Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.” That boisterous, fractious, messy, irritating group was on full display in last night’s debate. Despite reminders that “there’s more that unites us than divides us,” all six candidates at some point attacked and drew blood in a way most uncomfortable for those whose overriding concern is defeating Donald Trump in November.
Bernie Sanders, the outlier on the left, who has been consolidating his lead and widening his plurality margin, was angrier than ever, but emerged relatively untouched by the others’ attacks on him, those attacks all attempting to drive home that this Democratic socialist can’t beat the President.
Elizabeth Warren, desperate to turn around her fading fortunes, did just that. She came out swinging, especially at the putative knight on a white charger, Michael Bloomberg, who was, by the end of the debate, reduced from a dominating stallion to a Falabella (look it up!) After all the hype about Bloomberg’s personally funded ad campaign and his rise in the polls, after all the hope he would be the one who could triumph as a street fighter on Trump’s terms, the billionaire former mayor was ill at ease and ill prepared. He had known he’d have to answer for his positions on stop and frisk, charges of a hostile work environment at his company, and his refusal to free women from non-disclosure agreements concerning charges he used inappropriate, sexually charged language in their presence.
He acknowledged he was embarrassed about his stop-and-frisk policy going too far, apologized, but could have given context and not looked as if he were doing a hostage tape. Biden called the policy “abhorrent,” and Warren told Bloomberg it was “not about how it turned out but what it intended.”
Bloomberg was a punching bag, but he never, even in his closing statement, championed what he would do as President. He flatly proclaimed himself a successful manager but articulated no vision or demonstrated why he could beat Donald Trump. He may still advance his candidacy by spending lavishly to attract support from millions who didn’t watch the debate, but he missed a golden opportunity. Savvy political consultant Michael Goldman wrote a brilliant prescription for what Bloomberg should have said in his closing. I shall post it immediately in my next blog.
Warren’s do-or-die aggressiveness worked, showing her as what one commentator called “the best political athlete on the stage.” She is certainly the smartest and was incisive and strategic, even pausing at one point to be gracious toward Klobuchar, whom Buttigieg meanly attacked for forgetting the name of the president of Mexico. How many of us routinely have a brain cramp in trying to remember a name, even that of someone whom we know well? Thank you, Elizabeth Warren.
It was a petty and nasty attack by Buttigieg, obviously intent on ending Klobuchar’s momentum on the progressive but more moderate lane of the campaign trail. For her part, Klobuchar didn’t bounce back under attack as she had in the previous debate and almost became petulant in her rejoinder.
Biden had a strong night for Biden, but his weak debate skills continue to undermine his status as the best choice to defeat Trump. Regardless of his perceived general election strengths against Trump in battleground states, if he doesn’t place at least second in Nevada and win in South Carolina, it’s hard to see becoming the nominee.
Increasingly, it looks now as if no Democrat will have a majority of delegates going into the convention. This was the historic norm for decades, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Any of the candidates on stage would be a better President than Donald Trump. The questions are: who can defeat him, and who will be strongest at the top of the ticket to provide coattails for down-ballot races and not jeopardize the party’s gains in 2018.
Debate’s winner? Donald Trump, with Bernie Sanders, who preserved his front-runner status, a close second.
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