. Clinton in 2016 and consider her to have been eminently qualified for the presidency … she lost against Mr. Trump. I don’t want to see that movie again.

NY, NY Mayor Bill de Blasio: Mr. de Blasio clearly doesn’t understand that every time he reminds us that he’s the mayor of the nation’s largest city, he exudes NY arrogance (speaking as someone proud of being born in Manhattan ;)] and turns off the hinterland swing voters he would need to beat Mr. Trump. That said, if I could pick one candidate to represent the Democrats in a debate against Mr. Trump, it would be Mr. de Blasio; the fireworks would even exceed that of an Elizabeth Warren – Trump matchup, and would be akin to a WWF match. As it is, I’m sure that the Big Apple has some problem that needs attending to, and he should go home and attend to it.

For anyone that reached the end of this overly-long but not easily-divided note, I commend your perseverance. There will, blessedly, be no further debates until September. Let’s enjoy the rest of the summer.

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 …

On the Political Exhaustion Factor

I thoroughly enjoy writing these notes, but have come to face a hard truth: that there is little more to say within the political realm. How many ways can one say that President Trump is a stain upon the fiber and fabric of our nation? There is nothing left but to devise a strategy to defeat him in the Electoral College in 2020.  How many ways can one say that if the Democrats – since the 1950s persistently their own worst political enemies — nominate an avowed progressive, they will probably bring about what they claim to most abhor: the President’s re-election?

These pages have skewed much more to politics and much less to policy than I envisioned when I began; Mr. Trump’s antics have almost demanded it. That said, although I will certainly continue to address politics (its allure being akin to sports), I intend to collect the random thoughts I’ve had over the past months and hope to start addressing a number of the larger issues we face … as if we had reasonably knowledgeable, at least somewhat wise, and well-intended rather than self-interested, Executive and Legislative branches.

Until then …

On Mr. Mueller’s Testimony

In his brief public statement on May 29, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III made his position regarding his possible testimony before Congress clear:

“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress. [My emphasis].”

I expect Mr. Mueller to be true to his word. The House of Representatives’ Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have nonetheless determined to have Mr. Mueller testify before them. Any number of pundits have opined that the Democratic-led Committees are thinking that since reading the Special Counsel’s report – exceeding, as it does, 400 pages – is beyond the ken of the great majority of Americans (a fact that is, of itself, worthy of reflection), having Mr. Mueller testify on television – even if he says nothing more than what is in the report — will galvanize Americans to realize that President Trump has behaved in a way unfit for the office he holds. I’ve seen several references to the effect that the 1973 Watergate hearings had upon the general public perception of President Richard Nixon.

We are in a different time and place. Although I consider Mr. Trump to have behaved in innumerable ways – both detailed within the Mueller Report, and outside its confines – that warrant his removal from office, I would suggest that the Committees have embarked upon a fool’s errand … a perspective that I suspect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares. Mr. Mueller’s testimony promises to motivate those already vehemently opposed to the President to put pressure on their Democratic representatives to pursue Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office – a politically quixotic endeavor, since there are not 20 Republican Senate Republicans (who already know what’s in the Report) possessing the political courage to vote to remove the President even if they privately consider such action to be appropriate.

On the larger substantive level, I would offer that the Democrats’ efforts are misguided because it seems overwhelmingly likely that Mr. Trump’s supporters already viscerally know that he did all the things that Mr. Mueller and his team have reported … and they don’t care. [“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9.]  They believe themselves belittled, ignored, left behind, and perceive Mr. Trump – correctly or not – as being the first powerful politician in decades to speak for them. His voice is undoubtedly worth much more to them than what they almost certainly now dismiss as legal niceties. If you feel that you have been picked on for decades, and then a bully comes along that upbraids those that you consider to have abused you … you’ll be willing to overlook “your” bully’s flaws.

Spending more time obsessing and hyperventilating on malign activity that an insufficient segment of our electorate will be willing to act upon is a waste of taxpayers’ money.  [For once, I agree with Republicans  ;).]  At best, Democrats may weaken Mr. Trump’s support among any voters that are still undecided about him – an extremely small slice of the electorate that admittedly might be the difference in a close election – but risk having the undertaking redound to the President’s benefit by energizing his supporters. Democrats might be better served by devising strategies that will meaningfully resonate with the non-bigoted segments of Mr. Trump’s base, rather than exhilarating in maneuvers that will probably enhance the President’s chances of re-election.

Enough pontificating for one day …

A Plea to Democrats: Focus on Getting Rid of Trump

A close friend sent me the link below to a Washington Post opinion piece published earlier this week by Richard Cohen, with the comment, “This article expresses my sentiments EXACTLY [His emphasis].” I am pleased to associate myself with his remark ;), and with Mr. Cohen’s obvious frustrations.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/narendramodi_opinion/democrats-stop-embracing-losing-issues-and-focus-on-getting-rid-of-trump/ar-AAE2wmV?ocid=se

On the Democratic Debates: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

Former HUD Sec. Julian Castro: I thought Sec. Castro had a good night, bordering on very good. I suggested earlier that to maintain a viable candidacy he needed to gain traction among Hispanic voters that had theretofore eluded him, but I didn’t then appreciate his strategy for winning the Texas primary by disrupting the candidacy of former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Mr. Castro looked strong on stage, and the contrast he drew between himself and Mr. O’Rourke regarding 8 U.S.C. 1325 (the federal law criminalizing the act of illegally entering the United States) was great theater. He has seemingly taken ownership of the progressive position on the immigration debate — clearly the strategic place for him during the Democratic nominating process although not necessarily helpful in the general election.

