Democratic Debate Wrap-Up

Tuesday night in Detroit, Michigan was the second batch of Democratic Presidential debates. A two night war of words, plans and policies among the top 20 leading Democratic presidential candidates. Destined to be the delineating moment for many, it didn’t disappoint. 

CNN hosted the televised and streamed the debate, moderated by Jake “the bully” Tapper, Dana “cut you off” Bash and Don “Mr. Humble” Lemon. It was initially unclear if I was watching the debate or a WWE lead-in. The 20+ minute preamble was absurd. 

The only thing missing was Jimmy Carter coming out to do a coin toss – which would’ve made as much sense as that bullshit we had to sit through. 

NIGHT ONE

The first question of the night on Tuesday was directed to Bernie “Medicare for All” Sanders. Of course the question was about health care. After his response and the other candidates jumped on the subject like a pride of African lions who haven’t eaten in weeks. It was immediately clear the tone of this debate was going to be much less reserved.  

Sanders and Warren quickly came together rebutting the more moderate candidates attacks on their “Medicare for All” plans. By design or default, their shared passion and belief in “Medicare for All” kept them unified throughout the night. 

This idea is so divisive and, inexplicably, like free college, it’s seen as a zero sum game. Neither are. Also, the two countries most referenced with universal health care, Canada and Britain, both have private plans. Sanders and Warren made a strong case for its necessity and its plausibility while keeping the fervid attack of the others at bay. 

Placing Sanders and Warren in the middle of the stage enabled the other candidates to go at them from both sides. And they did. Relentlessly.

Sanders and Warren were the only two who kept reminding us of all the inequalities that their respective plans can help correct. When it comes to insurance reform, Sanders took it so far as to remind viewers that big insurance companies were going to advertise during the debate. He was quickly interrupted by Jake Tapper.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Pete Buttigieg – cool as a cucumber, but seems to be his default setting. Given more than a few lay-ups to go after Sanders and Warren, he didn’t. When prompted about the age difference between he (the youngest) and Bernie Sanders (the oldest), he simply said that age is not relevant when it comes to creating good policies. Elegant and poised. 

John Delany – after barely registering during the last debate, and still barely registering in the polls, former Representative John Delany got a lot more time on Tuesday night. When not asked questions he found ways to inject himself and remind everyone of his blue collar background and success as an entrepreneur (dude, shut-up already). Delany also seemed to be the most determined to go after his more progressive colleagues-going so far as to reference Ronald Reagan. No questions he’s a closeted Republican. The SOB is tenacious, he’s gets knocked down . . . but he gets up again . . . no you’re never gonna keep him down.

Steve Bullock – never mind the Bullocks, here’s the Bullock. Making his debut Tuesday was Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a moderate. For a large part of the debate, he showed a fair amount of mettle. He was holding his own against the heavy hitters. He even showed evidence of being a younger version of Joe Biden. And then, just like Biden, he fizzled out. 

Amy Klobuchar & Beto O’Rourke – they each needed stand out moments on Tuesday night. They didn’t get them. To be fair, it’s not that they didn’t get them, they just didn’t deliver them. Despite all of her efforts, Klobuchar isn’t very likeable. She looks like someone is sucking her insides out her rear end with an industrial vacuum.  

A few months ago, it seemed that Beto O’Rourke was the Democrats chosen one . . . for all of about two minutes. Beto O’Rourke is, in a word, vacuous. It’s also very clear he’s been studying the speaking rhythm of former President Barack Obama. It’s so obvious . . . and sad.

Marianne Williamson –  remains a delight. Everyone keeps saying she can’t win. If 2016 taught us one thing, it’s not to say that! But no, she can’t win. That said, she continues to make some relevant and cogent statements. But you can count on her to derail into some sort of freeform hippy stylings. However, she remains an original and unique voice. Directing her leveled hippy anger at the testosterone trifecta of Ryan, Bullock and Delany, she said, “I wonder why you’re Democrats. You think there’s something wrong about using the instruments of government to help people. That is what government should do.” Truth. 

Tim Ryan – continues to look amazed that he’s still in the race. Unlike some of the other candidates, I have no recollection of him talking about his plans. Ryan spent a lot of time going after both Sanders and Warren. In the process proving he’s just not effective and neither are his plans. 

John Hickenlooper – his arm flailing battle with Bernie Sanders (Hickenlooper lost) represents the exasperation felt watching Hickenlooper. He just seems very low on substance and doesn’t appear like he’s very good at articulating his message, if he has one. 

