by Jeffrey A. Rendall
Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bloomberg weren’t there with the rest of the viable Democrat candidates on Tuesday night, but did anyone notice… or care? (Note: Booker, Castro and Marianne Williamson (!) bailed out of the race in recent weeks.)
Similarly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire businessman and climate change nut Tom Steyer were there on stage with the top tier (Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg), and the same question applies… did anyone notice or care?
If it’s usually the case that media-conducted party primary debates mainly concentrate on the top polling leaders at the center of the platform, it was definitely true for this iteration of political folly in America’s heartland — the corn, soybeans and hog raising paradise that is Iowa. It’s hard to believe last June’s first Democrat events featured 20 candidates spread out over two nights… and it’s also interesting to note the race hasn’t really shifted all that much in the intervening time.
Joe Biden enjoyed a big lead then. Joe Biden still has a big (national) advantage. Ho hum.
Such was the setting for the seventh Democrat presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, the final such forum prior to the Hawkeye State caucuses set for February 3. As was true for the October, November and December versions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment of President Donald Trump hung heavily in the air. The House will vote to (finally) send the two articles of impeachment to the senate this week — so it’s safe to say a good many people were thinking about other things in addition to the various stances of the performers.
The subject itself wasn’t raised until the last half hour of the forum. Strange.
Even though impeachment dominates the national headlines, the candidates themselves certainly must have been feeling the tension of needing to execute well in the soon-to-start voting phase of their primary race. Going into the night, the biggest news from this week was former Obama veep Biden apparently is making a move in Iowa and New Hampshire (at least according to the latest polls), a development that has political watchers wondering whether the frontrunner will win the nomination rather easily, a repeat of 2016’s Hillary Clinton romp.
But of course there’s Bernie Sanders — and with him, nothing is ever simple.
Glaringly evident was the pasty white nature of this debate with nary a single minority face to be seen. The shame of it — Democrats passing over brown and black mugs in favor of three septuagenarians, a thirty-something frat-looking boy (even if he is gay, right?), a sixty-two-year-old filthy rich venture capitalist (Steyer) and a shaky fifty-nine year-old woman who can’t control her nervousness (or hair). All of them with skin tone resembling a cheap motel bedsheet.
The program was moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip as well as The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel, and they did a reasonable job of probing the candidates to answer real questions rather than offer their canned talking points for the thousandth consecutive time. Blitzer in particular seems to relish this role, and even to this conservative, is fairly good at it. Wolf’s liberal leanings are never in question, but at least he doesn’t appear to favor any particular candidate.
The first question of the evening, somewhat surprisingly, concerned the current situation in Iran — and it went to Sanders, allowing him a perfect opportunity to tout his anti-war stances. He deftly laid out how he was against the Iraq War (which Biden voted for, hint, hint), but didn’t say anything about how the Iranian threat could be dealt with by smoking a peace pipe.
None of them did. Here, again, is the problem with asking presidential candidates how to solve international dilemmas. The only correct answer is, “I don’t know, but hope I have good advisors when the time comes.” There it is. Period. Until you’ve been in the president’s chair, all the rest is hot air.
Especially weak here was Buttigieg, a candidate so young he hasn’t got the life’s experience or political presence to command authority. He looks more like a guy planning the next college dorm party than a would-be world leader who would sit across from enemies and friends alike.
“Mayor Pete’s” turn to talk about trade was equally unimpressive. How would the mayor of a medium sized midwestern city know anything about negotiating multilateral agreements?
Is there breakout potential here? If there is, it wasn’t shown on Tuesday night.
Some suggest Klobuchar could be poised to pull off one of those last minute surprises that Iowa is famous for (Rick Santorum, 2012 and Mike Huckabee, 2008), but to do so this year would not only be difficult, it’s darn near impossible. First off, there’s a definite dividing line between the top four contenders and everyone else in the incredibly shrinking Democrat field.
Polls show Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden have been virtually neck-and-neck for months in Iowa, a distinct top tier that hasn’t really moved much. Democrat observers say the Iowa vote is split between the perceived “moderates” Buttigieg and Biden and the burn-it-all-down leftists embodied by Sanders and Warren. Therefore, as Klobuchar seems to be vying for a “centrist” position — even though she’s as wacked out liberal as the rest of ‘em — she would theoretically need to steal from Biden and/or Buttigieg’s base.
This simply won’t happen for at least a couple reasons. First and most obvious, Biden is seen by the party base as the Democrats’ most electable contender, the man who supposedly has the best chance to unseat President Trump in November. Whether the electability notion has any connection to reality or not, the former vice president and Obama righthand man is thought to possess the political gravitas to match Trump’s and therefore compete for the white working class that Hillary Clinton lost so badly four years ago.
Biden also has a solid hold of the crucial African-American vote, so his national poll numbers would never take a precipitous drop unless something happens to weaken the steely determination of his vote-as-a-bloc black supporters. Granted Iowa doesn’t have a large group of African-American Democrats, but his backing from other “moderate” Democrats — unions — means he won’t leak many voters as the caucuses near.
Likewise, Buttigieg commands the portion of the “moderate” (again, he’s not “moderate” in any sense of the word, but that’s the perception) voters who think Biden is too old and that the party needs a fresh Obama-like presence to lead it into the future. Buttigieg’s lost some of his support lately, but it probably isn’t heading in Klobuchar’s direction. If anything, these folks are heading towards the Biden “electability” camp.
At the same token, there’s no way Klobuchar would start taking from Sanders’ and Warren’s pool of far-left voters. Both “The Bern” and Liz are seen as fighters against the hated corporatist status quo, the ones who won’t settle for anything less than completely altering the current government system. They want to transform the United States into a European-style socialist democracy complete with full welfare benefits for everyone, an open borders orientation and enforced utopia where everything — especially healthcare, childcare and education — is “free” to the populace.