South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg: I hope that the Mayor is President of the United States one day. I nonetheless don’t feel that he had a strong performance. For much of the night, he was good at “Being Pete” by tactfully invoking the future and in his articulate expositions while adeptly avoiding the Green New Deal and Medicare for All political landmines. I liked his statement that the No. 1 issue facing us is, “Fix our democracy and we can handle the rest” — because I share his view. Someone very close to me – another Buttigieg fan – thought he perhaps looked too young, but that could cut either way with the Democratic electorate and against President Trump. That said, I thought he failed to communicate sufficient empathy on racial issues, which I believe should have been his core debate objective. His response – “I didn’t get it done” regarding South Bend Police Force integration during his Mayoralty, followed by platitudes about the need to rid policing of racism – seemed rote, antiseptic. As I’ve submitted earlier, no Democrat appearing half-hearted in support of minority rights will win the party’s nomination or the Presidential election. Since Mr. Buttigieg is not emotive, I’m not sure that the necessary overtures are within his compass.

VT U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders: Had I extended an Award to Sen. Sanders as I did with some candidates in Part I of this note, he would have received the “Lion in Winter” Award. While retaining vigor, snarl, and bite, he, like Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, seemed to sense that a party moved by his ideas is passing him by. Although he stressed his normal themes, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed to do it better on the first night and CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris did it well on the second night. He (unfortunately for him) never got a chance to describe his brand of “socialism” to sound as benign as it did in his Fox News Town Hall. He was effective at attacking President Trump, but on that Democratic stage, all the candidates attacked Mr. Trump. I will not be surprised if Ms. Warren’s support in the Progressive Lane rises at Mr. Sanders’ expense in the coming weeks.

MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: I suggested in an earlier note that if either Sen. Warren or Sen. Sanders was going to gain support as a result of the first round of debates, it was likely to be at the other’s expense. In my view, Ms. Warren won the contest. From a nomination handicapping standpoint, I believe that she was the overall winner of the first night through her passionate advocacy of progressive policies. That said, she referred to her teaching background – to me, a negative, since it invokes the impression of her as the imperious schoolmarm – and didn’t have a chance to discuss her Native American ancestry snafu. Her performance didn’t make her a bit more electable in November, 2020, but if at this juncture she couldn’t gain support at Mr. Sanders’ expense, her candidacy was perhaps going to stagnate, and I thought she achieved that goal.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: The former Vice President reinforced voters’ concerns about his vitality by at times seeming defensive, tentative, a bit frail. Surprisingly, he wasn’t ready for his competitors’ predictable race-related barbs; his straightforward response should have been that unless anyone was calling him a racist, his adversaries were simply attempting to score political points. Although no one could have been ready for Sen. Harris’ busing thrust, he erred by trying to hide behind a “local decision” response. It was similarly predictable that someone might allude to his age; he could have quoted President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate rejoinder about not wanting to exploit his opponents’ youth and inexperience. He didn’t. All that said, such a mediocre performance that might have doomed a less-well-positioned candidacy may only be a momentary setback because Mr. Biden retains a tremendous reservoir of good will with a significant swath of Democratic voters rooting for him. The reference to President Reagan is apt; after Mr. Reagan delivered his line about youth and inexperience, he cruised to re-election because our people were reassured that he was still in command. Although Mr. Biden will undoubtedly suffer some degradation of support because of the debate, if he is ready the next time, he’ll recover. The question isn’t whether he’ll understand how important it is to do well the next time; it is whether he can.

CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris: Sen. Harris unquestionably won the second debate. Her exchanges with Mr. Biden on race and deportation policy were masterful. She knew that she needed to pry away some of his black support while giving herself the edge over NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker among a demographic they both court, and she did it. She was emotive about the conditions we are imposing on immigrants at the southern border. Her closing – informal, conversational – was effective. I wondered before the debates whether she would go “all in” on progressive positions that might help her win the nomination, or moderate her responses in a manner that could help her in a general election; she embraced the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and seemingly the rest of the progressive agenda, clearly focusing on the nomination while perhaps being coastally oblivious that these positions are likely to spell defeat against Mr. Trump in the general election. However, something else that bothered me about Sen. Harris’ bravura performance was how it seemed entirely … planned and executed – like one would try a case. Her early riposte when others were jousting — to the effect that Americans “didn’t want to see a food fight but food on the table” – was a planned applause line she was looking for the chance to use. Portraying herself as the little girl being bused was effective … but clearly a set up. It remains to be seen how well she responds to something she hasn’t anticipated or prepared for.

I confess to feeling a bit of despair after the second debate, because I thought that Mses. Warren and Harris had clearly performed the best on their respective nights. What that meant to me was that the real winner of the first round of the Democratic Candidates’ debates was … President Trump.

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.