Saturday, June 29, 2019

Race for the White House 2020 # 26

Miami was the center of the political universe this week as 20 Presidential met for the first of the DNC debates. Night one featured a technical glitch that caused NBC to move to an additional commercial break (despite all the attention the candidates paid to "greed" by American corporations), and the second night featured candidates increasing their likelihood to interrupt and talk over each other, even as they called for greater civility in American life.

Those who wish to throw Donald Trump out of the White House have been saying they loved the week, even if they might not actually  mean it. Those who want four more years have also been saying they loved it, even if they may not actually mean it. In truth, all may have loved it. It was theater for the Trumpian era. To me, it was entertaining, but unfortunate. It really brings home how little I may have to support in this race, beyond the quixotic windmill tilting campaign of William Weld. The Democrats took positions over the two nights that were so far to the left, it would have made the party's candidates from as recent as 2008 look like they belong in the John Birch Society. While a majority of the American people clearly want to turn the page from Donald Trump, at least as an individual, Democrats are kidding themselves if they think they are helping themselves thus far.

I intend to take a brief look at all the participating candidates and give some impressions. First, a mention of who was not there.

Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam and ex Alaska Senator Mike Gravel are not truly serious contenders. There really is not much they could have added. The party missed out on hearing the perspectives of Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Perhaps, they could have offered a bit of moderation to the scalding stew being served. Last week I said that it had been a while since a Democrat jumped into the race. Lo and behold  new candidate emerged by Sunday morning. Former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak, a one-time U.S. Senate nominee, is now in the race. He is not pushing his ties to Washington at all, but is running as a retired Admiral in the United States Navy. It remains to be seen if he will ever make it into any of the debates.

On night one, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney stood on the right-wing of the stage and for all intents and purposes was boxed in there. He seemed to be visibly uncomfortable with the tenor of the liberalism being presented, but did not dare to go too far out in denouncing it. There is no doubt that Delaney is a liberal himself, but his pushing his experience in the business world just has no relevance in this race.

On the other wing, this one on the left, was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who tried to utilize his right of a New Yorker to interrupt, but was still given limited mic time. He was surprisingly forceful during the time he did have though and seemed to relish the platform. The next day though, he stepped in it, by quoting Communist revolutionary Che Guevara, while still in Miami, where many of the people there rightly recognize him as a murderer. Needless to say, the Mayor, who was once openly Marxist himself, was forced to apologize.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee pushed his focus on climate change but otherwise came across as a bit of a old school Democrat of the past or a labor union leader. It is hard to see how he did much of anything to help himself.

I believe that Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan made some of the best points of the night about how Democrats had become so toxic politically in the parts of the country he represents and the need for the party to become less coastal and elitist. Ryan, while not really taking too much issue with the liberal ideas being presented themselves, did seem to be calling on the party to be less liberal. He seemed a bit nervous while doing so. Late in the evening, he had a memorable clash with his House colleague, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawai'i over the continued military involvement in Afghanistan and the War on Terror. While Ryan incorrectly stated that the Taliban attacked us on 9/11, he was of course correct that the Taliban was giving aid and comfort to Al Qaeda before and after, and thus the U.S. going to war there was hardly controversial. Gabbard, a veteran of Middle East conflicts herself though, comes from the isolationist foreign policy wing and she attacked Ryan for his stance on the matter. To my disappointment, he did not defend himself forcefully enough against her. Gabbard, who is typically serene in her mannerisms, can be quite forceful once politically aroused, and her supporters, including many Ron Paul "Republicans." loved it. In fact, Paul himself has endorsed Gabbard and this exchange was similar to ones that Ron and his son Rand had with more hawkish Republicans over the past several cycles in crowded debates. Ron Paul's fans enabled Gabbard to win the snap Drudge Report "poll" on who won the debate, and the despite the complete nonscientific aspect of it all, Gabbard publicized the result. By week's end, Pat Buchanan was calling on Donald Trump to replace John Bolton as National Security Advisor with Gabbard. Trump would probably consider it.

Two U.S. Senators were seen as giving credible performances but perhaps nowhere near enough to generate enthusiasm into their fledgling campaigns. Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar  and New Jersey's Cory Booker spoke passionately but without leaving too much of an impact. Klobuchar seemed to suggest that women are better equipped to defend abortions since they can actually have them (which led Julian Castro to say that men can have abortions too, although I believe he misspoke in calling trans men, "trans women.") and Booker, who back in Newark political days was viewed as lacking street cred, played up that he currently lives in the hood and has had seven neighbors get shot recently. At the time, I joked online by saying that Klobuchar responded by pointing out the fear that exists daily in the eyes of her staff.

