The Democratic presidential primary debates in Miami officially kick off June 26, with the first half of the two-part showdown. Pandering to the base is, of course, to be expected in primary races, but the crowded collection assembled by Dems for 2020 far too often goes to extremes. The party desperately needs to show it has contenders running on serious issues and not social justice tropes. Alas, Night One features two candidates likely to foist hackneyed progressive talking points onto the stage in order to mask their lack of substance.
These are the ten candidates set for the first evening:
- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
- Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD)
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
- Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro
- Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Booker and O’Rourke fancied themselves top-shelf entrants when they announced their bids for the White House. Neither has gained an ounce of traction since, and the feckless duo comes into Miami badly leaking oil and needing to right their ships. Booker seems especially desperate of late, lamely painting leading Dem candidate Joe Biden with a racist hue over the former vice president’s comments that he was able to work with segregationist senators during his days in the U.S. Senate. Booker’s issues advocacy to date mostly surrounds his pledge to enact aggressive gun control measures, a rather predictable sop to progressives that hardly makes him stand out from the crowd. Tellingly, his campaign has whined that the homosexual mayor (Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN) has gotten all the dominant friendly media attention that rightfully should be showered upon the former black mayor (of Newark).
B Stands for Boring
Booker clamors for attention more than he champions any weighty policy positions. There is absolutely no reason to believe this won’t continue in Miami. He won’t have Biden to attack personally on stage, but if the current trajectory of Booker’s empty campaign continues, look for him to be a serious drag on the evening for viewers hoping for meaningful dialogue.
O’Rourke is another faltering wannabe giant who will be out to make a splash. Unfortunately for him, that is not what he needs at the moment. The former congressman must show that he can be even-keeled and proffer real ideas. A calm, sober, and measured approach would serve him best. Alas, O’Rourke is a flaky lightweight in love with the sound of his own voice. Restraint does not come naturally. If Beto reverts to being Beto under the nationally televised big lights, he’ll be the second major windbag leading the evening astray.
However Booker and O’Rourke want to play it, Warren should simply pay them no heed. She has no reason to elevate either struggling candidate by entering into any confrontational verbal exchange they may offer. Warren has seen her stock rise of late and has the good fortune to be placed in a situation where she will be surrounded by candidates of far lesser stature. She merely needs to play it safe, direct any barbs at President Trump, and move on to Round Two after basking in the role of a big fish surrounded by minnows.
It may be tough sledding for some of the guppies. They need to present themselves to the American people in a responsible manner while at the same time showing that they bring something unique to the race. But these are conventional Democrats with nothing new to showcase. In a party that stresses allegiance to the reigning progressive orthodoxy of its base, the likes of Castro, Delaney, Inslee, Ryan, and De Blasio are going to find it almost impossible to explain how they are a necessary alternative to the other 20-plus rivals in the field. Inslee is hanging his hat on climate change legislation, but exactly who is he defying here with his bold pronouncements on the topic? Every Dem in the bunch already knows he or she has to display fealty to the global warming forces in the party to secure the nomination. Inslee isn’t pushing the party anywhere it isn’t already going. Ryan also holds a rigidly “proper” resume on policy issues popular with Dems, such as gun control, immigration, abortion, and, of course, climate change. So why is he needed? Short answer: He is not. While Klobuchar has been tracking a slow but steady course, eventually she needs to get on the scoreboard in some significant way.
Any long-shot candidate who wants to make a move has to step outside the tight party framing while not alienating grassroots progressives. That being the case, Gabbard has the best opportunity to leave her mark on Night One. Gabbard has astutely criticized members of her own party for the Trump-Russia obsession that recklessly has increased tensions with a nuclear-armed power. In a party that embraces U.S. military intervention abroad more and more, Gabbard has a real chance to stand out as a voice of reason on foreign policy that is fully in line with the anti-war consensus found among Democrats during the George W. Bush years.
In doing so, she can be the anti-Beto-Booker. If Gabbard remains focused and on message and doesn’t feel she has to pander to the social justice Pharisees who still despise her for the anti-homosexual stances of her youth, she can leave Miami armed with the aura of a lesser light who brought some heft to the table. This first debate is about surviving and moving on to a narrowed field. Some 10-12 small-fry candidates may be gone if they cannot justify their existences before the American people. The less-prominent candidates who advance will be the ones who have something distinctive and meaningful to say. For Night One, that’s a tall order.
We’ll be examining and analyzing the second round debate line-up tomorrow. Make sure to call back.
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