The top three candidates on Tuesday, Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders all had their one or two “sound bite” moments that stand out. Sanders with his “I wrote the damn bill” and arm throwing contest with former Colorado Governor John Hickenloper. Warren, after a solid one-two punch from Bullock and Delany, quipped “Why would anyone go to the trouble of running for President just to talk about what can’t be done?” And Buttigieg with his heartfelt address directly to Republican members of Congress:

“Consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story, of all the good and bad things you did in your life, the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him or continued to put party over country.”  

The Moderators – only the worst part of the debate because the lead-in was an absolute mess. They went to a lot of trouble to force the candidates against one another. They repeatedly pressured them by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. For example, on the question “Would you raise taxes on the middle class to pay for ‘Medicare for all? Yes or No?” asked to both Warren and Sanders, they correctly deflected. They said the middle class would save more money by not having to pay premiums and deductibles. 

Reading between the lines, that’s a “yes.” Anyone with a basic education knows taxes would go up to pay for that. Their tactic was effective in that it did show that there are fractures within the party. I just don’t know what they were going for. The winner after these two nights doesn’t get the Vince Lombardi trophy. 

Much to many of the candidates credit, they noted that the differences in policies that exist between them are not as wide as they may seem.

But since we live in such a win or lose society, the question is asked who won on Tuesday night?  

THE WINNER?

We were. Those of us watching. For the first time the candidates actually discussed substantive issues. It was a necessary and spirited conversation. All the benchmark topics got covered, healthcare, gun control, climate, immigration and foreign policy. 

But I know, who won?

It’s a toss up between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Most of the candidates got some good punches in but the two steadfastly held their own. Emerging from Tuesday night’s debate, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders remain where they were going into it, the progressive front runners. Following them is the moderate Pete Buttigieg. In short, no seismic shift occurred. 

NIGHT TWO

Once CNN finished their imperious preamble and the debate began, all eyes were on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Even Biden felt the heat as he condescendingly quipped to Harris “Go easy on me kid.” While America’s eyes were on Biden and Harris, up on the stage those two were in the cross-hairs of the candidates. 

The two words that could best describe Wednesday night’s debate are disunity and uneven. While Tuesday night’s debate was spirited and combative at times, there was a general esprit de corps among the candidates.

This was not true on Wednesday. The tension from the candidates flew from the television.

No one candidate on Wednesday maintained a similar energy level to what we saw on Tuesday from Sanders and Warren. With the exception of Cory Booker, the others energy level vacillated from charged to tepid. In fact, on more than one occasion, Joe Biden simply stopped himself before his allotted time was up. Something no other candidate did on either night. 

The debate was interrupted twice early on, which may explain the dark tone that followed. First by protesters calling for the termination of New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was accused of fatally choking civilian Eric Garner. The Justice Department (Bill Barr, sycophant and douchebag) declined to file charges against the officer. When asked about this, NYC Mayor and candidate Bill de Blasio made a vow that within 30 days action would be taken by the city against Pantaleo. 

A little later, Kamala Harris explained how the civil rights division of the Justice Department had their recommendation of prosecution usurped. Without naming him, she kept the running thread of Trump’s racism in play.

The second interruption when CNN moderator Don Lemon asked Joe Biden about the Obama administration’s deportation record. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly 800,000 immigrants were deported — far more than President Trump’s during the first two years. 

As he began to answer, two women interrupted him from each side of the hall, shouting “3 million deportations”.

Freedom of speech.

Just as it was Tuesday, healthcare was the first topic. And also like Tuesday it led to a lot of sparring between the candidates. However it was Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard who got the best line in by saying America doesn’t have a healthcare system but rather a sick care system. 

HIGHLIGHTS:

Tulsi Gabbard – was the more decisive of the candidates on Wednesday night. When asked if her free college plan would include undocumented immigrants, she emphatically stated “no”. She delivered pointed attacks on Harris’ record as a prosecutor (for which Harris was not prepared). Gabbard, a veteran, was openly defiant saying Americans had been lied to about the war in Iraq and that “War mongering politicians in Washington have failed us.” 

People are making a mistake by overlooking Tulsi Gabbard. 

Joe Biden – was uneven and at times it didn’t seem his heart was in it. It’s either that or he’s loaded with confidence and thinks he’s got the nomination locked. Let me assure you, he does not. Either way, the best thing that can be said was that he didn’t completely bomb. However, I don’t think “not bombing” can, or should, really be considered a success . . . ever, but especially when you’re the front-runner.

The Biden slide may have just begun. 

Kamala Harris – remained cool, calm and measured but by the end of the debate looked tired. Her performance Wednesday wasn’t as strong as it was in June. While she was on her game when going after Biden, she seemed unprepared for the jabs by Gabbard and some of the others. However, her performance wasn’t quite as bumpy as Biden’s.  