Another clash on Night One occurred between two Texans where apparently some bad blood has existed. The consensus is that former Congresman Beto O'Rourke had a rough night and that he looks very much unlike a political superstar when his opponent is not Ted Cruz. Beto awkwardly avoided answering a question by talking about an unrelated matter in Spanish (which generated quite a look from Booker whom intended to speak Spanish himself later in the debate) and he just seemed over his head in general. On the contrary, the much shorter Julian Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development seemed more polished. It has been known that Castro, despite living his whole life in San Antonio and being "Latinx" (to use the parlance of the day), does not speak Spanish. For this debate though, he picked up a few phrases at the least and went to great lengths to ethnically pronounce names and locations. Where Castro choose to go after O'Rourke though was in saying that he supported eliminating it from being a criminal offense for someone to cross the borders into the U.S. without documentation. This is a pretty new and pretty extreme, if you will, position for Democrats, and just about all of the other candidates are now saying they support it.

For me, while I disagreed with just about every word she said (except when Donald Trump gets bashed), the winner of the first gathering was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. She had a strong opening answer to the first question posed and a strong closing statement. At other times, she largely remained quiet, but I do not think that hurt her. She positioned herself as a fighting populist and knows the exact words Democrat activists wish to hear.

So I declared her as winner number one, and Joe Biden as winner number two because none of the candidates nor the moderators even mentioned him and thus he took no shots when he was not there to defend himself. I also said winner number three was Donald Trump because the whole thing was kind of a clown show (even as he was Tweeting about how bored he was watching.)

Night two was anything but boring. It did not feature an embarrassing technical glitch and focused on more substance (and attacks on Trump) than night one, but produced an even more left-wing image to the nation.

Completely out of their depth though were author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson and former tech executive Andrew Yang.That latter nade history by being the first male candidate in a major Presidential debate to not wear a necktie, but he seemed basically quiet on the evening and was not even able to articulately explain his plan to give a thousand dollars to every American with one hand while raising taxes massively with the other. Williamson, was even weirder, but tended to say she was the only candidate who knew how to beat Trump because she would follow his simplistic game plan of appealing to voters, but by using love not hate. Her closing statement, which she gave as a direct message to Trump, was oddly flitarious in a way.

Also demonstrating he had no real reason to be on stage was California Congressman Eric Swalwell who wore an orange tie with a matching ribbon for some sort of cause. The only thing I remember him doing was going after Biden and Sanders for being too old and talking about the time had come to "pass the torch." He also went after the only candidate younger than himself though by saying that Pete Buttigieg should fire his police chief over a recent racial firestorm in South Bend. Swalwell is likely to soon end his campaign and seek reelection to Congress.

Just one spot from the edges of the stage were two Coloradans who were substantive but basically afterthoughts. Former Governor John Hickenlooper, whom, after being booed by a large crowd for suggesting that Democrats reject socialism meekly tried to assert the same, while still trying to claim his own progressive record, such as his state being the first to legalize cannabis when he was Governor (a move he said later on he did not support and had serious concerns about.) Senator Michael Bennet has an awkward speaking style, but like Delaney the night before, probably did the least to make me scared for America. He did make an effort for Democrats to be cautious in moving so far to the left, and in doing so, likely alienated whatever meager support he already had.

I had forgotten until just now that the early 2008 Democrat debates would have featured two females on stage together. There were also two on Thursday night (and three on Wednesday.) New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand seemed more poised than she usually is and rejected the impulse to drop f bombs, as she has been known to do in some public speeches, but her overall performance was likely overshadowed by bigger moments. She spent some of her time defending working with the candidate on stage with her, Bernie Sanders, on "Medicare for All", and expressed support for eliminating the entire private insurance business.

Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders, but it is different for the Vermont Senator to have to share the stage with so many others, instead of basically being face to face with Hillary Clinton. He angrily denounced Wall Street in his remarks and I am always left with the impression that there is no way he would ever be able to win a national election, despite the current polls which show (and I do not doubt currently) that he is ahead of Trump. The entire first half of the debate seemed to center on if the other candidates agreed or disagrees with Bernie on various issues, which shows the influence he currently has over the party. For the most part though, he came across as an afterthought, which is bad for him, and good for the surging Elizabeth Warren, and thus by extension good for Joe Biden who clearly has been benefitting from those two Senators splitting the anti-Biden vote.

Moving from the oldest candidate to the youngest, I thought South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had an interesting night. Stylistically, he is almost certainly the best speaker on the stage. His optics were largely good, despite his having a somewhat Nixonian beard remnants that were visible on camera (and I think someone tried to shave him more during one of the commercial breaks.) Nonetheless, despite being very well poised, "Mayor Pete" was mostly known for having to defend his record as Mayor after a recent police killing in which a white officer killed an African-American. The Mayor said he feels horrible about the situation (especially with the mother of the victim furious at him) but that all the facts had to come out before he can act in any official capacity. Of course, he is also the outgoing Mayor so there may not be much he can do. He was candid in admitting that he "couldn't get the job done" in making the city's police force more representative of the number of African-Americans, as the number of black cops dropped and Buttigieg himself had fired the African-American police chief.

Many will appreciate what they will say is the stand-up way Buttigieg owned a failure while others will believe that if he cannot get the job done as the Mayor of the fourth largest city of Indiana, how can he get it done as President. Upscale white liberals love themselves some Mayor Pete (where he also of course has strong backing from the gay community) but his support among African-Americans is basically negligible and likely took a hit after the controversy at home. This will be something to watch moving forward since Iowa and New Hampshire have relatively few black voters, with South Carolina of course being very different.

