On the menu today: the Democratic National Committee’s inexplicable decision to have one of the most important debates of the cycle on a Friday night; wondering whether Barack Obama could stop Bernie Sanders if he tried, and why he doesn’t even appear to be trying; and good riddance to the execrable and incoherent Joe Walsh.
The Democratic National Committee Hopes You Watch the Debate Tonight. Or Do They?
How well do you remember the 2016 Democratic presidential primary debates? Maybe you remember Bernie Sanders declaring, with Hillary Clinton smiling beside him, “I think the secretary of state is right, the American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails,” effectively forsaking that issue in the primary.
Other than that, you probably don’t remember much, and some would argue that that was by design.
The first Democratic presidential primary debate of that cycle wasn’t held until October of 2015. (The Republicans started in August.) The Democratic National Committee initially announced that only six would be held, roughly one per month. (The Clinton and Sanders campaigns would eventually negotiate expanding the number of primary debates to ten.) After the first debate in October, the next three debates were held on weekends — two Saturday nights and a Sunday night, right after the playoff football games. The first debate had 15 million viewers, but the next few saw the audience almost halved — 8.5 million, 7.8 million, 10 million. Americans have a lot of things they like to do on weekend evenings, and those things don’t include watching presidential candidate debates.
Once people learned how the DNC had effectively become a financial subsidiary of the Clinton campaign, some angry Sanders supporters argue that the national committee arranged the debate schedule to protect the frontrunner. If you’re ahead, you don’t need big audiences. You don’t need drama or fiery confrontations. In 1996, Bill Clinton and his reelection campaign wanted the general election to be boring. Controversy gets people fired up and thinking about trying something new. When you’re ahead, you just want to run out the clock:
Stephanopoulos, one of Mr. Clinton’s senior aides and strategists, argues that a Presidential contest that he predicts will leave ”no cultural imprint” is a healthy sign of ”maturity and community” in the country. From that high point, Mr. Stephanopoulos jumped to offer a more self-interested analysis of what he views as its benefits. ”When you’re an incumbent, and the economy is doing well,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said recently, ”boring is good.”
I have not found any previous cases of presidential primary debates held on a Friday night, although it’s possible I’ve missed one. Television networks know Friday night audiences are usually small. In prime-time television, Friday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. are considered the “death slot,” a place to park shows that are close to cancellation. The young people that advertisers crave are out for dinner or dates or high-school basketball games or other events.
At least the debates are coming a bit more frequently now that actual votes are being cast; the next debate will be February 19 in Las Vegas, a few days before the Nevada caucuses.
I don’t know if the Democratic National Committee originally scheduled a Friday night debate to protect a frontrunner. Considering how the preceding few nights have featured the Iowa caucus non-results, the State of the Union Address, and the reaction to the impeachment vote, maybe the only better option would have been last night, and Americans probably needed at least one night off from our relentless political battles.
But the irony is that the frontrunner since the start of this cycle, Joe Biden, could really use a good night this evening before a big audience.
Other than Sanders, all of the candidates could use a good night and a strong finish when the results get tabulated Tuesday night. (They will be tabulated and announced Tuesday night, right, Democrats?) Pete Buttigieg had a great finish in Iowa, but he needs to demonstrate he’s not a one-state wonder. Elizabeth Warren could really use a finish that is better than, “eh, okay, I guess.” Amy Klobuchar is pretty much done, barring some miracle.
Further down in single-digit territory, New Hampshire may be the best night of the campaign for Tulsi Gabbard; the Emerson poll has her at 6 percent and she hit 7 percent in that survey earlier. And in one of the least-noticed developments, the air is coming out of the balloon for good old likeable Andrew Yang. If anybody’s got a reason to rage about the convoluted and complicated Iowa caucus rules, it’s Yang. According to the numbers released by the state party, almost 9,000 people showed up on caucus night and initially supported Yang, good for 5 percent — a pretty respectable result for a tech CEO nobody had heard of before last year. But because he didn’t hit 15 percent in many precincts, by the second round he was down to 1,780 votes. And now he’s at 1 percent in the “state delegate equivalents.”
Who won Iowa? In the eyes of the Associated Press, we still can’t be sure. “The Associated Press calls a race when there is a clear indication of a winner. Because of a tight margin between former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders and the irregularities in this year’s caucus process, it is not possible to determine a winner at this point,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.
Hey, Where’s Barack Obama in All This?
Jonathan Chait sounds really depressed and gloomy, seeing doom for the “American center-left.” Despite our past disagreements — and my belief that if Chait thinks what I write is idiotic, he ought to link to it in his denunciations — I don’t want to kick Chait when he’s feeling down. It absolutely stinks when the electorate kicks your preferred worldview in the teeth. Many traditional Reaganite conservatives have been there!
