Saturday, August 03, 2019

Race for the White House 2020 # 31

A year from now, the general election is expected to be well underway and will dominate political headlines. Tonight, the headlines are about yet another mass shooting, this one especially deadly. The details of what happened in El Paso, Texas are still coming out and as usual, people on both sides of political debates are rallying to their long-held talking points as well as pointing the fingers of blame. Apparently, there is a Manifesto though in this case, tied to a suspect who is now in custody. If accurate, this domestic terrorist attack was done in the name of white nationalism and hated of immigrants. If this turns out to be inaccurate, I will post as much next week. It is hard though for those who ignore the reality of and the increasing threat of white nationalism, though some, at high levels have tried, for their own selfish and guilty reasons.

Before this news late this afternoon, there were many things happened this week, between continued Presidential Tweets that should embarrass us all, to a bipartisan budget deal of sorts that renders the once strongly stated principles of the Tea Party null and void. There have also been headlines of continued surprise Republican House retirements which are said to greatly concern party  leaders, to the odd circumstance of a Congressman nominated to the important post of of Director of National Intelligence, only to see that nomination withdrawn days later. Donald Trump went from attacking the media for false character assassination against Congressman John Ratcliffe to thanking them for helping to "vet" him and the problems that would have led to him being rejected by a Republican Senate for the post.

The most attention though went to the second round of Democrat debates. While the party refuses to hold debates on the Fox News Channel, they did agree to meet at the non-related but historic Fox Theater in Detroit. This might possible be the same theater where American Idol once held back to back nights of competition, This was the political equivalent.

I could not possible cover all 20 candidates in detail. I will just touch on general themes. It seems to me, with opening and closing statements part of both evenings, all candidates came prepared with the message they wanted to deliver. They also all stood, on both nights, for the singing of the National Anthem, even while many on the left applaud those in athletics and other areas of life who protest by taking a knee during the playing of the anthem. I had a whole bunch of jokes I wanted to fit in this week, but the sobering reality of another mass shooting is changing my desire to do so.

On night one, the Democrats had quite a spirited debate about ideological matters and if a push too far to the left could mean defeat to Donald Trump. The most prominent of the two on stage that night though are old friend who while they are competing against each other for the same votes, not a cross word was said between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Instead, they stood side by side and defended Medicare for all the elimination of all private health insurance against those on the stage that pushed back. These were considered the "moderates" in the field and to say the least, left-wingers on Twitter threw down with Sanders and Warren and against the claims made, sometimes forcefully by Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan. I have to admit, I liked some of what Delaney had to say, but clearly, even he is well, well, to the left of me and mainstream Republicans. Sanders and Warren accused anyone of disagreeing with them, even as it related to defending Obamacare as using "Republican talking points." Warren got much applause for asking why anyone would run for President only to talk about what not be possible. Honesty for one? Not wanting to lose? Democrats should be very concerned about the positioning of their party in this election and the fact that so many specific issues and proposals that leading candidates are offering would be very unpopular in a general election. For now though, Elizabeth Warren continues to impress on debate stages. I do not agree with her on anything substantive, but she knows how to communicate in a way that gets left-wing Democrats excited and sounds far more sincere in those beliefs than Hillary Clinton ever did.

Night two was no less contentious, but far more personal. While the Night One participants passed up any opportunity to talk about Joe Biden, the former Vice President was square in the middle of the action on Night Two. He took all sorts of incoming shots and absorbed some body blows. There were some pretty bad soundbite clips of candidates going after him to his face. However, he gave as good as he got, and was clearly prepared to try to fire back at anyone who dared step to the front-runner. I think he might have overdone it by punching down. On a couple of occasions, he seemed to target opponents well in the back of the pack, who had never mentioned him to that point. That's not the typical strategy for a front-runner.

The theme of this evening though were that all sorts of candidates went after each other trying to use instances from their past, even decades old ones to try to discredit someone else on stage. For example Kirsten Gillibrand tried to make hay out of an essay that Biden apparently wrote in 1981 questioning women working outside the home. Biden, who is married to a Ph.D, claims to not know what she was talking about and Gillibrand looked a little desperate. Angry protestors on a couple of occasions got involved as well, demanding that Bill deBlasio fire a controversial police officer or that Joe Biden answer for the deportations that occurred under Barack Obama. In that regard, Biden's record as Vice President and the entire Obama Administration itself was somehow under attack by most candidates on the stage that night (with the possible exception of back of the packer Michael Bennet, who I thought made a good but irrelevant case for himself.)

