Again, I am a Republican. But given that its election season, I will attempt a DEGREE of objectivity when discussing what I thought about the first Democrat debate and how the candidates performed. Of course, having me write objectively about the Democratic debates is akin to the Pope writing objectively about the merits of birth control. That being said, and in order to maintain my sanity, I reserve the right to leave angry rants in the footnotes, which I recommend NOT reading. However, I will attempt to be even keeled with my thoughts on the debate. Key emphasis on “attempt.”
I’ll start by categorizing my winners and losers.
|Bernie Sanders||Martin O’Malley|
|Hillary Clinton||Jim Webb|
Bernie Sanders: The first thing I read in the news the morning after the debate was “Hillary dominates Bernie!” I’ve got to be honest… I didn’t interpret the end result in the same way. Bernie Sanders may not be as polished of a debater as Hillary, but he came off as MUCH more genuine in his responses. By that, I mean that his answers do not sound like they were determined by a committee attempting to keep up with the latest polling trends. Much of his appeal up to this point has been geared towards the genuineness of his beliefs (however misguided I believe they are) and the fact that many Democrats have tired of what they consider to be the relative moderation of Obama and Hillary1. I won’t follow the bandwagon talking about his support of Hillary’s email problem2, so I believe the strongest part of his night was the consistent emphasis on what defines a Democratic Socialist and appealing to those who aspire towards its ideals3. He also effectively zinged the other candidates on the grass-roots nature of his campaign funding, which surely must appeal to those who object to the Super-PACs that create very convincing campaign ads that I am sure we all pay attention to4.
I realize all was not rosy for Sanders; he did come off as a bit of an incensed old man, but I don’t think that Americans EXPECT or WANT him to have the kind of polish that Hillary is expected to bring. That being said, his performance spoke for itself by the fact that he raised $1.3 million by the morning after the debate. How do you like dem apples?
Hillary Clinton: I’ll admit that Hillary was extremely prepared for almost every question. It was as if her team anticipated every obstacle she would face and prepped her answers accordingly. In some ways, I felt like this was, and continues to be, part of her problem. Her answers, while succinct and ‘zingy’, felt, and will continue to feel, as though they are crafted more to votes than to her actual ideology. I think a perfect example was her response of “”I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.” Oooookkkkk.
This aside, it is obvious that she outperformed expectations given that she was expected to be targeted on all sides. She seemed to recognize the need to address her perceived flip-floppiness, and came out ahead when questioned about it with regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (which I would read more about, but I have an Ambien prescription that is already adequate for putting me to sleep). If she wants to win the Presidency, she will have to continue to be aggressive in explaining the perception that she changes positions too often.
In many ways, I think her opponents let her slide by too easily. For starters, there is the overly referenced defense by Sanders around the Clinton email issue. While I accept that many Democrats don’t care about her email woes, there are still many Americans (not just Republicans) who are NOT sold that she didn’t do anything wrong. By not being seriously prodded by other candidates on the matter just means that the Republicans will get to do it someday, and they will not forget nor be forgiving. If in some bizarro world I was a Hillary advisor, I would recommend that she directly address the issue in future debates.
The email issue is just one example of how she seemed to scoot past scrutiny through the night. All in all, I couldn’t help but feel that the debate was a softball thrown for Hillary’s benefit with no serious challenge on her positions, history, and ability.
Martin O’Malley: Was I being lectured by my priest or by Martin O’Malley? I don’t think this is my bias talking when I say he came off as a little self-righteous; like he had personally passed every major Democrat platform while he was the governor of Maryland. Ok, so he said all the expected buzzwords around wanting to raise the minimum wage, avoiding war, and the merits of communism (ok, maybe not that), but it all sounded very much like he was just a meeker version of Hillary Clinton. Since he is in a do-or-die position, he should have picked out areas that truly differentiate himself from Clinton and had the chutzpah to pick on a few of her negative characteristics. Examples he should have targeted include Clinton’s blah-time as Secretary of State and her Beltway/Wall Street connections.
Yes, he received some plaudits for pointing out how wonderfully civil everyone was in his closing statement, but this has tendency to elicite more “ahhh, shucks” rather than votes. I think O’Malley will continue to chug along the sidelines for a little while, but he missed his big chance to increase his polls.
Jim Webb: As a former Soldier, I wanted to cheer with a resounding “HOAAHHH!” to Webb’s reply about the enemy for which he is most proud. Of course, I could have gone without the bizarre look he gave as he said it, as it looked like his face was saying “Uh oh, these hippies may not quite get why this is awesome.” After his comment, I proceeded to read about his actions in Vietnam, and seriously questioned why the man doesn’t have a Medal of Honor (although a Navy Cross isn’t a bad day’s work). That’s right, you damn hippies! He’s a hero!
Unfortunately, that was the highlight of his night. To most Democratic ears, Jim Webb really should be running on the Republican side of the house. He evokes more of a Lindsey Graham vibe, which I suspect will not garner much positive press from the liberal side of the house. Even I am puzzled why he bothered to become a Democrat given his moderate and conservative views. He comes off as pro-oil/gas/nukes, mainstream on guns, and as an all-American John Wayne-like stud who knows how to kick some ass! And in case you are wondering, yes, I am insinuating that these John Wayne types have tendency to swing to the conservative side of the political spectrum. That being said, it is doubtful that Webb will bump up his numbers on account of the debate (except on the Republican polls), and I fail to see how his campaign can continue in any meaningful way.
As an aside, Jim Webb was instrumental in writing and passing the Post 9-11 GI Bill, which happened to pay for my graduate school. Thanks Jim!
Lincoln Chaffee: I don’t think there is much to say here. I am pretty certain that the empty podium kept on standby for Joe Biden had more effective commentary than Lincoln Chaffee. I don’t particularly feel like kicking him while he is already down.
Ex Mea Sententia:
All in all, if the Democrats want a well vetted candidate, they need to step up their debate game and really try to punch holes in their opposing candidates while on the podium. I consider the primaries as Spring Training (baseball reference to all zero of my European readers), and if you don’t work out the kinks now, you won’t have time to work them out in the regular season. I also could not help but think that it is interesting that the Democrats can’t put together more REAL candidates on stage aside from Hillary and Bernie. I don’t know if this is a reflection of a lack of bench-depth in their leadership, or if everyone is generally content with the knowledge that Hillary is likely to win the nomination. I am hardly saying that the massive Republican field is a better solution, but at least it does give some more optionality to a crusty ol’ Republican like myself.
Until next time… Go see “The Martian.” It’s a great film!
- I don’t actually think that Obama is a moderate. And Hillary could be a right-wing conservative if she thought it would help her poll numbers.
- For the record, this is a BIG FRICKIN’ DEAL to anybody who has had a security clearance before.
- Democratic Socialism Definition – If someone has money, take it away, and let a bunch of nitwits spend it for you.
- Let’s remember what we have learned from Scott Walker; Super PACs don’t win elections.