Observations about last night’s second Democratic debate in Detroit…
The big question last night was how frontrunner Joe Biden would do after stumbling through the first debate in Miami. Unfortunately, I don’t think he did himself any favors, as he didn’t seem as much like a leader as he needed to. Sadly, he looked like the same Joe Biden who’s run for the presidency twice before — and lost — except this time he kept invoking Barack Obama’s name as his magical mantra.
If Biden’s goal was to survive under attack from almost everyone else on stage, okay, he may have, but in our current political climate, that’s not enough. He has to motivate and inspire, but didn’t, unless you consider someone who uses the word “Malarkey!” to be a vote magnet. I was also surprised at how he simply stopped talking, often in the middle of a thought, when one of the CNN moderators cut in, as if he’d be tazed for speaking one second longer. This from a guy who has said publicly, several times, that he’d like to punch Trump in the mouth — but he shuts up as soon as Jake Tapper says, “Thank you, Mr. Vice President”?
Biden also stumbled over his words quite a bit, and screwed up in his closing statement when he urged people to go to Joe30330.com. What he was supposed to say was “Text Joe to 30330,” which would, I guess, return some information on how you can donate to and/or support his campaign. But Biden — who’s probably never sent a text in his life — blew it. According to USA Today, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign immediately sprung into action and bought the Joe30330.com address, redirecting it to that candidate’s homepage. But later, it was changed to a joke website for a candidate named Josh (probably a Buttigieg staffer), whose number one priority as president would be eliminating homework in college. Why Biden’s campaign didn’t avoid the error by having him urge people to visit JoeBiden.com is beyond me.
Meanwhile, Kamala Harris didn’t let anyone’s interruptions stop her. She finished her sentences, no matter what, often continuing for another paragraph. Clearly, Harris wanted to double down on her Biden attacks, which worked well in the Miami debate. But this time she found herself the target of other candidates’ attacks, particularly Tulsi Gabbard, who went pretty hard after the former prosecutor. Harris isn’t going anywhere, remains one of the Top Five, and will get better as the campaign rolls into the fall, but she has to work up better answers while not looking like she’s on the defensive so much.
Cory Booker, meanwhile, gave the best performance of the night. He prodded his opponents well and scored some big points with many of his answers. He’s always been a great speaker, and I’ll bet he raises a lot of money in the next 48 hours.
Kirsten Gillibrand also did well, keeping women’s issues central to the conversation. Considering how the Democrats need to nail down suburban white women for 2020, that’s important. Her best line was when she said, “The first thing I’m going to do as president is Clorox the Oval Office.”
When I saw Tulsi Gabbard walk out in an all-white suit, I hoped that she would at some point announce that the reason she’d worn it is so racist Donald Trump would notice her, since white is the only color he cares about. She missed that opportunity, but may have scored with enough viewers to earn herself an invite to the next round of debates in September. I doubt Bill DeBlasio, Michael Bennett, Jay Inslee, and Andrew Yang will get that RSVP.
One of the biggest problems for all these Dems is that, when asked what they’ll do about health care insurance, they dive too deep into the details. That wonky stuff just makes voters’ eyes glaze over. They must simplify it substantially, then repeat, repeat, repeat — and stop arguing with each other over the minuscule differences in their plans. Instead, they should be making a much bigger deal about protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. That was a huge winner of a talking point during last year’s congressional elections, and with Trump promising to revoke that part of Obamacare — or having the federal courts do it — it should still be brought up by the Dems over and over and over again.
The real winner of Wednesday night’s debate was Elizabeth Warren, even though she wasn’t on the stage. She was so good Tuesday night that she has to be considered the front-runner now. Let’s see if the polls agree with me in coming days.
You’ll notice that I didn’t spend any time discussing the three CNN moderators, who were a little better on night two than night one. But there’s one phrase they should all stop using immediately. In the thousands of interviews I conducted in my radio career, I asked tens of thousands of questions, but not once did I tell a guest: “Please respond.” You never have to add those words, because they’re implicit in the question you’ve asked and the tone of your voice. “Please respond” sounds like something you get in a phone tree or one of those live-chat-bots on a retailer’s website. It’s as unnecessary on a debate stage as saying, “Please answer out loud.”
So, Jake and Dana and Don, if you see this, please don’t bother responding.