Dem Debate No. 2: Thoughts

Ken AshfordDemocrats, Election 2020Leave a Comment

Unlike the first debate on Wednesday night, last night’s round of ten debate was exciting and revealing, probably because it contained 4-5 top tier and second tier candidates, rather than 2-3 in the first debate.

The takeaway: It was a great night for Kamala Harris. She “won” it hands done. And it was a horrible night for Biden.

And it largely had to do with an exchange between the two:

Harris grabbed control of the debate with a simple phrase: “I would like to speak on the issue of race.”

Turning to Biden, Harris said, “I do not believe you are a racist.” She then laced into Biden over his nostalgic recollections of white supremacist senators, describing this as “hurtful” given her own personal experience of racial profiling and discrimination.

This created an interesting tension, as Harris seemed to expose personal vulnerability even while ferociously disemboweling a rival. Biden vigorously defended his longtime record on civil rights, but Harris prosecuted Biden over his past opposition to busing, which got him to falsely disavow that opposition and to stumble into a defense of local control on the issue.

And prosecute was what she did. Not in a demanding “I want the TRUTH” way, but in a way that was both effective and personal. Biden was shaken and blustered his responses, but the punch had already landed.

What Harris really did is to pin down this ambiguity and not allow it to remain hidden any longer. What she demonstrated is that, whatever Biden’s actual intentions, any whiff of such racial and cultural signaling no longer has any place in today’s Democratic Party. Whatever good Biden might be as a person, his time is over.

Harris was the talk of the post-debate analysis, even winning praise from Fox & Friends

But it was more than that. She showed an ability to PROSECUTE. You couldn’t help look at her performance and imagine her slicing Trump to pieces in a debate.

So great was her leap and Biden’s fall, that three other candidates undeservedly got overlooked.

Buttigieg had a phenomenal night. He was smart — so incredible smart. A great moment for me was when he was asked about a recent shooting in South Bend (he is mayor of South Bend) and why he had failed in his two terms as mayor to get a more racially balanced police force.

“Because I couldn’t get it done”. A refreshingly honest, take-responsibility, non-evasive answer. Humility is okay. And when talking about other issues like free college and health care, he managed to offer bold ideas but emphasize realism.

Bernie Sanders disappeared for a large portion of the debate as others squabbled. But he stayed on his message and did nothing to alienate his supporters. But I don’t think he won any converts. Old, cantankerous, and no matter what the question, it always seemed to me the same answer: bad guys on Wall Street, Big Pharma, etc. But he conceded, when pressed, that middle-class taxpayers would end up paying more to finance proposals such as his call to forgive more than $1 trillion in student debt. Not good.

Overall, there were a lot of interesting proposals and one that is sure to set the GOP’s hair on fire: all the candidates on stage raised their hand when asked if they favored health-care coverage for undocumented immigrants.

Other candidates tried to insinuate themselves into the conversation. California Rep. Eric Swalwell made an emotional appeal for gun control. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper reiterated his assertion that Democrats were tilting too far left and would lose in November 2020 unless they reined themselves in. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet spoke emotionally about his family’s immigrant experience. Andrew Yang touted his plan for a universal guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for every American adult. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had a fair night overall.

Honorable mention goes to Marianne Williamson, who provided the unintentional comic relief. I never thought I’d see a candidate in a debate come out against having detailed policy proposals, but that’s basically what Williamson did last night. After getting her first question, she suggested her foes were too focused on policy rather than good slogans such as Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” “If you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming, because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan,” she said.

Later in the debate, when asked about what she would do if she could accomplish only one thing as president, she said it would be calling the leader of New Zealand to talk about making America great for children again — or something along those lines. It wasn’t entirely clear what she meant. Bizarre.

And she closed by saying that she will harness the power of “love” and use it to defeat Trump’s “fear.” It was… weird, especially when music is added:

Nothing was mentioned in the debate about Trump impeachment.

But it was Kamala’s night by far. I have been leaning toward her as my favorite since she announced. I still am even more, but I will leave my mind open for four other possibilities: Warren, Booker, Buttigieg and Castro.