June 28, 2019

2nd 2020 Democratic Debate

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

Ten 2020 Democratic presidential candidates faced off Thursday in the second night of debates. YouTube

Both sides agree that Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg were the winners, and Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden the losers of the debate.

“Sanders, after a solid performance last night from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), needed to demonstrate that he could offer progressives something unique… [But] he was the old Bernie — yelling, stern and short on details. How do we get to Medicare-for-all? Everyone gets behind it! His free college plan came in for a pummeling by Buttigieg, who made clear we should not subsidize college for billionaires’ children. Sanders’s act wore thin as time went on. He was forced to admit that taxes would go up (though health-care costs would go down) under his Medicare-for-all plan, and struggled to explain how it would work on a national level if it could not work in any state…

“[Biden] started capably by defending Obamacare over Medicare-for-all, and rattling off his plans on education… As the debate went on, however, the former vice president ran into trouble, most dramatically and painfully at the hands of Harris on the issue of race… [Harris] was the clear standout on the stage, mixing righteous anger, biographical stories and prosecutorial toughness. She demonstrated just how her toughness and prosecutorial experience could be wielded — not just against Democrats but eventually against President Trump… By the end of the debate, I was left wishing for a Harris standoff with Elizabeth Warren.”
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

“Sanders and Biden – the presumed stars of the debate – were the least impressive of the 10 candidates on the stage. Both seemed tired, rehearsed and out of touch… Biden seemed unfocused, distracted, and stuck in the past, invoking President Barack Obama’s name like Obama was a rock star who Biden met backstage once rather than the president Biden served with for eight years. Sanders came off like he was trying to right the wrong of his loss in a 2016 grudge match against Hillary Clinton. Neither Biden nor Sanders offered new solutions to today’s problems, nor did they offer a creative path forward for a stronger America tomorrow…

“Instead, two much younger candidates who don’t fit the profile of any previous president impressed me the most: Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a woman of Jamaican and Indian descent; and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a gay man… Harris and Buttigieg did not make the argument that they needed to be supported because they checked some box. They exhibited leadership skills, policy acumen and authenticity. These are traits voters are attracted to regardless of gender, color or sexual orientation. The debate should teach the Democratic presidential candidates a valuable lesson: be yourself and show Americans what you stand for.”
Capri Cafaro, Fox News

“Sen. Kamala Harris’ first big moment of the debate was saying, ‘America does not want to witness a food fight.’ Her second was heaving an entire tray of spaghetti in former Vice President Joe Biden’s face… On a night that featured the two Democratic front-runners ― Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ― it was Harris who consistently controlled the debate stage time and time again with clear and measured answers, direct and pointed shots, and lucid and tremendously personal examples. ‘As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race,’ Harris said…

The moment felt historic: A leading candidate for president ― who is the second black woman ever elected to the Senate ― went after an elder statesman for his positions on civil rights and criminal justice that affected her personally. Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama, has pointed to his record in the administration and his more recent views on issues of race, but Harris made clear that there was more work to be done.”
Maxwell Strachan, Amanda Terkel, and Daniel Marans, Huffington Post

“Harris came with a clear plan, was well prepared, and executed perfectly. The fact that she was willing to take on Biden, the front-runner, signaled that she was the alpha on the stage. It's hard to know how much these early debates will affect poll numbers. But going into the debate, Harris seemed to have been losing steam after her strong roll-out, as other candidates, particularly South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, gained ground. Tonight, she looked like somebody you could easily imagine addressing the Democratic convention as the nominee next summer.”
Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

“One night won’t sink the Joe Biden campaign, but boy, did he look like he had a glass jaw, and he also seems to have aged a decade since he left the vice presidency. When asked what his first priority as president would be, Biden answered that it would be defeating Donald Trump. This night shouldn’t have gone this badly for him. ‘Build upon what we’ve done’ is probably a more reassuring and appealing message than completely scrapping the entire existing system of private health insurance.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

Regarding Buttigieg, “His big challenge came when host Rachel Maddow asked him point-blank about the ongoing lack of minority representation on South Bend’s police force. Most politicians are notable for large egos and an inability to admit error (cough Biden cough), so it was striking that Buttigieg began his answer with a simple confession: ‘I couldn’t get it done.’ He went on to talk about the pain of his community, his own anguish over the situation, what he has managed to accomplish, and what he plans next, but it was that simple ‘I couldn’t get it done’ that stuck. It is rare to see a politician, especially one so young, self-possessed enough to engage in thoughtful self-criticism in public. Voters may not see a president in him (yet), but Buttigieg is clearly succeeding in raising his long-term profile and presence in the party.”
Dylan Matthews, Dara Lind, Li Zhou, German Lopez, and David Roberts, Vox

