The first hour of the final Democratic presidential debate before Super Tuesday was the most embarrassing of the entire primary process. This is a notable achievement for a field that had already thoroughly bored and annoyed national television audiences through nine previous installments of limp political theater.
Nothing From Nothing Times Ten
Moderators Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King of CBS were wholly incapable of controlling the unruly children on stage in Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 25. And so the candidates diminished themselves yet again in the eyes of the American people with their often petulant and rarely focused squawking. Ten debates in and Dems still appear unable to grasp that elucidation of issues is more important than preening one-upmanship.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dominated the opening. The talk was on his turf – the economy not working for anyone but the “one percent.” Former New York City mayor and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg hastened to fire the first shot of the evening but his comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin favoring Sanders in order to boost President Trump in a general election came off as scripted to the extreme. One could clearly imagine Bloomberg being asked to recite it 1,000 times by well-salaried staffers in practice sessions to make sure he could say it right. Well, he did. It was another wooden moment for a guy who simply does not come across as a relatable human being to huge swaths of the American people. Bloomberg did nothing to improve that impression as the night progressed.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) proved ineffectual in saying Sanders is right that progressivism is good and popular but she’s the better option, a remarkably empty argument to make against a surging frontrunner with no compelling reasoning to back it up. Former Vice President Joe Biden assumed the pose of the frontrunner in South Carolina because that remains the only thing he knows how to do. It’s the only argument he can make and so he keeps at it, even as his viability continues to melt away like a dropped ice cream cone on a summer sidewalk.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) didn’t talk for the first 17 minutes of the debate, and it didn’t even become noticeable until the 15-minute mark or so. Klobuchar is completely nonessential to the primary process at this point. She is not advancing any fresh conversation, nor is she helping or hurting anyone else by her presence. You have to have actual supporters to do that. Why is she still in this race?
Gaffes and Rebukes
In the most painfully irksome exchange of the evening, Warren ably nailed Bloomberg for supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) re-election effort in 2014. However, she then lost control again, going out of her way to take his banal reply personally and acting like he intentionally slandered her. It did not go over well at all. Even staunchly left-leaning Dems are surely getting sick of Warren’s shtick at this point. “Let the women speak” is the square she always seems to land on, no matter the issue. She is hurting this field enormously with her lightweight gender obsessions and the quarrelsome manner in which she advances them. In Charleston, it finally wore thin. This should be the moment when the bedraggled Elizabeth Warren campaign officially ended.
In another familiar scene, a sputtering Biden dropped his latest monster gaffe, saying, “150 million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability. More than all the wars, including Vietnam, from that point on. Carnage on our street.” Guns have killed half the U.S. population in the past 13 years, according to Biden, and it is all Bernie Sanders’ fault. Social media lost no time in making Biden a human piñata over the ludicrous statement.
Last Episode of a Stale Sitcom?
Things calmed down in the second hour, yet little of note occurred. It was as if the various rivals had tired themselves out running around in circles flailing away at one another, and so they settled into a more staid but not very substantial discussion.
Despite his gun violence whopper, it can be argued that Biden did OK overall, and this bodes well considering that his standing apparently remains fairly strong in South Carolina. This is a boomerang heading right back the DNC’s way. The Dem establishment is hell-bent on finding a solid alternative to Sanders. If Biden does indeed limp to a victory in South Carolina, this seemingly positive development will in fact be a disaster. It is clear for all with eyes to see that he is a historically awful and bumbling candidate and the Dem establishment being tethered to him would be a one-way trip to the bottom of the sea. Dem bigwigs need Biden out as soon as possible, yet they don’t seem to want to face up to this stark fact.
This may, of course, be due to the equally unpleasant reality that the remaining options have already been found sorely wanting. Former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg continues to speak well while saying nothing. He frequently went over his allotted time while clearly wanting to amble on with little result. Like Klobuchar, Buttigieg has no genuine base of supporters and is not a serious threat to Sanders. Klobuchar remains invisible. When the candidates were playfully asked at the end of the evening to voice a personal motto for themselves, Klobuchar’s response was so muddled and meandering that moderator King had to ask her to repeat her answer. This came on the heels of Klobuchar saying the biggest misconception about her is that she is boring. Oof.
The good news is this must surely be the last of these interminable multiple-mediocrity affairs. At least three of the seven aspirants on stage should be out of the race in a week. Of course, that may not make them leave the scene. Vanity and selfishness have gone a long way to souring the Democrat primary race from the start. And so there is reason to fear that even the stark clarity of Super Tuesday voting may not be enough to push some of these towering boors out of the spotlight. If so, the Democratic Party as a whole will remain the biggest loser as November draws ever closer.
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