Democratic Debates Discussed

On October 16, 2019, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

Checked out the Democratic Presidential Debate last night and had a few thoughts that I think run against the grain of current punditry and coverage.

First, I think the current debate format exposes the critical lack of leadership at the DNC and an inability of the Democratic Party to work together to come up with a vehicle that portrays the parties values, strengths and individuals in the best possible light. No matter who “wins” these debates, it should be clear that the Party is the way forward from here for the majority of Americans are simply worn out or worse from the Trump Presidency. And I don’t think they’re accomplishing that.

The debates continue to be structured as win-or-lose, confrontational excursions with a huge flock of largely unelectable challengers attempting to take down the front-runner in a more civilized version of King of the Hill. Thus far it’s failing to make the case that the Democrats are the party to conclude the Trump debacle.

Tuesday night’s Democratic Dozen

Instead, they are playing Trump’s game. Which is a huge strategic mistake. The Trump-won Republican debates went down the way they did because there were too many Republican candidates. That format drowned out most reasonable voice and decent candidate (John Kasich), and permitted Trump the Bully to play King of the Hill against a bunch of career politicians who never had a chance.

While the Democrats are down to half the candidates that populated the Republican process for months, there are still too many also-rans muddying the waters when the conversation has got to be much more substantial, addressing real issues, and clearly showcasing the 5-8 real candidates capable of beating Trump.

So you have Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyers, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard all trying to make their bones by taking shots at front-runners Warren, Biden and Bernie. THAT’S NOT HELPING. Even if Klobuchar – who is not going to be elected President in 2020 under any circumstances – sticks around because she’s smart, tough and may make a solid head of National Security, that’s one hour of blowing holes in the positions of legitimate contenders, cannon fodder for Trump.

Rather than the substantial amount of time spent debating health care and the economics and merits of Medicare for All, which has already been discussed ad infinitum, doesn’t inspire voters, and can be further parsed directly in Town Halls and by the candidates, why are Democrats not meaningfully addressing: Climate Change (0 Questions); Gun Control (0 Questions); the obstinacy of Mitch McConnell; China: the Trade War, Hong Kong and Human Rights; Immigration Policy; Civil Liberties and Equal Rights. These are all differentiators for Democrats, and if any of these ideas surfaced last night, it was incidental.

It’s the DNC’s job to make sure these critical differentiators are center stage at every debate. Deeper dives into Political Corruption, the Hunter Biden issue (comparing his issue to the Trump Family and POTUS emoluments), Election Security and managing Putin’s Russia are also overdue.

Warren is great under pressure. She is still my favorite in the race, and while her frontrunner status was confirmed last night, I’d rather see her mixing it up on a host of relevant topics, rather than being slow-jammed on Medicare for All by Klobuchar and Harris plus Castro, Yang, Steyer and Gabbard.

Even if Klobuchar, Harris and O’Rourke (I’ll discuss Beto in a moment), join Mayor Pete, Corey Booker, and front-runners Warren, Biden and Bernie in the Final Eight, remove the clutter of the Purely-Unelectable-So-Why-Are-They-There Other Four. I’ve heard it stated that Castro might make a good DNC head. Worth considering. Otherwise, Castro, Steyer, Gabbard and (arguably) Yang are superfluous, serving to attack the front-runners and dilute the content. The DNC should trim the fat.

The candidate most impacted by so many faces is Kamala Harris. Now a longshot, she is a strong voice with a substantial following, and an impressive track record. She’s made the mistake of changing her voice noticeably from debate to debate, struggling to establish an identity. Her numbers, like Mayor Pete’s, ultimately will decide the issue. A chance to compete on a broader set of issues would help us know more definitively if she is a contender or also-ran.

While it seems Klobuchar’s sole purpose is to gain points by attacking Warren and extract a sound bite that will harm her candidacy down the line (“YES! Medicare for All will impact Middle Class Taxes!!!”), she makes an argument to be on the stage. To that end, Booker has been the least heralded and most Presidential of the Next Five, making him a viable running mate for Warren or ???

While I have mere doubts about the electability of Biden and Bernie, I know Beto won’t be elected. But he stands alone and for all the right reasons on two critical issues. First, he is the only candidate with the guts to take a real position on gun control. I think he’s right on the issue and Americans agree with him, which is why he consistently receives wild applause on the topic. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “We’re coming for your guns.” And anyone ideologically opposed to that line is voting for Trump anyway.

The other Beto positive is that he is the only one challenging Warren on one of her two biggest deficiencies. While everyone wants more detail on Medicare for All, and perhaps rightly so, there isn’t enough meaningful discussion on her proposed anti-trust spree. Even if we have had too many mergers, and the FTC needs a more aggressive anti-trust stance, naming companies she wants broken up now is a kind of grandstanding at this point. It’s certainly not going to help her get elected. She’s smart, with smart people on her staff. Her anti-trust proposals are too broad right now, and someone needs to tell her that. So far, it’s only been Beto.

So that’s where it’s at for me. Love to hear your comments. Here are my personal Top 8 candidates remaining, in order of preference.

Who do you like and why?

Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders
Kamala Harris
Pete Buttigieg
Joe Biden
Corey Boooker
Amy Klobuchar


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