With Sanders, there’s hard video evidence that his supporters love gulags, too, for “reeducating” Trump supporters. No joke. Don’t believe it? Click this link (beware, nasty language).
And the rich will pay for all of Sanders’ and Warren’s utopian nirvana, too! Both of the northeastern senators offered additional plugs for their tax the rich into oblivion schemes on Tuesday night. Klobuchar speaks too softly — and shakes too noticeably — to be seen as angry and combative enough to compete for the ultra-leftists’ favor. She appears “Minnesota nice” even though her staff would beg to disagree!
Which basically leaves Amy nowhere, and this might be her last hurrah on the national stage. Just as Booker couldn’t establish a “running lane” to occupy opposite the two (perceived) “moderates” and the two authentic socialists, neither has Klobuchar. With less than three weeks left until the caucuses, it would indeed be a “miracle” for her to gain enough ground to edge out one of the leaders. If the miraculous were to happen, it would likely be Buttigieg’s people who abandon ship in favor of the more proven Minnesota senator, but is this realistic?
Klobuchar is a swamp dweller, not an outsider with a great LGBTQ story and sympathies with the cool and “woke” crowd. What’s cutting-edge and trendy about a working-class background like Amy’s parents’? Nothing!
And why the shaking? Was she cold? It did look snowy outside.
There’s no budding Iowa miracle in store for Steyer either. The California enviro-activist entered the Democrat race six months ago hoping to establish himself as the most “out there” climate change alarmist and pledged $100 million of his fortune to get himself well-known enough to challenge for the party nomination. Clearly Steyer envied Trump’s astonishing success in 2016 and felt he could replicate it with his own spiel, complete with Howdy-Doody looks, a plaid tie and a penchant for staring straight into the debate camera as though he’s hoping to brainwash everyone out in the viewing audience.
In the process he makes practically everyone uncomfortable. Everyone knows the only reason Steyer’s there is because he can purchase TV ads at a much greater pace than the other candidates (except for Bloomberg, of course) who have to beg ordinary schleps — and liberal billionaires — for campaign donations.
Like Klobuchar, Steyer’s a man without a running lane, only he had hoped to tap into Sanders’ type of followers with his climate-is-everything paranoid delusions and promises to prioritize everything in back of the warming atmosphere. At least Steyer’s no hypocrite — he’s blown hundreds of millions funding his pet causes over the years — but he certainly doesn’t come across as a viable political candidate. He’s wooden, doofus-y looking and, again, just stares robotically into the camera as though he’s attempting to reprogram the audience at a mental institute.
All his money’s only bought him a whopping 2.2 percent nationally (in the Real Clear Politics average) and a shade less than 3 percent in Iowa… which begs the question, how did he qualify for this event? Steyer’s potential rise would be even more unlikely than Klobuchar’s. His deluge of TV ads apparently hasn’t done the trick (six months’ worth) and he’s not exactly a welcoming personality figure.
Wannabes like Steyer — and to a somewhat lesser extent, Bloomberg — seem to ignore that Trump was already a well-established cultural figure having been in the news… and tabloid pages… for over 30 years prior to his try at the presidency. Trump didn’t need to spend money introducing himself to voters and most had already formed an impression of him one way or the other. Steyer was and still remains a virtual unknown, a flaw that can’t be rectified in a few weeks’ time.
Nothing Steyer did on Tuesday night changes the impression, either. As the lowest rung on a very top-heavy totem pole, he seemed like the odd man out. Not even Andrew Yang was there (as he was last month) to give the program a little more balance as clearly the moderators — and voters — have accepted the fact that Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s winners will come from the top four polling candidates.
There’s the Bloomberg specter starting on Super Tuesday (March 3), but it would defy American political history for someone other than these candidates to break out after so much anticipation and news coverage for the early state contests. Bloomberg has more “wow” factor than Steyer but all the money in the world isn’t going to pry voters away from Sanders and Warren. And Biden’s got the Democrat establishment behind him as Hillary Clinton did four years ago.
Grampa Joe’s in a darn good position and he knows it, gritting his teeth and mouthing nonsense at breakneck pace. Democrats appear to eat it up. He appeared to have several more “brain freezes” and verbal stumbles (complete with clenched eyes) when answering questions. It’s hard to watch, isn’t it? Does his brain need a reboot? Is he lying whenever his mind pauses? Does he have an “off” button?
At least Bernie is funny… what does Joe have going for him? What will be fascinating to watch is how Sanders’ “Bernie bros” handle a Biden nomination (if it comes to it). Will they be so angry they’ll jump to Trump? Not likely in large numbers, but you never know…
The winner of Tuesday night’s debate? Donald Trump (I think he’s won every Democrat debate thus far, not bad for someone who’s been at none of them). Each of the Democrats proved again in Iowa that they lack the stature, experience and authority to compete with the president on every campaign issue. The first half hour of the discussion revealed how weak the Democrats are on foreign policy. They each took turns defending the disastrous Iran deal, but couldn’t explain what they’d do differently to improve the situation.
How could any of these Democrats hope to debate Trump? Do any of them strike fear in anyone? Are they impressive? Heck no. Annoying is a better word to describe them as a group, or individually. Anger, panic and fearmongering doesn’t substitute for substance, no matter what Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden says.
America is watching. The more Democrats talk, the better it is for Trump. The Trump campaign should advocate for a short impeachment trial to encourage his Democrat opposition to remain in the spotlight. Sometimes doing less actually accomplishes more. Iowa Democrats have a heck of a hard choice on February 3.
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Photo “Democratic Debate” by ABC News.