But I started to think about Chait’s January 2017 book, Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. Obviously, Chait wrote much of that before the 2016 election results were known, and Obama’s legislative legacy looks a lot shakier from the perspective of 2020. His tax increases are largely repealed, Obamacare’s individual mandate is gone, Trump blew up the Iran deal, withdrew from the Paris climate-change accords . . .
But let’s also note the odd and withering state of Obama’s political legacy. The only Democratic candidate who still makes a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act is Biden. Most of the other candidates wanted or cosponsored “Medicare for All,” a de facto admission that the ACA didn’t generate the results Democrats wanted. Almost the entire field has repudiated Obama’s immigration-enforcement record as too harsh. Bernie Sanders’s entire campaign is more or less a contention that the Obama administration didn’t go far enough on any front — on taxes, on regulations, on the environment, on higher education, on criminal justice.
The only candidate running on “a return to normalcy” is Biden, and you see the troubles he’s having.
Obama’s old campaign team is out there, making the argument against Sanders, but they don’t seem to be getting much traction. Last November, Ryan Lizza reported, “Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.” Yet we haven’t heard much of anything from Obama.
Is that out of a principled sense that a former president should not take sides in an ongoing primary?
Or out of a fear that if Obama publicly argued that the Democrats should not nominate Sanders, he might not win that argument?
Don’t Leave This Race Angry, Joe Walsh. Just Leave.
After getting 1.1 percent and finishing third behind William Weld in the GOP Iowa Caucus, Joe Walsh concluded that there was no point in continuing his presidential campaign.
“I am ending my candidacy for president of the United States,” Walsh told CNN’s John Berman on New Day. “I got into this because I thought it was really important that there was a Republican — a Republican — out there every day calling out this president for how unfit he is.” He added that he would rather have a Socialist in the Oval Office than “a dictator.”
Back on January 30, Walsh tweeted, “Any Senate Republican who votes to acquit this President without demanding witnesses, documents and a fair trial, deserves to lose this November.” I pointed out that this means Walsh was calling for the defeat of every Republican senator up for reelection this year, and forgot that responding to him in any way constitutes giving him media oxygen. He responded, “Yes Jim, that is what I’m saying. Any Republican who does not demand to see & hear from all relevant documents & witnesses b4 arriving at a verdict deserves to lose in November. Any Republican who puts their party b4 their oath deserves to lose. And that’s not easy for me to say.”
We now know this means Walsh believes every currently sitting Republican senator except Mitt Romney should be defeated in the next three cycles. Extending the same standard to the House would mean calling for the defeat of every currently serving House Republican as well.
When you are a Republican, and your platform is that “every Republican in the legislative branch except for one should be defeated and replaced with a Democrat” it seems fair to ask whether you are really a Republican any more by any functional standard. Walsh went out to Iowa and told voters he wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that there shouldn’t be a federal minimum wage, he believes in using public funds for private schools, and strongly supports voter ID. Walsh also wants a border wall and opposes abortion without exception.
And he thinks every congressional Republican should be replaced by a Democrat, almost all of whom resolutely oppose the policies he prefers and want to move policy in the other direction.
This is incoherent. Joe Walsh wants a Republican Party that opposes Trump, or a conservative Democratic Party. Neither of those parties exist right now, and there’s little sign that either of those parties will appear anytime soon. Those of us who are traditionalist conservatives and who find Trump an extraordinarily frustrating president at best or a Constitutional disaster at worst have to choose from either Trump, the Democrat, some other candidate like the Libertarians or some little-known independent, or stay home.
It is also worth noting that Walsh gave grief to the likes of me (and probably a lot of you readers out there) for not voting for Trump in 2016. He declared that Republicans who wouldn’t support Trump were “corrupt”, “liars,” and “everything wrong with America.” Now he’s giving grief to the likes of us for not being sufficiently dedicated to the removal of Trump through an impeachment process ten months before an election.
Walsh sees everybody who disagrees with him as unprincipled sellouts, even though he changes his views with the sudden and dramatic nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I would also point out that after our Twitter exchange, I heard from usually amiable readers who asked why I was giving Walsh grief when he had the courage “call out the fact that the rules of the nation will be changed forever.” As recently as New Year’s Eve 2016, Walsh was insisting Barack Obama was a Muslim. It is amazing how anti-Trumpism washes away all previous sins. Joe Walsh threated to “grab his musket” if Trump didn’t win in 2016, casually used the N-word, called for banning Muslim immigration, and was a Birther. But if you oppose Trump loudly enough, the Etch-a-Sketch of your life’s work gets shaken and the slate goes clean? To hell with that.
Good riddance, Joe Walsh.
ADDENDUM: Away from the presidential campaign, some thoughts on the growing bipartisan wariness about standardized testing. I salute the commenter who concluded that any doubts about the value of the current regimes of standardized testing must mean that I believe that no child should ever be tested on anything, and that any poor score on a standardized test is revealing a “lack of effort.”