Now THAT'S how you debate, Nuit Deux

Well, here we are again. Sorry for the time delay, but I was tied up yesterday on personal business. But nothing in the intervening 24 hours has done anything to change my initial perceptions of what we saw Thursday night, especially where the peripheral characters are concerned.

Thursday night fulfilled the promise that the DNC had held out for both nights. The exchanges were more frequent, and sharper, with more crossover between candidates, on what some felt was a slightly more personal level. Also, the attacks on Trump were more frequent and pointed. Granted, the top of the lineup was  in play in a way that it wasn’t on Wednesday night, but also, the candidates had the benefit of a “walk through” viewing from watching Wednesday night, and had a better feel for how much they could “play the refs” For what it’s worth ($0.02), here’s my candidate by candidate take.

Joe Biden didn’t tank on Thursday night, Biden was Biden. It was actually a tale of two debates for Joe. Biden came out trashing Trump from moment one, which was exactly what both he and the base wanted, and it worked. Biden paid lip service to the issues of the day, but with a lack of depth that is going to haunt him down the road against competitors with fleshed out plans. But bashing Trump was the plan, and that worked.

Up until the “Kamala moment.” Biden had to know that the civil rights qissue was coming, but he was completely unprepared for it to come from Harris, and worse that she would seque into the issue of busing, which froze him like a deer in the headlights. The worst part of his response is that it is drawing subconscious comparisons to Trump himself, two old, entitled white dudes who are never wrong about anything. Biden is right, he can’t be expected to apologize for every decision over 40 years through the prism of 2019, but he is going to have to learn to be surgical in admitting that looking through that prism, some of his positions then fall flat now.

Like Biden, Bernie was Bernie, but the problem is that being Bernie just isn’t good enough anymore. In 2016, Sanders had two major advantages that he lacks today. One, he was running against one opponent, instead of 22. And two, his ideas were so radical that he could swing ceaselessly back to them ad hammer them home, basically because neither the moderators or Hillary Clinton tethered him back to the issue at hand. That’s not working anymore, the novelty has worn off in four years, especially since Bernie was so successful with them that he mainstreamed them into the party vocabulary.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the Democratic base is still over 40 years old, and socialism still carries negative connotations. Other candidates are co-opting Sanders’ most popular ideas, but framing them in a way that removes the socialist connotation. That hurts, but what hurts worse is the fact that they are taking the ideas, and then hammering him over the socialism alone. But to my mind, his biggest failing was being Bernie, he was a one trick pony. It’s hard to turn matters of environment and social justice back around to the “top one tenth of one percent,” but that was what Sanders trued repeatedly to do.

Mayor Pete bought himself some time, and some cred, and he did it in one sentence. When asked about the longer term racial problems in South Bend, Buttigieg simply stated, “Because I failed to get it done.” People who are not Trumpaholics are still willing to, if not forgive, at least understand someones failings, as long as they are willing to admit them, and promise to do better, which is exactly what Buttigieg did.

Mayor Pete is simply the smartest guy in the room, and he shows it without rubbing anybody’s nose in it. His prep work is consummate, his response to every question and rebuttal flowed naturally, and was rich in both content and detail. And being that smart, he is off of the campaign trail this weekend, working on his issues in South Bend. He took part in a march this morning, the day the shooting victim is being buried, and spoke to what seemed to be a generally positive response. Fixing his problem with African Americans in South Bend will go a long way towards giving him a leg up with them nationally.

Kamala Harris was to night two what Elizabeth Warren was to night one, but better. On a stage laden with many more top tier contenders, she stole the show and made it her own. Her eloquent and heartfelt take down of Joe Biden did so much more than just create that cherished “moment” that all candidates strive for, it created a hashtag, That little girl was me. Harris can use that simple phrase on mailers, e-mails, even bloody bumper stickers, and every time anybody sees it, it will mentally evoke that head snapping moment that put Joe Biden in a cervical collar for a month.

Most importantly, Kamala Harris put a serious dent in the thing that makes Joe Biden the so far hands down front runner, his electability. On national television, Harris dismantled and scattered to the four winds a 78 year old, self entitled white guy, Name one reason why she couldn’t do it to a 73 year old, strutting poltroon without either the intelligence, nor the political chops of Joe Biden. 

