So, who won the Democratic debates?
My vote is for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Sure they were both on Day 1, but nobody on Day 2 came close.
Unless you figure that Joe Biden triumphed by failing to fall down. Some of his answers might have been a bit muddled, and he sort of faded off after the first hour. But expectations were so low, that was like clearing a high hurdle.
Everybody looked forward to his meeting with Kamala Harris, who had tortured him so effectively in Debate 1. “Go easy on me, kid,” Biden told her when they shook hands. It was either typical nice-guy Joe or yet another moment of Not Getting It by a former vice president who doesn’t know you don’t call a female member of the U.S. Senate “kid.”
Biden had a double challenge. The progressives were laying into him about his Mr. Moderate agenda, and everybody was reminding him of his sometimes-grimy decades of life as a classic Senate deal-making insider. All that history, from Biden’s perspective, was washed away in his eight years of hanging around with Barack Obama.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of America,” he said in one of his best moments, which just involved repeating something he tells his audiences all the time. If Donald Trump got re-elected, Biden warned, “the America we know will no longer exist.”
The specter of You Know Who was looming behind everything. Everybody knew that the only thing that really mattered was getting rid of Donald Trump, who was having a rather typical week of doing his best to ruin the country.
For instance, the nation learned that his pick for director of national intelligence was an extremely conservative congressman whose greatest qualifications were six months on the House Intelligence Committee and a super deep dedication to Trump.
And the president signed a bill funding care of 9/11 responders, taking the opportunity to mention his own alleged role post-terror attack.
“And I was down there also, and I’m not considering myself a first responder,” he said modestly. “But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
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The man was looking out a window from his luxury quarters uptown. And bragging on the radio that with the World Trade Center gone, his building on Wall Street was the tallest building downtown.
And even that wasn’t true!
OK, enough. We’re thinking about the Democratic debates.
Twenty candidates over two days, and only a handful of them had any real business being on the stage. Listening to Bill de Blasio rant and preen, the nation got a good hint of why no mayor of New York has ever been elected president. Harris totally failed to live up to expectations and sort of floundered on the health care front.
The star of the first night was Warren. (“We’re not going to solve the urgent problems that we face with small ideas and spinelessness.”) As a result, some Biden backers are talking of recruiting her as their vice-presidential nominee. This is a problem both for those who believe Warren deserves to be first and those who believe a national ticket should ideally include at least one person under the age of 70.
Anybody stand out on Night 2? Well, Cory Booker did a good job of defending himself against Biden’s attacks on his record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey. “Mr. Vice President, there is a saying in my community — you are dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” he rejoined at one point. It was not the most impressive part of his argument, but it was pretty much the best quote of the night. Except for Kirsten Gillibrand’s announcement that the first thing she’d do as president is “Clorox the Oval Office.”
Let’s have another debate with just Warren versus Biden. And maybe we’ll throw in Booker and Bernie Sanders. Sanders was the other top first-night performer. And definitely the loudest of the field of 20. Is that a good thing? If voters are looking for change, will they be excited about a guy who’s really into shouting? It certainly made an impact — Rep. Tim Ryan came out of the Tuesday round remembered mainly for telling Sanders, “You don’t have to yell.”
We’ve still got 10 more debates to go. The next round is scheduled for September, in a week that begins with Grandparents Day and ends with a full moon. Perhaps Warren, Biden and Sanders will show the audience pictures of their grandchildren while Pete Buttigieg will suggest that he is young enough to be one of them. Then Biden can point out that would happen only if his parents and grandparents were married in their teens.
Then comes the full moon. Who do you think will be the surviving contender most likely to howl?
At the end, two ways of looking at this week’s debates. They weren’t, well ... stirring. Viewers on CNN who made it through the nearly five hours deserved a medal reading, “I stayed awake until Jake Tapper said good night.”
On the other hand, you had 20 candidates, and at least a dozen or so seemed as if they’d be pretty good chief executives. And 20 of whom would be a huge improvement on the status quo.