The Screwed-Up 4th Democratic Presidential Debate is Tonight




Why “screwed-up,” you ask?

In the last cycle, the Democratic National Committee literally argued in court that it had no obligation to provide voters with a fair process to nominate a President.  (And it then went on to prove itself one of the stupidest bureaucracies of the new century.)  Now it’s looking like it may be up to its own tricks.

Those tricks, in 2016, included sabotaging its own debates — on the apparent ground that public debates were not how the DNC wanted candidates to be judged.  They wanted them to be judged on their ability to raise large amounts of money from large donors — the kinds who might be counted on to shunt lots of money to the DNC itself (something that low donors are not prone to do.)  So they would schedule their debates on nights when few would likely be watching — Friday or Saturday, as I recall — or against the World Series or other major sporting events, that sort of thing.  Debates — despite the DNC’s packing the audience with DNC-loving audience members — were just too unreliable.

Well, this year the debates have been not all that bad as news-making events, but have been hobbled by logistics.  In the first two rounds, there were two debates apiece, with ten candidates per debate. In last month’s third round, the ten candidates who qualified debated all together — and, amazingly enough, we didn’t get much more out out candidates than when they debated ten at a time each night.  (Why we’d have expected it, I don’t know.)

The benefit was that some candidates who hadn’t seen each other — notably Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, who “have a history” — appeared on the same stage, but little came of that.  The detriment was that if you really want people to mix it up in a single debate, you want to get the number down to dinner party size.  There’s a reason why restaurants usually seat six to a normal sized table: because it works!

Luckily, between September and October, two things happened: Tulsi Gabbard requalified for the big leagues after failing to qualify for the third round, and California billionaire Tom Steyer qualified to debate for the first time.  That’s twelve candidates, and twelve divided by two is: separate tables!  Praise the demigods in charge of math.

Two nights of six-person debates would have been perfect.  So long as the one of the top two and one of the next two candidates — with “who’s #4?” being as bad here as with the college football playoffs — are in each debate, there would actually be more interest in each debate because there would be more reason to expect real solid conflict, tests, and virtuosity.  So there would be every reason to look forward to a debate that might have a lineup something like this:

Night 1: Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, O’Rourke
Night 2: Warren, Harris, Booker, Castro, Steyer, Yang

(Anyone who can guess how I made this assignment to nights gets a free display ad for the candidate of their choice for one week — if Vern approves!)

There is literally no set of dinner party assignments — try “Sanders, Gabbard, O’Rourke, Harris, Castro, Yang” versus “Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar,  Booker, Steyer” — that would fail to generate lots of good story lines to draw in viewers to watch.  (Yes, you’re only going to get viewers who are at least somewhat politically interested — but that’s like complaining that your MLB divisional playoff game is mostly going to attract baseball fans: SO?)

I was therefore thrilled when Gabbard and Steyer both qualified because I wanted to see the one thing we hadn’t seen so far: a more intimate debate with longer answers and less need for (or payoff for) shouting.

And maybe the prospect of relatively good political TV is why tonight’s debate will feature: all twelve candidates on one stage, screaming over each other to be heard.

How stupid is the DNC?  That stupid.  They don’t care that it makes the candidates look boorish rather than interesting so long as it doesn’t impinge on their own power.  (This is why so many of us were pissed off that reforming Keith Ellison was cheated out of the DNC Chair position by establishment Tom Perez — the cheating was in Puerto Rico, oddly enough — for the position.  Ellison was all about the word to the people.)

Sure, everyone’s going to be able to get a word in edgewise!

So, look forward to a loud, contentious, mostly devoid of substance debate tonight — as you’re expected to listen to your betters about whom to support rather than use your own eyes and ears.

Tonight’s Storylines:

Not that we’re going to be lacking for drama, even if muffled.  Here are some of the story lines to watch for, for each candidate.

Joe Biden: gaffes, Ukraine, willingness and ability to put up a fight against Trump for anything other than his own family, ability to put up a fight if anyone has the guts to point out that what Hunter Biden did was actually a bit sleazy, even if it would still put him about equal to Tiffany among Trump kids.  I expect sprt of a good night from because Tulsi Gabbard will attack him and will seem nuts.

Elizabeth Warren: Now either in the top three, top two, or top one, she will certainly be a target, which means that we’ll have yet another argument over exactly what health insurance options we should have and how we will pay for them.  Even I’ll be bored with that.  Warren will probably demonstrate her anti-Hillary nature by being real, likeable, and comfortable in her own skin.  Buttigieg will attack her because he’s decided to sell his soul to the DNC, which wisely rejected him for its Chair.

Bernie Sanders: The main story here is: (1) has he come back from his heart attack*, and (2) how the hell has he come back from his heart attack this quickly?  I expect everyone — except Amy Klobuchar, who may be physically incapable of it — to shower him with love tonight, partly forthrightly and partly in an attempt both to blunt his potency with pity, look good to his supporters, and maybe quiet him down a bit.  He’ll do well by toning it down to Joe Rogen level.

*contrary to initial reports, his heart attack was an official heart attack, so my brother won a bet with me.  I hate that.

Kamala Harris: If she doesn’t go after Tulsi hammer and tongs I’ll lose even more respect for her.  She’s had two months to write something!  And Tulsi will probably go after her again, because she only knows so many tricks.  Sadly, even Californians see to be sliding towards another person with a claim to being #4, who is:

Pete Buttigieg: He’s basically told the DNC that he’ll be exactly the big donor-loving, populist-disdaining, candidate that they want — which may well will him many many endorsements here in California, perhaps even the highly gay friendly (and el pueblo unfriendly)  CDP’s endorsement a month from now!  Hey, Tulsi!  You’re the only other veteran on stage!  THIS is the bastard you should be gunning for!

Cory Booker — who would have imagined that he wouldn’t be favored to wipe the mat with South Carolina and the rest of the Deep South?  I wish him well if only because he’s in Bidens way.  He’ll do the same tonight and no one will care.

Beto O’Rourke: He’ll probably say more about guns and Texas — in a way that neither gun fans nor Texas fans like.  He’s right that Texas may eventually change the Electoral College game, but this is hopefully his last debate before he switches to the Senate race.

Julian Castro:  I liked how Castro went after Biden last time and I hope that he does it again.  He says that he’s not running for VP, but frankly he’d be an outstanding fit with Warren if she wins.  (For Sanders: Warren.  For Biden: Williamson.  Joke there.)  I don’t think that he can risk it, though.

Amy Klobuchar:  She’ll be witty and mean at the left, because at this point she really is running to be Joe Biden’s running mate.

Andrew Yang:  Just do something great for Wang to mimic on SNL, ok?

Tulsi Gabbard:  Came back at the wrong time, Putin fan!

Tom Steyer:  Too late! Too bad!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)