What can I say about John Hickenlooper? He’s measured, well spoken, presentable, and obviously qualified. And he has one helluva point, as Governor of Colorado, he has actually enacted a number of things that the other candidates are just talking about. Hickenlooper’s problem is that he just seems to lack that presence, or charisma that commands attention on the stage. Name me one time on Thursday night when his personal passion or conviction shone through like a beacon in the darkness. I didn’t see it, His voice never overflowed with passion, his body language or arm movements never indicated any level of excitement or enthusiasm. Having been elected Governor of Colorado, he must have what it takes, but I sure as hell didn’t see it, and if he can’t produce it, he’s sunk.

Ditto goes for Michael Bennet. Maybe it’s something in that Rocky Mountain water, but he too lacked any apparent passion or charisma. I remember back when he first announced, MSNBC had to really scour the vault of his time in the Senate for the sole example they could find of Michael Bennet being notable on the floor of the senate, when he excoriated the GOP for their lack of progress on disaster aid. He was riveting to watch, pacing the floor, his voice quivering with emotion. He needs to bring that to the stage, and pronto, if he’s going to have any chance.

I just don’t get it with Kirsten Gillibrand. She should be mid to upper level of the second tier, threatening to break through, and it just isn’t happening. Gillibrand checks off all of the boxes, she did have that little problem with flip-flopping on the second amendment, but she seems to have dealt with that nicely and it hasn’t been an issue in the campaign. Gillibrand is passionate about the women’s issues she confronts, and has been a leading advocate in the senate for years on them.

And she just can’t break through. It’s not from a lack of effort. She interrupted early and often Thursday night, and her passion was evident in her voice and body language, but looking back on the debate now, 48 hours later, you struggle to remember any one of her moments that stuck in your mind. My only explanation is that Gillibrand, like Klobuchar, is being overshadowed by the two more dominant women in the race, Warren and Harris.

Let’s not forget our couture candidate, Andrew Yang. Yang immediately separated himself from the rest of the stage by walking out sans neckwear, a cute move that got him face time, and his name mentioned before the debate even started. And Yang’s campaign centerpiece should resonate. Shit, who wouldn’t like to be handed a grand every month? Hell, I’m down like LeRoy Brown with that one! But while you and I may grasp the basics of his theory of “trickle up economics,” to most people, it comes off as being just a little too good to be true. I think that Yang was hoping that his “freedom dividend” would be 2020’s “Medicare-for-all,” and it just isn’t panning out that way.

Eric Swalwell tried, he really did. Personally, I really like Eric Swalwell, when you see him on camera on CNN or MSNBC ralking about hearings and stuff, he comes across as a steely eyed hard ass. But standing on that stage Thursday night, he came across like nothing other than the kid brother hanging around with his big brother and his friends. He’s actually a year older than Mayor Pete, yet on stage, he came across as ten years younger.

Swalwell gave it his best shot, Like Harris, he tried evoking a personal moment involving Biden, but when he spoke of seeing Biden speak of “passing the torch of leadership” when he was still a child, it evoked the perfect response from Biden. An honest, good natured grin, visually saying, “Here Eric. Here’s a buck, go get some candy and leave us alone.” I thought Swalwell scored beautifully when he spoke of parents memorizing what their children were wearing when sending them off to school in the morning, just in case they needed to remember to identify the body later that day. But I just don’t see Swalwell being able to break through and be taken seriously.

* S-i-g-h * Marianne Williamson. Three simple words, What. The. Fuck! Apparently Williamson has crafted a successful career and a comfortable nest egg by using spirituality and positive thinking to make others happier, more productive people. Then why was she the single most unrelentingly negative person I have ever seen in my life on stage Thursday night?!?

Marianne Williamson was the Tim Ryan of Thursday night, her only purpose on stage seemed to be to shit all over every other candidate. Time and again, when given the unfortunate chance to speak, she castigated the rest of the stage for being dumb shits, focusing on secondary problems instead of confronting the underlying, major issue. And then, after fatuously naming the underlying critical issue that all of the other fools were missing, she failed to provide a single solution to a fucking one of them! Adios Marianne, and don’t let the knob hit you on the ass.

So, there you have it, my work here is done. That’s the recap for both nights of the opening rond of debate, and now I’m going to do soe serious ass tantric chanting, to clear my mind for late July. And just for what it’s worth, here’s how I predict the standings after a couple of rounds of post debate polling come out.

1. Biden 2. Warren 3-4. Sanders 3=4 Harris 5. Buttigieg 6. Booker 7. Castro 8 O’Rourke And a toss up from there.

Cross posted on Politizoom.com

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