One instance saw deBlasio and Julian Castro, who was a member of the Obama-Biden Cabinet, trying to take the former Vice President to task for the harsh deportation tactics of illegal immigrants during those eight years. Biden tried to sidestep the issue by saying his counsel to the President as to whether or not he agreed was private. The other candidates rightfully pointed out the hypocrisy on this as Biden cites his relationship with Obama as the chief rationale for his candidacy.

The overall theme of Democrats trying to completely sever ties with the Obama legacy is a pretty amazing one. Many feel that the "silent majority" in the party (aka those not on Twitter) will hold this against the other candidates. It is a given that the Clinton DLC 90's are long gone in the party, but now apparently Obama was far too cautious and not progressive enough as President. For Democrats it has always been about "out with the old, in with the new" and frankly Obama is yesterday's news to many. I think running as candidates so far to Obama's left, if ultimately victorious in the primaries will be a tough one for Democrats to finesse, but for now, they are trying to paint Biden into a box. Will the former President emerge from his jet-setting retirement lifestyle to defend himself on these matters? I kind of doubt he really even cares that much, but if he does, the fissures in the party might become even larger. I also note with some irony that current Democrat Presidential candidates are turning on Obama, even as some voices on the right are convinced that what is going on now is all a ruse and that the fix is already in to nominate Michelle Obama in 2020.

Beyond criticisms of the Obama Administration, especially as it related to health care and immigration, Biden was also targeted for his championing of the 1994 Crime Bill as expected. Cory Booker blamed Biden for devastating cities like Newark, New Jersey (and had a line about Kool Aid) Biden punched back by attacking Booker's record as Mayor of the city.

The last debate saw Kamala Harris receive rave reviews. This time around was tougher for the California Senator. The night began with Biden greeting her onstage, perhaps not knowing they were mic'ed up by saying, "Go easy on me, kid", which sent many folks online into a frenzy. That was not the main focus after the debate though, which Biden should feel fortunate about.

Harris was criticized by the moderators and other candidates for trying to have it both ways on the Medicare for All vs. private insurance issue and she struggled to answer and came across pretty defensively both in her tone and body language. As mentioned, when she tried to criticize Biden, he went right back at her, without coming across as overly strident. Her past record as California Attorney General also was a big topic of discussion as she was accused of hypocrisy and a lack of progressive record as it related to issues such as drugs and the death penalty. Many feel that Tulsi Gabbard ,the Congresswoman from Hawai'i, absolutely savaged the California Senator during an exchange and that Harris never saw it coming. Night one saw two female candidates, Warren and Amy Klobuchar show up wearing basically the same outfit, while not two saw two women of color (Gabbard is part Samoan) go at it on stage in a primary debate. All of this is pretty historic stuff, at least the non-trivial aspects of it.

Harris tried to shrug off the soundbites of Gabbard attacking her by saying she is well behind in the polls while allies of Harris are openly saying that Gabbard is a Russian agent. Frankly, they may have somewhat of a point there, (especially as it relates to Gabbard's long standing policy of refusing to harshly criticize the Syrian dictator) but it all sure got Gabbard a lot more attention. Trump Republicans seem to be taken with her. That speaks volumes itself perhaps.

The bottom line from Night Two and overall from the debate doubleheader was that Harris took a step back and that Biden was improved. Many will rightfully say that Biden continued to slip up on words from time to time and was not exactly flawless, but he seemed to shut down some critics in regards to the age issue. Challenges will persist moving forward for both Biden and Harris. The next debate is expected to have far fewer candidates overall and perhaps the two of them will have to share a stage together with Warren and Sanders. There will of course be continued discussion as to if someone like Pete Buttigieg or someone else will eventually get a serious second or third look.

For now though, the polls show Biden ahead nationally and he should feel good about surviving what could have been a perilous political week. He will have to up his game even more though in the future to be sure. So many Democrats consider him a relic from the past and at least the "woke" folks in the party no longer give a damn about Barack Obama.


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