“You know all of those jokes about McKinsey guys? Well, it turns out that there are worse ways to prepare to run for president than doing a stretch in a consulting firm. He was low-key, but obviously both smart and thoughtful. He framed issues in ways that were full of common sense. If you can refinance your house, why shouldn’t you be able to refinance your student debt? Why should we make college tuition free to rich kids? Why not have ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’?... But what really impressed me was how he handled the question about the police shooting in South Bend… He stood there and took responsibility… How many times in your life have you seen a pol get a hard question like this and then just stand there and take his medicine?”
Jonathan V. Last, The Bulwark

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left believes Sanders’s chances have improved, but notes that obstacles still remain.

“The busing issue is only one of the explanations Biden was forced to give Thursday. He took criticism for the 2003 vote he cast in favor of the war in Iraq. When he talked about his ability to make compromises with Republicans, Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado eviscerated him for giving away too much to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, making elements of tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush permanent and creating the dreaded automatic spending cuts known as the sequester…

“[In the past] he's had to explain why he helped usher the 1994 crime bill into being. Yes, it created the Violence Against Women Act, for which he deserves credit. It also helped create the problem of over-incarceration that lawmakers in both parties are trying to address today… Any time you're defending your interactions with segregationists is a bad time in today's party. And Biden may have to do a lot of defending himself on the way to the nomination.
Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

“Harris won a debate over Bernie Sanders’s ideas despite Sanders standing right next to her. She looked like the heir to the Obama coalition despite the presence of Barack Obama’s vice president on the stage…

Harris is the closest Democrats have to a potential consensus candidate. She doesn’t suffer from the enmity that Hillary Clinton voters have for Sen. Bernie Sanders, or that leftists hold for former Vice President Joe Biden, or the Obama administration has for Elizabeth Warren. She’s not another white guy running to represent a diverse party. She’s got enough political experience to be a credible candidate, but not so much that she’s been on the wrong side of dozens of controversial issues. But Harris wouldn’t be the first politician to look good on paper only to falter in the campaign. And so the question that has quietly suffused Democratic politics for the past few years has been: Can she do it? Can she perform under the lights? Thursday night, she proved she can.”
Ezra Klein, Vox

Regarding Buttigieg, “[He] gave voice to a view that has become common among Democratic voters: Many of Trump’s policies, along with his conduct as president, do not reflect Christian values. ‘The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,’ Buttigieg said. ‘We should call out hypocrisy when we see it’… This is a departure from the usual playbook for the Democratic Party. As Buttigieg himself pointed out, ‘Our party doesn’t talk about [religion] as much.’ The reason for this, he said, is that Democrats are committed to the separation of Church and state, and that the party wants to stand for all people, regardless of their religion. But it may also be a reflection of the growing irreligiosity of the Democratic base…

Buttigieg’s knack for speaking in the language of God makes him exceptional within his generation, but it may also be a strength in reaching the swing voters and voters of color whom Democrats so badly need. Of all the candidates onstage, he spoke most directly to the anger that many Americans seem to feel at the way religion has been co-opted by the Trump administration, at odds with the faith they deeply hold.”
Emma Green, The Atlantic

At last night’s debate, Warren “called attention to a recent fundraiser Buttigieg held at a California wine cave. ‘The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,’ the Massachusetts senator said…

Buttigieg responded with a slippery claim that he was the only one on stage who wasn’t a millionaire or billionaire. But that’s true only because of his youth. He’s likely to be quite wealthy when he’s the age of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. In fact, as the child of two university professors, Buttigieg grew up wealthier than almost anyone on the stage. Further, pointing to his relative wealth did nothing to address the issue that his fundraising is coming from wealthy donors… If the goal of the other candidates was to sabotage Buttigieg’s campaign, they might have succeeded.”
Jeet Heer, The Nation

