The Morning Jolt


What to Watch for in Tonight’s Democratic Debate

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) at a campaign event in Toledo, Ohio, July 29, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A whole bunch of candidates need to throw punches at tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, meaning we could be watching Thunderdome this evening; a reminder that Twitter is a poor measuring stick for public opinion on political topics; a reminder about the folly of youth; and a demonstration of who Virginia Democrats think deserves scorn.

Tonight’s Democratic Debate: Go Big or Go Home

A lot of times, primary debates don’t live up to expectations. But for half the stage tonight, it’s go big or go home. Tonight might be the last we see of John Hickenlooper, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan. Tonight will be the first time we see Montana governor Steve Bullock — and perhaps the last as well. The never-boring Marianne Williamson isn’t guaranteed to make the third debate. At this point, Senator Amy Klobuchar has met the polling requirement but not the donor requirement.

CNN’s random draw just happened to put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the second night, which sets up a perfect high-stakes rematch. They put the rest of the top tier the first night — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and, depending upon how broadly you want to define the top tier, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke. To qualify for the third debates held Sept. 12 and Sept. 13, candidates need 130,000 unique donors and receive the support of at least 2 percent of respondents in four qualifying polls.

Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris — some might say we can cut off the top tier here — Cory Booker, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke have qualified for the third debate. . . and Andrew Yang. There may not be a need for two-night debates soon.

Yang, the guy who spoke for three minutes in the first debate, is ahead of a bunch of senators and governors, according to the DNC’s criteria.

Quite a few people expect some sort of fireworks between Sanders and Warren, but she’s rising in the polls, and he’s sinking, so she’s got little incentive to go after him too directly or harshly. Theoretically, Sanders could go after Warren, but the pair get along personally and there’s not a ton of differences on policy. (Where do they differ? He’s an old-school activist shaped by the 1960s, socialism, and street activism. She’s the academia-shaped law professor focused on financial regulation. They ended up in similar places in terms of policy and ideology but took different paths to get there.)

To win a primary, you have to draw distinctions between yourself and your rivals, and that distinction must mean you are better for the job and your opponent is worse. A lot of politicians get squeamish about this and say they won’t want to engage in “negative campaigning.” And there is genuine risk, as one candidate successfully attacking another usually gets primary voters to start looking at options among other candidates. Probably the most classic example of this came in the 2004 Iowa caucuses, when Dick Gephardt basically decided to nuke Howard Dean, and Iowa Democratic caucus-goers shifted to John Kerry and John Edwards.

One could argue that Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg are competing in the “young guy who is trying to remind older Democratic voters of the Kennedys” sub-primary. As noted yesterday, some Democrats are watching O’Rourke rapidly wilting in this presidential primary and asking, “what happened to him?” Many of us see the same guy we always saw: charismatic but glib, under-accomplished in public life, a personal history that doesn’t match the overhyped Herculean narrative.

Buttigieg is in a weird spot: he’s a fundraising behemoth but he has, so far, shown almost no appeal to African Americans, arguably the most important demographic in a Democratic presidential primary. The mayor is making his pitch to these voters, but there’s understandable skepticism about the child of Notre Dame professors who went on to Harvard, Oxford, and McKinsey Consulting, whose response to a question about racial disparity persisted on the South Bend Police Force was “because I couldn’t get it done.” Sure, it’s a refreshingly honest answer, but it’s easy to understand why African Americans might not make him their first choice after that. Right now, Buttigieg is the classic boutique candidate: extremely appealing to a high-end market, with limited evidence of mass appeal.

Klobuchar has just faded into the background, hasn’t she? Perhaps she’s redundant: She’s the other senator (many) and former prosecutor (Harris) with tough-on-crime credentials (Biden) on the race, who “did not press charges in more than two dozen cases where people were killed by police, but her office regularly went after low-level offenses like vandalism and pushed for long prison sentences.” Another lawmaker who spent her life pursuing what she thought voters wanted and couldn’t adapt to sudden political climate change.

Tonight, Montana governor Steve Bullock will probably play the role of Ambassador from Red State America. His sales pitch will probably face at least two fundamental challenges. Right now, progressive activists aren’t in the mood to make any policy concessions to win over more culturally conservative parts of the country — not on guns, not on abortion, crime, tax policy, spending policies, illegal immigration.

Second, Democrats may not really need to win over that many red states in 2020. Democrats need to win in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Last year in Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey got reelected to the Senate by 13 points and Tom Wolf won reelection as governor by 17 points. Last year in Wisconsin, Tony Evers managed to narrowly beat incumbent Scott Walker, and Tammy Baldwin won reelection to the Senate by eleven points. Finally, last year in Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer won the governor’s race by ten points and Senator Debbie Stabenow won reelection by seven points. Democrats don’t really need a new effort to win traditionally red states like Montana. They need to win back the traditionally blue states that Trump narrowly won last cycle.

Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal profiled John Hickenlooper and John Delaney as “the capitalist dark horses” in the Democratic field. To put it capitalist terms, so far Democratic primary voters don’t seem interested in buying what they’re selling. Conservatives like us would love to see Hickenlooper or Delaney denounce the open embrace of socialism that is trendy among the Twitter Left — Hickenlooper sort of did this before California Democrats, and got booed — and point out that FDR-style regulation of the market and mending a social safety net is not the same as socialism and ought not to be labeled as such. Instead, poor Delaney is left attempting to sell his ideas as the somewhat contradictory “pragmatic idealism.”

As for Tim Ryan. . . let’s face it, you forgot who he was from the last debate and you’ve forgotten him from when I first mentioned him at the beginning of this column. He’s trying to be the candidate who appeals to working-class whites, and Twitter Left absolutely hates working-class whites because they believe this demographic elected Trump.

Oh, and the perfect irony: CNN’s debate is being held in Detroit’s Fox Theater.

Twitter Is Not America, Part Bazillion

Lest you think I’m overstating the divide between the Twitter Left and the rest of the Democratic party, never mind the rest of America: “A recent poll by a leading centrist think tank found that less than three in 10 Democratic primary voters support abolishing ICE. But 64% of those who tweet at least once a day do.”

As Arthur Brooks observed yesterday, “Only 22 percent of U.S. adults are on Twitter, and 80 percent of the tweets come from 10 percent of users. If you rely on Twitter for political information, you are being informed by ersatz pundits residing within 2.2 percent of the population.”

Oh, and Get Off My Lawn, Too

Yesterday on NRO’s home page, David French wrote with great sensitivity, grace, and understanding about influential Evangelical author and pastor Joshua Harris, who recently renounced his past work and announced he no longer considers himself a Christian.

If you want sensitivity, grace, and understanding, go to David. If you want a little bit more snark, irritation, and incredulity over a guy renouncing his life’s work (“Whoopsie!”) and the absurdity that somehow a million people believed that a 21-year-old had somehow cracked the Rosetta Stone on human relationships. . . I’m your guy.

ADDENDA: Today, Virginia’s state Democratic legislative caucus and the Black Legislative Caucus are boycotting an appearance by President Trump at Jamestown, citing his racially insensitive remarks and actions.

They had no objection to Governor Ralph Northam’s attendance.

One of the few African-American lawmakers who will attend today’s event with the president is. . . lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax.

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