January 15, 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!

Tuesday was the final Democratic primary debate before the Iowa caucuses. Read the full transcript here. Des Moines Register

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From the Left

The left doesn’t believe the debate will have a large impact on the polls and focuses on foreign policy.

“In 2008, Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination arguably based on a single policy position that distinguished him from his chief rival: his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq from its outset. Twelve years later, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont could conceivably capture the party’s nomination because of that same stance on that same war. At tonight’s Democratic debate, in Iowa, Sanders had his best chance yet to remind progressive primary voters that on the most consequential foreign-policy decision of the 21st century, he stood alone among the six candidates onstage in clearly opposing the Iraq War…

“In 2016, Trump took (dubious) credit for having opposed the Iraq War, using it as a cudgel against both his Republican-primary opponents and Hillary Clinton in the general election. The U.S. has now elected two presidents in a row who were, or claimed to be, against the war. Sanders is hoping voters decide to pick a third.”
Russell Berman, The Atlantic

“With tensions with Iran and controversy over President Trump’s decision to kill Qasem Soleimani big in the news, Democrats had a chance to define their party on the issue. And the debate began on that subject, with the candidates talking at some length. What we got instead was a lot of general talk about taking out combat troops but leaving in other troops who would be tasked with other missions…

“[Meanwhile] Medicare-for-all has come up so much in these debates that bringing it up often elicits groans from people who cover these things… But Klobuchar carved out her niche on it Tuesday night. [She pointed out that most Senate Democrats don’t support the plan endorsed by Sanders and Warren]… Klobuchar then went a step further, pointing to concrete things she’s done and would do, including on drug importation and a bipartisan bill on lowering drug prices… she made a strong play for the substantial-alternative [to Medicare-for-all] mantle over which she, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden have been fighting.”
Aaron Blake, Washington Post

“Once again, the candidates in second, third, fourth, and fifth place seemed largely content to argue among themselves rather than make the case against the frontrunner… Biden did back Bush on Iraq. He backed Social Security cuts. He backed a bad bankruptcy bill in 2005. And he lauded a bad budget deal with Republican Mitch McConnell as an example of sound bipartisan policymaking…

“This pattern of behavior raises, to me, a real worry about a potential Biden presidency. Not that his talk of a post-election Republican Party ‘epiphany’ is unrealistic — every candidate in the field is offering unrealistic plans for change — but that he has a taste for signing on to bad bargains. There’s potential for a critique of Biden that isn’t just about nitpicking the past or arguing about how ambitious Democrats should be in their legislative proposals, but about whether Biden would adequately hold the line when going toe-to-toe with congressional Republicans… [But] Biden walked onto another Democratic debate stage Tuesday night as the frontrunner and once against walked off the winner by default.”
Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Regarding Warren and Sanders, some note that “Only two participants were in that room, there are no recordings of the meeting, and the two participants have starkly different recollections of the conversation… Here, though, is how the question was raised to Sanders. ‘CNN reported yesterday, and Senator Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018, you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election,’ CNN moderator Abby Phillip said…

“[After Sanders denied the allegation], Phillip asked Warren about it: ‘What did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?’ Sanders chuckled along with the audience. Warren seemed almost surprised, at first, that she hadn’t been asked to litigate the essential truth of the claim, as CNN had granted her the assumption that her version was correct… There was no particular candidate on stage earning most of the scorn and scrutiny from their fellow candidates… The moderators, however, had a clear focus, and it was Sanders.”
Jim Newell, Slate

“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 is critical of the candidates’ foreign policy views and accuses CNN of pro-Warren bias.

From the Right

The right is critical of the candidates’ foreign policy views and accuses CNN of pro-Warren bias.

“In Tuesday night's Democratic debate, Joe Biden claimed a vast array of foreign policy accomplishments in an attempt to make the case that his foreign policy experience made him the best prepared candidate to be commander in chief. But all he did was remind viewers that he has an extensive history of getting it wrong

“This is the man who once tried to dissuade Obama from his operation against terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden; who supported the Iraq War and said in 2003, ‘I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again;’ and who vocally opposed President Ronald Reagan's military buildup and the Strategic Defense Initiative, which helped bring down the Soviet Union. In Tuesday night's debate, Biden claimed he had atoned for his Iraq War vote by spearheading President Obama's 2011-2012 withdrawal from Iraq. But that withdrawal was a disaster and it led to the rise of ISIS.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

The candidates “were tripping over themselves to condemn Trump’s strike on Iran’s military chief before ­declaring their intention either to pull all our troops from the Middle East or almost all of our troops from the Middle East. Combat troops aren’t the answer, they said. They were prepared to be commander in chief because they care about health care for veterans or education for veterans, which is lovely but ­really doesn’t address the question of how they would confront threats to the United States of the sort posed by the Tehran regime.”
John Podhoretz, New York Post

Regarding the moderators, “CNN has two candidates calling each other plain liars about a factual matter on a story that CNN broke. Yet they didn’t follow up by pressing the candidates to get to the bottom of who was lying on their stage. And they didn’t follow up on what is now a clear pattern for Elizabeth Warren. But then again, why would they? Debate moderators have been covering for Warren for the entire cycle. Warren’s single biggest liability in a general election matchup with Trump is her ‘Pocahontas problem.’ She has not yet been asked about that in a debate…

“Neither has she been pressed on her claim to have been fired for being pregnant. Which is, at best, factually disputed. And now, at a critical moment in the campaign, here she is claiming that a rival candidate once told her that a woman couldn’t win the presidency—a claim he denies. Are you sensing a pattern? It sure looks as if Warren has a habit of making up claims of victimhood to advance her interests. And no debate moderator has pushed her on it.”
Jonathan V. Last, The Bulwark

“We had 48 hours of buildup to the Great Progressive Presidential Candidate Duel, and then both contenders threw away their shots. About 30 minutes into tonight’s debate, we finally got the long-awaited Bernie Sanders–Elizabeth Warren showdown… but clearly, both candidates lost their nerve and didn’t see much benefit from a sustained head-on confrontation…

“Watching Joe Biden tonight, I realized why his not-so-great debate performances over the past year haven’t damaged his standing in the polls much. Everybody already knows what they think of Biden, Democrats by and large like him, and it would take something really dramatic to get them to change their mind about him. Their opinion about Biden was written in cement that dried sometime in Obama’s first term. Month after month, he turns in debate performances that are shaky here and there, but overall okay or good enough, and surprisingly, few others on the stage take big swings at him.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“Buttigeg, tonight, said that the Dow Jones was up but people still felt down. Biden said that everyone but the rich is getting clobbered. And they’re the two leading candidates in the ‘moderate lane.’ These remarks don’t reflect the actual economic statistics, and they don’t reflect the public’s assessment of the economy either. The economy’s condition is helping President Trump’s campaign. Democrats can’t do a lot about that fact, but denying reality seems like a good way to compound the problem.”
Ramesh Ponnuru, 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 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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