The six candidates who still have a plausible shot at winning the Democratic party’s presidential nomination had a debate Wednesday night in Nevada, which is having one of those weird caucus rituals on Saturday, and it was a raucous affair. All of the contenders spent so much bashing one another they had little time left to bash President Donald Trump, who surely enjoyed the show.
According to the latest polls the clear frontrunner in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and the darling of the loony left portion of the Democratic party, which is plenty big enough to give a him a 32 point plurality in the crowded field, with fellow loony lefty Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren fading into fourth at 12 percent. Former Vice President and former frontrunner Joe Biden, who is courting the party’s relatively sane centrists, is in second with 16 percent, but that’s barely ahead of the 14 percent by billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is courting the same votes. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have 8 and 7 percent respectively, which also come from the relatively sane centrist faction.
All of which led to Wednesday’s brass knuckle free-for-all, with the relatively sane centrists attacking one another as well as the loony left contenders, and the loony left contenders also firing in every direction. As best as we can score the bout, Bloomberg got by far the worst of it.
Bloomberg skipped the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has carefully avoided any public appearances or interviews with the media, so his recent rapid rise in the polls is entirely due to the $50 million of his own money that he’s poured into national advertising on radio and television and the internet, and one big question was how he’d fare on his first debate stage since his mayoral campaigns. Not vey well, as it turns out.
Everyone in the Democratic party and most of the independents they’ll need to win in November have by now had their fill of New York City billionaires, so all the other candidates gleefully piled on. Warren blasted Bloomberg’s longstanding reputation for saying outrageously things in public and the numerous lawsuits brought by women against his company for fostering a hostile workplace and having women bound by nondisclosure agreements, which seems to be what New York City billionaires do, and Warren succinctly summarized his response as “Well, I’ve been nice to some women.”
Klobuchar criticized Bloomberg’s failure to release his tax returns, another one of those thing New York City billionaires seem to do, and although he promised he’d get around to it soon his explanation for the delay only emphasized that he’s suspiciously rich. Sanders whole platform is anti-billionaires in general, so he further demonized Bloomberg to his fans. Others on both the left and center criticized the “stop and frisk” policing policies aimed mostly at minorities that Bloomberg championed as New York mayor, and although Bloomberg has fulsomely apologized for it that probably won’t do him much good in the largely-Latino Nevada caucus or the majority-black South Carolina primary that’s coming up next.
Everyone but Warren argued that Sanders’ self-described socialism might render him unelectable in a country that’s still mostly center-right, and was forced by the centrists to defend the economic feasibility of his pie-in-the-sky health care proposals, but Bloomberg drew a gasp an then boos when he accused Sanders of being a communist. The 78-year-old Sanders recently suffered a heart attack and was roundly criticized for failing to keep a promise to release his full medical records, and he offered the same explanation that Trump did about his undeniably grueling campaign schedule, but he didn’t seem on his game.</div div style=”text-indent:20px;”>Biden went largely unscathed, but the lack of attacks seemed to emphasize his slow decline into irrelevance, which will rapidly accelerate if he doesn’t do very well in Nevada and then South Carolina, and he still not much of a campaigner and didn’t do much on Wednesday to turn things around. That’s good news for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who could now overtake both Biden and Bloomberg for those relatively sane centrist Democratic voters. Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for failing to remember the name of the Mexican president during a recent interview, but she admitted to the understandable momentary lack of memory and made Buttigieg look rather pedantic. On the whole, we think she got the better of it.
Sanders has run afoul of the hotel and casino and restaurant workers union that is largely Latino and a huge chunk of the Nevada caucus-goers, who don’t like his plan to take away their hard-earned health benefits package as part of his single-payer “Medicare for all” plan, which gives the relatively sane centrists a chance at a much-needed win. As bad as Bloomberg was in his first public appearance he probably won’t be the beneficiary, no matter how much money he spends, and we expect Biden to continue underperforming, so that’s an opportunity for either Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and although that didn’t matter to the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and doesn’t offend our old-fashioned sensibilities any more than Trump’s tawdry sexual history, the largely Latino voters in Nevada and the black majority of voters in South Carolina might not be so open-minded, and even in this day and age it eventually will raise unavoidable questions about his electability, a sanely centrist with impressive military experience though he might be. Which is good news for Klobuchar, a happily married heterosexual woman and mother who has won every race she’s ever run even in Minnesota’s most Republican districts, and can brag of the bills she’s written that got passed and signed even in this polarized age, and she doesn’t want to take away anyone’s private health insurance.
As we scored the free-for-all cage match Klobuchar had a pretty good night, which is the only bad news of the evening for Trump. Eventually Warren will drop out and her 12 percent will join Sanders’ 32 percent, but if Klobuchar is the last relatively sane centrist standing she could have 45 percent of the party on her side, and even more if the Democrats decide that their socialist utopia can wait another four years and beating Trump is the party’s top priority. Trump will come up with some taunting nickname to tar Klobuchar as a loony leftist, and he won’t be able to resist making some outrageously sexist comment about her less-than-beauty-queen looks, but that won’t endear him to the educated suburban Republican women he have left the party in droves over the past three years, and we think she’d be a formidable foe. She also punches back, and she’s pretty darned good at it.
There are still 48 states and all those territories to go, though, and a big chunk of the Democrat party is clearly intent on leaping off that loony left cliff, so we’ll see how it turns out. The scariest part is that even the looniest left Democratic nominee could come up with a bigger plurality in this polarized nation than Trump.
— Bud Norman