Andrew Yang – sporting business casual attire again, was around to remind Americans that his plan is all about universal basic income. Yes, Andrew, we get it! While Yang’s focus is all about money and technology on Wednesday, he was able to deliver a little more. On universal health care, he pointed out that insurance is an enormous hassle and cost for business owners. Removing that burden would allow them to spend that money on employees and innovation. Fair point. 

Bill de Blasio – made every attempt to be the voice for the working American. Unfortunately, no one really wanted to listen. Aside from his comment about Democrats fear mongering around health care, none of his messages resonated. He made a few charges at Biden but he was quickly dismissed.   

Michael Bennett – implored his colleagues on stage to pay closer attention to education. Again, I don’t think anyone was listening. When the issue of impeachment came up, he fumbled around for what to say. Basically landing on the opinion that unless Trump can be convicted of impeachment in the U.S. Senate, it’s not worth it. It took Former HUD Secretary under President Obama, Julian Castro, to remind Bennett that some battles are worth fighting, and losing, in order to set the record straight. Bennett thanked Castro for saying what he had allegedly failed to articulate. 

Julian Castro – delivered one of the more solid performances of the night. And much like Tulsi Gabbard, anyone underestimating Julian Castro is wrong to do so. He remains one of the stronger second tier candidates.

Cory Booker – along with Castro, they were the most solid of the group. Booker’s preacher like tendencies can be overwhelming, but this time it was less annoying. When debating criminal justice reform, which was partially necessitated by Biden’s racially predatory drug and crime laws dating back to the 1980’s. When Biden was calling into question the impact of Booker’s record as Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker wasn’t having it. Booker sniped, “There’s a saying in my community that you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” which drew audible gasps from the audience. 

No, I don’t know what it means but judging by Detroit’s reaction, it was not a compliment.  

Kirsten Gillibrand – she was there. But she suffered from the same problem as John Hickelooper on Tuesday night, they both appear earnest but lack substance. However, Gillibrand did say that her first act as President would be to “Clorox the oval office.” Which was a good line. 

Jay Inslee – this time around he looked and sounded less like a drunk Anthropology professor and more like an actual candidate. Inslee was more articulate and on his A-game. However, he did go to painful lengths to highlight his accomplishments in his home state of Washington. He made it sound like moving there comes complete with a unicorn family and morning rainbow serenades. Still, an impressive record.

The Moderators – again doing their best to agitate the candidates and get them to go after one another. The difference between Tuesday and Wednesday night was that it had more impact on Wednesday. There was a noticeable change in the tenor from Tuesday to Wednesday. Maybe it was the protesters early on or maybe it was the candidates response to the moderators. Regardless, it was darker on Wednesday.

If we consider these debates as a win/lose situation, it was CNN and the moderators who won both nights. With the networks ridiculous and overblown beginning to the sharp tenor of their moderators, the network helped pigeonhole the candidates into tired political tropes. The tropes that keep the American electorate divided, both from the inside and outside. 

I suspect by Jeff Zucker (head of CNN) standards, that qualifies as a “win”. For those watching, not so much.

But as far as the candidates on Wednesday night? No one clear winner emerged like Tuesday night. Also like Tuesday night, there was no seismic shift. 

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, while both a little uneven, held their own and kept the enemies at bay. Corey Booker and Julian Castro rose to the challenge while Tulsi Gabbard stealthily reminded everyone there is much more to her . . . and to her candidacy. Jay Inslee and Andrew Yang both stepped up their games. But as single issue candidates, it’s hard for them to speak outside of that. Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio and Michael Bennett were present. However, at the end of the day, failed to deliver anything. 

CONCLUSION

Of the two nights, there was more of that spark and fire on Tuesday with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren then there was on Wednesday with any of the candidates. As charged and spirited as Tuesday night was, there was less tension on the stage. 

Wednesday night was full of tension. The debating was equally as spirited, if a little more pointed.  

In the end, it’s evident these debates haven’t changed anything. They did help bring into focus some of the candidates plans and policies but it’s still the top five of Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders and Warren leading. The second tier candidates will continue to jockey for position. 

Now it’s just a waiting game to see who leaves the race before the next round of debates. 

It’s worth noting that about 95%, maybe even 99%, of the policies and plans the candidates are braying about during these debates are not likely to ever come to fruition. Even if one of them does make it to the White House, what they’re pitching now will have morphed and ended up becoming watered down (at best) or simply ignored (at worst). Their talking points at this juncture serve only one purpose: to align and fire up the base of the party. 

And only two candidates did that effectively over the two nights, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.