The "main even" would turn out to be the clash between former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris. The conventional wisdom is the former prosecutor expertly cleaned his clock and could have gravely injured the candidacy of the front-runner, with polls already showing some movement and a major Biden fundraiser immediately jumping ship after the debate.

I thought Biden started off the night fairly well in his first answer and looked good on camera. He has a way of losing energy though as time passes and becoming more subdued and meandering. I do not necessarily think this is due to his advanced age. He has just always sort of been like that. On numerous occasions though he voluntarily stopped talking and said "I'm sorry,  my time is up.' Needless to say, that is exactly the worst thing to say in a debate, especially in his case.  I also thought that in her early answers, Harris came across as too angry and shrill and not up to par with the way Elizabeth Warren had said the same things.

Last week, much was focused on Biden's weird defense of having worked with segregationists in his party back in his early Senate days. Not surprisingly, Harris wanted to jostle with her opponent over this. What surprised me was his answer and how he fought back. She pointed out, accurately, that Biden had worked with these Senators to oppose school busing laws in the 1970s and that at around the same time, she was one of the first black children to integrate the public schools in Berkeley, California.

Biden looked at her with sorrow, knowing where her attack was headed, and instead of saying something like, "well times have changed and so have I." Instead he said he was happy to have a debate over his civil rights record and that he never opposed busing, just that mandated at the time by the federal government. (He also took a shot at Harris for becoming a prosecutor, pointing out he worked as a public defender. That took chutzpah and visibly angered Harris.) She could hardly believe that he had offered a "local control" or in effect "states' rights" defense on an anti-busing position in 2019. This is a political issue that was a hot topic last before I ever heard of politics and it's amazing that Biden chose to defend this ground. She fired back by pointing out the necessity of of the federal government on the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, etc.

Immediately, I thought both candidates hurt each other in this exchange, with Harris getting the best on the policy front, but looking less calm in her vocal and body language as she should have by taking it to Biden in this way. I saw quickly though that the online consensus from voices from both the left, the right, (including the NeverTrump right) and the media in general was that Harris had destroyed Biden in this moment and was having a hell of a night in making a name for herself.

After the debate, CNN and MSNBC pundits said that Biden had a bad night and were nearly effusive in their praise for Harris, basically giving her the full Obama treatment. For his part, Biden continues to defend himself on race by pointing out that he was Obama's Vice President for eight years.  He olds on to that association the way that comedian Tom Dreesen has for decades billed himself as someone who used to open for Frank Sinatra. Harris had made it clear that she was not calling Biden a racist, and nobody else is really saying that either, but the race problem is becoming more of a problem for Biden in the perception of the media and the pundit class among Democrats and Obama is not expected to say anything publicly in defense of his former number two.

If Biden had a bad night against Bernie Sanders that might have been bad, but having a bad night against Harris might have been the worst possibility. For now, the lifeblood of the Biden campaign has been the support of African-Americans. Now, that a black candidate herself is receiving so much attention (and claims that how she took apart Biden is how she would take apart Trump on a debate stage... no, he would actually fight back much harder) is expected to do much to help the California Senator. The closing of the "can they win gap" is precisely what ultimately prevailed Obama to move ahead of Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Biden can be expected to defend Obama, (whom many of the candidates inferred was far from progressive enough in office) as a means of protecting his standing with black voters to whom the Obama Legacy may remain important. It's going to take a "silent majority" of Democrats continuing to stand by Biden to quell the current firestorm.

There is a long way to go of course and much can happen in the months ahead. I think more than ever though that Biden is going to have a rough ride to any nomination. He is not a political superstar and never has been. Harris may or may not be able to reach the status of superstar. I am actually having visions of an Elizabeth Warren/Kamala Harris ticket right now. (I also am more convinced than ever in believing that Oprah Winfrey would be the strongest candidate Democrats could nominate.)

Of course new attention will bring new scrutiny to Kamala Harris and her campaign. Already a couple of times since announcing she has struggled to balance her support for single payer healthcare with the result that would eliminate all private medical insurance. She took the latter position by a show of hands in the debate this week and has since already tried to walk it back. These policy matters will continue to be a problem for all the Democrats, including the matter of saying that their health care plans will cover all illegal immigrants, something Obama suggested just a few years back would never and should never happen.

If nothing changes, the ultimate result of Campaign '20 will either be four more years of the disheartening Donald Trump reality show or a polarized election resulting in the most left-wing President ever (very possibly a female at that point) whom will have a nearly impossible task of uniting a very angry nation.


At 12:23 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

You need to discuss the 2019 Houston, TX Mayoral contest:
1.) Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D)

2.) Former Kemah Mayor Bill King (R)

3.) Tony Buzbee (D?/R?)

4.) Houston City Councilman District D Dwight Boykins (D)

5.) Houston City Councilwoman At-Large 2 Sue Lovell (D)


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