The Democratic party held its first presidential primary debate Wednesday night with ten candidates on the stage, and another ten slated for the stage in tonight’s part two, and another six or so contenders are being left out of the mix. What’s sure to be a prolonged reality show got off to a rather boring start, we thought, but it might gain steam as the contestants begin getting voted off the island.
The debate started off with some embarrassing technical problems from the National Broadcasting Company, and the format that followed was also problematic. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to explain how he or she would solve such complicated problems as climate change and gun violence and a majority-Republican Senate, which is more than we could do even in our very fast-talking high school and college debate days, and they each wound up with less than eight minutes of air time to talk to the Democratic primary electorate. As a result we don’t think anyone clearly lost or won, but that didn’t stop all the pundits from picking winners as losers.
We were most impressed by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who talked about how the Democrats need to regain their former reputation as the party of the working class instead of the Ivy League and Hollywood and certain racial and sexual identity groups, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who stressed her record of winning in Republican precincts and getting bills passed and signed with bipartisan support, but we’re still registered Republicans and won’t be voting in the Democratic primary. Our many Democratic friends probably saw it differently.
The polls say the front runner of the ten randomly picked candidates who had met the party’s threshold for inclusion in the debates was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and she didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but neither did she say anything that people will remember when the voting starts in the Iowa caucus some eight months from now. Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker seem to have at least improved their name recognition numbers, judging by the Google search results, along with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro, but none of them scored a knockout.
Gabbard is young and surprisingly physically attractive by political standards, and she also has an impressive military record that the aged and ugly and draft-dodging President Donald Trump can’t compete with, but she lost us when she made clear that she was even wimpier than Trump about enforcing a Pax Americana on a question about Afghanistan. Booker seems a bright fellow, but he also seems to exemplify the identity politics that Ryan rightly warned against. The white DeBlasio got a lot of Google searches when he mentioned his black son, but we think he’s been a disastrous mayor of New York City, even if he probably would win New York City and New York state’s votes by a landslide. Castro probably endeared himself to Spanish-speaking Democratic voters with some Spanish lines, and dealt a clear blow to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s efforts to court that constituency, but we don’t habla much espanol and weren’t much impressed.
We were slightly surprised that none of the candidates went on at much length about Trump, although it’s a given that none of them like him and it’s pointless to argue about who hates him the most, but we were even more surprised to see that none of them took aim at former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, the front runner in all the polls who will hold center stage in tonight’s debate. The other nine candidates who qualified to share the stage with Biden will probably be more critical, but for now the Democrats don’t seem to be forming their usual circular firing squad.
At this point, we’re only hoping our Democratic friends choose the least kooky of their options.
— Bud Norman