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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rambling Thoughts on the Houston Debate

Most of the rave reviews of candidates in last night’s debate in Houston I’ve seen point towards Beto O’Rourke, for his impassioned advocacy of reforms to check gun violence. O’Rourke also got some welcome praise  from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates, and he came off as sincere and authentic. He may get a modest bump in the polls.

O’Rourke’s comment, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” got a huge applause, but it will be distorted by the NRA/GOP into “see, the Democrats really are going to confiscate your guns.” It also sets up a “weathervane” ad against him if he advances, contrasting his comment with his previous assurances to the contrary. That blunder notwithstanding, all in all, a good night for O’Rourke.

As a presidential candidate, however, I think O’Rourke could use some ‘seasoning.’ I would rather see him run for senate at this point. Dems need the pick-up, and a Senate term could add some cred to a future White House run.

Warren and Sanders also provided solid presentations and fielded probing questions and comments about their embrace of ‘Medicare for All’ with impressive reponses. Unfortunately, however, their Democratic opponents also make a strong argument that the public option is what most Americans want. Even though the other candidates are grossly exaggerating the real costs of Medicare for All, while neglecting the offsetting out-of-pocket savings to consumers, Sanders and Warren have a very tough sell in arguing against giving health consumers a choice. There may not be adequate time for them to educate enough voters and make the ‘sale.’

I thought Biden did well enough to remain a front-runner, though he bristled at some of the criticism directed his way, including Castro’s shots about his memory, which is understandable. My hunch is that Castro’s attack against the former Vice President won’t hurt Biden’s chances much, and might even gain him some sympathy. Biden also did very well in the foreign and trade policy part of the debate.

Castro may indeed have damaged his candidacy with his sharp-edged criticism of Biden. I do wonder how high-turnout senior voters, in particular, will react. On the other hand, Castro showed that he can bring the fight and he could no doubt give Trump a proper blistering.

Sen. Cory Booker was impressive. He seems to be gaining confidence and eloquence with each debate. If he doesn’t win the nomination, he will certainly be on the veep short list. In post-debate comments, Booker defended Julian Castro’s much-criticized attack against Biden, calling Castro’s questioning Biden’s memory a ‘legitimate concern.’ But more instrucrive was Booker’s comment that “I do think that tone and tenor is really important. We can respect [Vice] President Biden and disagree with him.… We shouldn’t do things that at the end of this, when you demonize somebody and create bad blood, it’s hard to unify afterwards.”

Sen. Klobuchar provided a reassuring voice in behalf of Democratic moderates. More than any of the other candidates, she has staked out the political center of the Democratic spectrum. Like Harris, she has a gift for zingers, but bringing a little more vision might serve her well. Even if she doesn’t win, I could see her as a bad-ass Attorney-general.

I thought Sen. Harris made a good comeback in Houston. She may be the most agile debater of the candidates and she has a nimble wit that comes in handy in heated exchanges. She finessed the transition from Medicare for All supporter to public option advocate effectively. Like Warren, she has a talent for distilling the crux of an issue. She is also pretty good at the ‘vision thing.’ I hope she stays in the mix.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg also earned a repeat performance in my view. It wasn’t his best debate, but he continues to bring perceptive observations, including his criticisms of the Democratic debate process, as well as attacks against Trump and the GOP. All Democratic candidates could learn something about how to tell their personal stories from Buttigieg’s remarks in Houston.

If I could cut one candidate from the next presidential debate, it would have to be Andrew Yang, who reportedly supports keeping the Electoral College and has expressed doubts about a federal minimum wage hike. I didn’t much care for his gimmicky and possibly illegal offer: “My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families.” Gross.

3 comments on “Rambling Thoughts on the Houston Debate

  1. Michael on

    Just curious — is there some reporting backing up the claim that Yang supports right-to-work laws? If so, that should be immediately disqualifying in a Dem primary.


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