The Morning Jolt


What to Expect during Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Debate

Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Joe Biden takes on Elizabeth Warren tonight, and she’ll almost certainly take shots at him — will he use his killer countermove? Also, fan culture takes over American political discourse, and the French offer a terrible idea for dealing with Iran.

It’s Biden vs. Warren Tonight. The Successor vs. the Professor! The Pesterer vs. the Lecturer!

It’s Democratic debate night! Can you feel the excitement, down to the marrow in your bones?

This is the first debate since the Great Culling of 2019, where the merciless Democratic National Committee required candidates to meet a threshold at least 130,000 individual donors and earned 2 percent support in at least four qualifying polls. They’re so mean! Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard might make the next one, but for tonight, it’s ten candidates.

Victims of the Great Culling include Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, and Jay Inslee, who’ve left the race. Still running but stuck outside the arena doors are Colorado senator Mike Bennet, Montana governor Steve Bullock, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Delaware congressman John Delaney, Gabbard, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan, former Pennsylvania representative Joe Sestak, Steyer, and the not-so-secret favorite of a lot of conservatives — Marianne Williamson.

Other than Williamson, you’re not going to notice they’re missing tonight, are you? She really was a breath of fresh air. Every other Democratic candidate else on stage was insisting that their health care plan would also address the effect of carbon emissions by providing illegal immigrants free tuition to grad school so they could help enforce nationwide gun confiscation and then Williamson would say none of that mattered until we confronted the soul impulses driven by malevolent entities from the Black Lodge who are feeding upon the garmonbozia generated by the nation’s chakras.

Come on, everybody, let’s get her into the October debate. She’s an indisputable visionary, and by that, I mean it is often hard to tell whether she’s hallucinating, or we are.

(Another interesting comment from Williamson recently: “What does it say that Fox News is nicer to me than the lefties are? What does it say that the conservatives are nicer to me? . . .  It’s such a bizarre world. I didn’t think the left was as mean as the right, they are.”)

For a while, it’s been a three-person race, and the new poll from CNN this morning shows roughly the usual: former vice president Joe Biden at 24 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 18 percent, and Sanders at 17 percent. After that, it’s a steep drop: Kamala Harris at 8 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent and Beto O’Rourke at 5 percent.

Tonight will be the first time Biden is on the stage with Warren, so everyone expects her to go after the vice president hard. Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a Biden surrogate, gets in a preemptive shot in today’s Washington Post in an op-ed that begins, “I like Elizabeth Warren. I like her a lot. Too bad she’s a hypocrite.” He takes some fair shots at her for taking big-money donations from her Senate bid and transferring money to her presidential campaign and for hitting Biden for holding “a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors” when she hosted the same kinds of events during her Senate run in 2018.

“It’s one thing to fashion a campaign that relies on grass-roots fundraising, but it’s another to go out of your way to characterize as power-brokers and influence-peddlers the very people whose support you have previously courted,” Rendell writes.

A fair shot, but it’s not clear it will do that much damage to Warren. Hypocrisy on campaign finance is deeply woven into the Democratic party. Rendell notes that Obama bragged about not accepting donations from Wall Street firms, while collecting millions of dollars from people who worked in Wall Street firms. When Democratic candidates fume about “wealthy donors” and “fat cats,” they mean the perception of mean, miserly Republican rich people, not the good Democratic rich people like Tom Steyer, George Soros, Mike Bloomberg, Haim Saban, the Hollywood crowd, trial lawyers . . .

Warren is enjoying a good burst of momentum lately, but we all know this is a campaign that has had a metaphorical ticking time-bomb in it from the beginning. You don’t go after Warren on hypocrisy. Any rival who wants to nuke Warren’s campaign, particularly in a Democratic primary, should go right at her glaring weakness: “You’re not a woman of color, you were wrong to describe yourself as a woman of color, and when you claim you had no idea that Harvard Law School was touting you to the public as a woman of color, I don’t believe you.” The notion that Harvard was running around describing Warren this way and she simply never noticed it in any of their statements, press materials, or other documents is the most implausible aspect of Warren’s explanation. Even if you buy her story, it means she wasn’t following the debate about minority representation at the law school back in the 1990s, a pretty heated controversy at the time. No demographic likes a white person trying to benefit from fraudulent minority status. Warren will insist she never benefited from any affirmative action program, but many voters are unlikely to believe that claiming a minority status at an Ivy League law school faculty didn’t bring her any professional benefit at all.

