The headline out of tonight’s debate is going to be Kamala Harris starting off the second hour by turning to Joe Biden and just kicking the snot out of him on the previously long-forgotten issue of forced busing in Delaware. No older white male wants to get into a fight about racism with a younger African-American woman in a Democratic presidential primary. Biden tried to defend himself by first contrasting his work as a defense attorney with Harris’ record as a prosecutor, then moved on to a not terribly convincing, “I did not oppose busing in America; I opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education,” and then he cut himself off. Septuagenarians who have been in the Senate longer than I’ve been alive should probably avoid the term “my time is up.” Biden would have been better off defending his stance on the merits, declaring that busing kids across town to new schools away from their homes was angering parents and exacerbating racial tensions instead of healing them.
One night won’t sink the Joe Biden campaign, but boy, did he look like he had a glass jaw, and he also seems to have aged a decade since he left the vice presidency. When asked what his first priority as president would be, Biden answered that it would be defeating Donald Trump.
This night shouldn’t have gone this badly for him. “Build upon what we’ve done” is probably a more reassuring and appealing message than completely scrapping the entire existing system of private health insurance.
Separately, Michael Bennet went after Biden on making a deal with Mitch McConnell extending the Bush tax. This is a really interesting contrast to Wednesday night, when no other Democrat bothered to go after Elizabeth Warren, the highest-polling candidate on stage.
Beyond that exchange, Kamala Harris came prepared. During one particularly irritating moment of shouting and crosstalk, she silenced the cacophony and declared the audience “doesn’t want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re gonna put food on the table.” (Is it the job of the president to put food on your table?) She seemed to be wanting to replay the Obama style – simultaneously casual, personal, and inspiring. The also-rans might want to start diverting some of their fire to Harris, because otherwise, she will just demolish every candidate ahead of her.
Bernie Sanders shouted almost every answer, and seemed even more cantankerous than usual, insisting that a quote he gave to a Vermont newspaper was “mischaracterization of my view.” When Swalwell went back to the “past the torch” line, Biden just smiled a “get a load of this guy” grin while Sanders’s eyes bulged and he seemed to fume. Sanders stood out when standing next to the likes of Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb. This is much tougher competition, and he’s having a tougher time.
In a debate that turned into a shout-fest frequently, Pete Buttigieg came across as even-keeled. Considering the state of his campaign heading into tonight, he really needed a good night, and he seemed to get what he needed. He had the most genuinely surprising moment of the night when asked why he had not been able to improve relations between South Bend’s African-American community and the city police. “Because I couldn’t get it done.” Buttigieg is either going to win serious points for honesty on that topic or he’s just crashed his ship upon the rocks. Even if he gets points for honesty . . . why should Democrats believe that he will be able to get it done as president?
Kirsten Gillibrand desperately wanted a breakout, and she jumped in at every chance she could find. I’m not sure it worked, and you could almost hear Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders rolling their eyes when she declared no senator had opposed Donald Trump more than her. Before tonight, the “Tracey Flick” comparison seemed unfair. Now . . . not so much.
John Hickenlooper seems like a nice enough guy, but he’s nowhere near leftist enough for the current Democratic party, and his awkward amiable goofiness doesn’t really play well on this stage.
Eric Swalwell was a younger version of Bill de Blasio last night, the pugnacious troublemaker. He took an early swing at Biden with his “passing the torch” comment, and Biden pretty much ignored him in the response. Ignoring Eric Swalwell has been a popular trend among Democratic primary voters, and I don’t expect that will be any less popular in the future.
You know how when people compare Trump to a generic Democrat in polls, people say there’s no such thing as a generic Democrat? It turns out they’re wrong; Colorado senator Michael Bennet is the generic Democrat. Few surprises, standard talking points and party-consensus viewpoints, delivered in the baritone that actors use when they play senators in the movies. He would be a pretty strong candidate in normal times. This era is nothing like normal times.
It’s a shame Andrew Yang couldn’t be there tonight. . . . Oh, he was on stage? I must have blinked too many times. The man with a million ideas literally got three minutes over two hours to pitch his ideas. This is an egregious mismanagement of the debate by MSNBC, and the Yang Gang has every right to be livid over this.
I wonder if non-Republicans felt about Donald Trump in 2016 the way I, and it seems quite a few other conservatives, feel about Marianne Williamson. Marianne, you beautiful lunatic. Every time you spoke, I didn’t know whether you were going to do a rain dance, cast a hex, or hold a seance. On those rare moments you got a chance to talk, I leaned forward because I had no idea what kind of absolute insanity was going to come out of your mouth. It was as riveting as a hostage situation. She contends American have chronic illnesses because of “chemical policies,” she wonders where the rest of the field has been for decades (er, in public office), and her first call will be to the prime minister of New Zealand, and she wants to harness the power of love for political purposes. In many ways, she is exactly the candidate that today’s Democratic party deserves.