At the Debate, Only Losers

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, Nev., February 19, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
'Anybody But Trump!' sounds a lot more appealing before you are presented with the menu — or start to think about the bill.

To be honest, I’d almost forgotten what they were like.

Wednesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate was revealing: Mike Bloomberg was revealed to be unprepared, something for which a man with his resources has no possible excuse; Amy Klobuchar was revealed to be a stammering daisy, her big moment coming when she whined that Mayor Pete was being mean to her about not knowing the name Andrés Manuel López Obrador; Bernie Sanders was revealed to be — well, we already knew that; Elizabeth Warren revealed herself to be the titular heroine of “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning,” her madcap thrashing about no less obviously death throes for all of its animating rage; Joe Biden was there; my sympathy was with Pete Buttigieg as he turned around the stage from clod to cretin and from scold to demagogue with that Tucker Carlson-ish look on his face saying, “Who the @#$%&! are these clowns?” He’s a preposterous candidate for president — or would be, in more normal times — but he is very good as an audience surrogate.

The great highlight for me was watching Senator Warren. I am reminded of the Republican 2016 primary contender I saw a few days after Donald Trump’s victory in the general election. “I’m not sure about the guy who won,” he said, “but it was so . . . satisfying . . . watching her lose.” (No, these debates do not bring out the best in me. But, then, they don’t bring out the best in the contestants, either.) Senator Warren is a terrible campaigner, and her tribune-of-the-plebs shtick is awkward, because she so obviously and clearly detests people — take my advice, from one misanthrope to another, senator: This ain’t your game.

Warren’s leaps of imagination were amusing, though. Pressed by Jon Ralston (if there was a winner of the debate, it was he) about the assumptions behind her climate policy — assumptions that might charitably be described as wishful thinking — she said that the way forward on alternative energy and the like would be to develop new products that hadn’t been invented yet. What kind of new products that haven’t been invented yet? Well, that’s the thing about things that haven’t been invented yet. But irrespective of what those products are or when . . . somebody . . . gets around to inventing them, Warren said she’d insist that they be built here in the United States of America, in order to offset those mining jobs in Nevada and drilling jobs in Pennsylvania she plans to destroy.

That is classic Warren: She is already dreaming up heavy-handed regulations for things that do not yet exist — regulations that are politically unworkable and very possibly unconstitutional at that. (The president has no obvious constitutional power to tell hypothetical inventors of hypothetical products where they may locate their hypothetical factories.) But none of that really matters, of course. Not to Senator Warren, anyway, who is as cynical a grifter as American politics has to offer in 2020.

(Call it a tie.)

How any particular locomotive on this runaway train of addlepated jackassery intends to actually govern, should one become president, is a mystery. (Yes, I remember who the president is right now.) If we are to take them seriously — and let us do them that discourtesy; they deserve it — then the commanding heights of the American economy are occupied by Enemies of the People, as are one half of the legislative branch of government and (consult the 2016 electoral map) a majority of the people in a majority of the states. All of these are going to have to be destroyed — not persuaded or brought into a coalition, but repressed (Democrats are hot to limit Americans’ political speech, as the malign presence of Harry Reid before the event reminds us), expropriated (through politically targeted punitive taxation), dispossessed (Senator Warren would have the government dictate to corporations the compositions of their boards of directors), regulated out of business, blacklisted, etc. A question that some future debate moderator should ask: “On health care, or climate policy, or immigration — what kind of compromise deal do you think you could work out with Republicans?”

Democrats are not alone in their mania or in their rejection of compromise. Still, they all but spat at Buttigieg and his talk of moderation. Never mind bipartisanship — for the 2020 Democrats, especially Sanders and Warren, there is a Great Satan (a Great Orange Satan) and a Little Satan, the one from Indiana who represents what’s left of that accommodating New Democrat liberalism of the 1990s.

You can “But, Trump!” that all day, but the curious fact is that Trump’s politics of rage was, operationally, an enlarging one for Republicans, bringing states into the R column that had not been there in some time. The Democratic politics of rage on display last night offers no such promise. The handful of Republicans and conservatives who remain opposed to Donald Trump is not electorally significant, to be sure. But if Wednesday night’s display is indicative of what is to come to pass between now and November, then it is going to be very difficult to make the case to very many persuadable voters to the right of Bob Casey Jr. that the reelection of President Trump should be to them a matter of moral or political indifference, much less a cause of horror. The Democrats are out there shouting “Oh, the humanity!” with unemployment at record lows. Of course there are serious problems — but don’t count on this motley crew to speak about them seriously.

The likely response at the margin is defensive voting: the incontinent tweeter you wish you didn’t know over the socialist kook you’re glad you don’t.

That’s one takeaway from Nevada: “Anybody but Trump!” sounds a lot more appealing before you are presented with the menu — or start to think about the bill.


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