No One Won This Week’s Debate, But Pundits Lost




Can you work all three of Joe Biden’s worst gaffes from the 5th Democratic debate into one sentence? Sure: “Coming from the Black community, as he does, Joe Biden kept on punching, punching, punching his endorsement by the only African American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun.”

Wednesday night’s 5th Democratic Presidential primary debate seems unlikely to have moved the needle for candidates, though (and it’s hard to say this) it’s a blessing that we didn’t cover health care for what seemed like half a debate yet again.  (We pretty much know where people stand.)  On the left, Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren both reprised earlier presentations on topics of corruption, relieving inequality, and easing misery —  and both did it well.  (Bernie even got to play a “Greatest Hit” when, after being excluded from what discussion did break out on health care, he excellently parodied himself by quickly muttering “I wrote the damn bill” before going into his answer.)

Tom Steyer, also largely on the left, once again demonstrated that wholesale politics is a learned craft — by showing what someone who doesn’t know the craft has to perform.  I don’t know what to tell him.  Maybe grow a mustache?  Wear a beret?  Something’s not working — and I doubt that he has any staff who will tell him so.  I was going to stay that he should drop out, but we need him to stay long enough to fend off Bloomberg.

The missing lefty — I think he’s earned that title this year — was my third choice, Julian Castro, who is somehow circling the drain before Andrew Yang.  Yang also appears to be sort of a lefty — and has the sort of sharp wit that Amy Klobuchar only thinks she has — though no one has asked him the big question during a debate: how the hell he expects people to survive on $12,000 per year, which will quickly be absorbed into, for example, higher rents.  (You see, the system is rigged, and capitalism is marbled with that elusive “collusion.”)

(Some people also consider Tulsi Gabbard a lefty, but I don’t think she is easily placed on the ideological spectrum. She’s mostly an isolationist who thus, for good reasons as well as bad, shares a lot of positions with Trump.   Moreover, she’s just very socially awkward.  Perhaps people don’t easily see this because we associate her level of attractiveness with social skills.  How can someone know that yes, you can argue that we shouldn’t spend blood and treasure on trying to remove Assad from Syria == but you don’t go there and let him put you in propaganda videos.  Jane Fonda had an excuse in Vietnam in that she was not a sophisticated politician, but Gabbard is supposed to be one. She really doesn’t seem to get that if, for example, she had the goods on Buttigieg for wanting to invade Mexico — which I strongly suspect he does not — she had to explain it far better if she didn’t want to look like an idiot and a knave.  Yes, she does represent a tendency among some of the left, but most rank amateurs I’ve seen are better at making the case.  Anyway, everyone but her supporters seems to want Gabbard out, but I’m standing by my dark horse prediction that in open primaries Republicans — lacking a competitive race of their own, will come out and voter for her en masse.)

OK, let’s heave a sigh and start looking at the non-lefties, whose brilliant idea is not to adopt any policies that would scare off <s>corporate donors and PACs</s> the Republican voters they expect will help them eke out a narrow win.  I can’t promise that this look at the self-titled “center-left” will be pleasant.

Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and to a lesser extent Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have all been pronounced victors by various people who see each as the beneficiary of Joe Biden’s seemingly inevitable collapse.  (For my part, I think it’s pretty funny that Donald Trump is going to get impeached for trying to tar a guy whom he’d be more likely to beat than whoever is nominated.  That just shows that Trump and his team don’t actually know that much about how to win — mostly, they just got lucky.)  In all cases, the pronouncing seems to be being done by people who already favor their candidacies.  On MSNBC that night, and in writings since then, the people given the mic and the featured stories have been overwhelmingly centrist (a term I’m using only because Republicans have gone so far around the bend.)  MSNBC had some centrist Democrats, and a Republican buddy of John McCain’s, each starting from the premise that Democrats had to pick up Republican votes — and each of them getting more time than the sole actual lefty on the panel, Michael Moore, to whom they twice came to saying that there was only a minute left before the break so that he had to be brief.  (Moore, to his credit, just ignored them — and the network somehow did not implode.)

The pundits are right about one thing: the central fissure within the Democratic Party elites right now is over whether the party must move to the center to pick up Republican voters or whether it should stand firm against caving in so as to turn out more of its own voters.  If you start from the premise that Dems have to cater to the right wing — call this the “FDR and LBJ were idiots” premise — then of course you think that Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, or Kamala/Cory won the debate.  If you don’t — then you’re more likely to think that Bernie and Warren did best.  (Again, Steyer is just not ready for prime time, Gabbard is not really lefty, and Yang is just having trouble getting pundits to even write about him in the wake of the debate, despite having the debate’s best line about his first call to Putin after winning the election would be to console him on his defeat.  Witty!)

I guess that the oleaginous Buttigieg did best among the moderates, though Kamala had her best debate since the first and Booker continues to do better than I expected. Both are sticking around hoping to pile up the delegates in the deep South on Super Tuesday, the way that Hillary did in 2016 — but if there are still 5-8 competitive candidates by March 3 they are going to have a really tough time doing it.  The delegate selection rules greatly reward winning 70-80% of the vote in a district — but in an election where the top vote-getter gets 30% in a district, with the next four getting 25% and 20% and 15% and 10%, no one is going to take home a big crop of delegates.  Even if that’s Kamala and Cory getting 35% and 20% to Biden’s 30%, they’re not going to take many delegates.  They’re fighting the last war, not this one — and they’ll cancel each other out if they both remain.

I don’t have enough time to review the bias among the pundits in the most prominent political publications, but suffice to say that they just don’t get the “fire up the base!” model that Obama used so well in 2008 — largely, I suspect, because there’s good money in not getting it.  When the runoff is an impeached and disgraced Trump against Bernie or Warren, one wonders what they’ll do?  Follow the corporations, or their brains?

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.)