“The main question about the strike isn’t moral or even legal—it’s strategic. Soleimani was a supremely powerful leader of a state apparatus, with his own cult of personality, but he was not a terror kingpin. His death doesn’t decapitate anything. He had the blood of tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly fellow Muslims—on his hands, but he was only the agent of a government policy that preceded him and will continue without him…The only reason to kill Soleimani is to enter a new war that the United States can win… [Yet] No one seems to have thought past the action itself…

“What would [a] war [with Iran] look like? How will Iran fight it? How will the U.S. respond? What credible allies will we have, after Trump’s trashing of the nuclear deal thoroughly alienated Europe? Who will believe any intelligence about Iran’s actions and intentions from an administration that can’t function without telling lies?…What is our war aim, and how can it be aligned with Trump’s obvious desire to be rid of any entanglement in the region? What will happen if Jerusalem becomes a target and Israel enters the conflict? What will the American people accept by way of sacrifice, when nothing has prepared them for this? There’s no sign that anyone in power, least of all the president, has even asked these questions, let alone knows how to answer them.”
George Packer, The Atlantic

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

From the Right

“President Obama left office with high approval ratings, particularly among Democrats, who still think very well of him. But Joe Biden was the only candidate over the last two [nights] to defend his record and pledge to build on it. I think that his loyalty to Obama will play well with Democratic voters, who have not moved on from the former president to the same extent that Democratic activists and intellectuals have. But I think Biden is leaning too hard on Obama — to make up for the parts of his civil-rights record that are out of step with today’s Democratic party, for example. And that may not play well at all.”
Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review

“Kamala Harris won [the debate] going away. She was sharp, aggressive, and took chances (e.g., tearing into Joe Biden, and criticizing Barack Obama). She totally dominated the stage… Pete Buttigieg did well. He’s smart and calm without being soporific. He’s probably not going to be the nominee, but if Warren or Harris wins the nomination he’s going to be their vice presidential pick… [But] the Democrats have gone off the left-wing deep end… After watching last night’s debate, as well as tonight’s, you would reasonably conclude that the Democratic field cares far more about the well being of illegal immigrants than actual Americans… And tonight, Kamala Harris ripped Joe Biden up for having opposed — wait for it — school busing, one of the most unpopular policies of the 1970s.”
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

Dated but relevant: “The federal-court action was the culmination of a long struggle by those known as Boston’s black Brahmins — an old black aristocracy dating back to the Abolitionist era… They wanted to do something to help their newly arrived black ‘homies’ (recent arrivals from the South), who came to the city beginning in the early ’60s… Busing seemed to be the only tool at hand, though not necessarily the best

“No one thought that either Charlestown or South Boston was a good school, academically. The brightest kids went to nearby Boston College High School (which drew black students as well)… But the law, and courts, were blunt instruments. They had no way to distinguish between the gilded white schools of the Jim Crow South and shabby Southie High… In retrospect, for those who care about education, the entire busing era seems, at bottom, pointless… If the charter-school movement has proved anything, it’s that it takes a disciplined school environment, a demanding curriculum, and committed teaching — not school buses — to improve education.”
Howard Husock, National Review

Did the debates help the party start to win over the kinds of working-class voters Democrats need to beat President Trump? Or, by pushing the party more to the left, did they do the opposite?… Sens. Warren and Sanders doubtless would argue that their populist rhetoric and proposals on health care, the minimum wage and free college do speak to the working class, directly and specifically. Yet the risk for Democrats is that their specific plans, while directed to working-class problems, may do so in a way that strikes some voters in that category as being too liberal, risky and unproven.”
Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A moderate's take

“The [Democratic] party is moving toward all sorts of positions that drive away moderates and make it more likely the nominee will be unelectable. And it’s doing it without too much dissent… According to a Hill-HarrisX survey, only 13 percent of Americans say they would prefer a health insurance system with no private plans. Warren and Sanders pin themselves, and perhaps the Democratic Party, to a 13 percent policy idea…

“Second, there is the economy. All of the Democrats seem to have decided to run a Trump-style American carnage campaign. The economy is completely broken. It only benefits a tiny sliver. Yet in a CNN poll, 71 percent of Americans say that the economy is very or somewhat good… Third, Democrats are wandering into dangerous territory on immigration… you’ve got a lot of candidates who sound operationally open borders. Progressive parties all over the world are getting decimated because they have fallen into this pattern… Right now we’ve got two parties trying to make moderates homeless.”
David Brooks, New York Times

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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