My guess is that Bernie Sanders will never play that card, as he likes Warren too much that would be too personal an attack on a longtime ally. (Oh, and Sanders has his own racial controversy; in a 1997 book he used the n-word repeatedly in a critique of American racism. No one’s saying he’s used the term out of racial animosity, but there are people who will bristle at him using the term in any context.)

Biden won’t play that card against Warren until he needs it. But if you’re a Warren fan, you’ve got a difficult choice. Would you rather she face that storm in the Democratic primary, or in the general election against Trump?

Our Painfully Stupid Era of ‘Fan Culture’ Politics

If you can get past the garish graphics, Amanda Hess has a good essay in the New York Times, observing that the most important political figures in American life no longer have constituents, they have fans who adore them. They’re consumer brands, complete with merchandise — the Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure (inaction figure?), the MAGA hats, the GIFs, and the dissection of their playlists: “civic participation is converted seamlessly into consumer habit. Political battles are waged through pop songs and novelty prayer candles and evocative emoji . . . This is democracy reimagined as celebrity fandom, and it is now a dominant mode of experiencing politics.”

For those of us who actually pay attention to policy, know a thing or two about history, and believe all changes to U.S. law and policy should be kept within the boundaries set out by the Constitution, all of this is also painfully stupid. We’re not marketing a new Hollywood blockbuster, Netflix series, or new album. We’re trying to change laws and policies to make the country a better place, and it’s not always going to be exciting. Not everything that is important in life is going to be exciting, and getting things done in life requires an ability to sustain attentiveness to things that are not sexy, colorful, fun, or dramatic. You probably wouldn’t use those words to describe your mortgage, your retirement savings, your health insurance, your car maintenance, your cholesterol, or even your kid’s school curriculum, but all of those things are important.

In 2015, Kathryn Lopez did an “exit interview” for the Campaign Spot, and I noted:

You might say the presidency of Barack Obama is a natural end result of a cultural shift that really picked up steam when you and I were teenagers. The 1992 election was the first presidential election to feature MTV’s “Rock the Vote,” which featured Madonna and other celebrities urging young people to vote. It was a turning point in trying to make politicians and presidential candidates “cool.” It was cool celebrities telling young people that voting was cool. And we knew which candidate that year was going to be the cool one: Bill Clinton on The Arsenio Hall Show, wearing shades and playing the saxophone, and so on. But politics, governing, lawmaking — these things were never supposed to be cool. By 2008, you saw discussion of Obama as a “brand.”

If readers of Campaign Spot ever suspected I was an astronomic-scale dweeb in high school, they’re correct. But I’d be happier with a world where the “cool” people went off and did their “cool” stuff, and left politics and governing to the rest of us who actually know about it and care about it.

That was before we made a reality show host president, of course.

Wait, Why Are We Even Considering Agreeing to a French Bailout of Iran?

Come on. The president can’t seriously be considering this option, can he?

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, in which the Paris government would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year. The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions.

If the president wants to repeal the sanctions, then he should urge Congress to repeal the sanctions, and accept the consequences of reversing one of the most important foreign policy moves of this presidency. Don’t go along with a wink-and-nod deal and hope no one notices.

ADDENDA: Our John McCormick:

The results in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district did show that Republicans continue to struggle in the suburbs. But it’s also worth keeping in mind the results in the other special congressional election held in North Carolina on Tuesday. In the third congressional district, which includes the Outer Banks, a special election was held because incumbent Republican Walter Jones died earlier this year. Trump carried North Carolina’s third congressional district with 60.6 percent of the vote in 2016; on Tuesday, the Republican candidate carried the third district with 61.7 percent of the vote.


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