It felt like we’re witnessing a car crash in slow motion, and as much as you’re frozen by the shocking reality of it, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
Debate night. One and Two. The Democrats, after nearly three years bemoaning their plight in the Trump-driven wilderness, took to the national stage to recapture their collective political sea legs, to show they have more to offer than rhetorical bromides from charismatically clueless carpers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
That turned into a pipe dream, as the debates became a four-hour infomercial for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
From the left, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Bill de Blasio, prescribed experimental therapies promising more risk and, for many, more immediate pain. Soak the rich, sack the system, grow government “huuuuge,” end private health insurance, decriminalize illegal immigration, all delivered with the kind of moral certainty that three years ago sentenced St. Hillary to the annals of political infamy.
From the center or “nearly center,” Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Michael Bennet and others arguing for more conventional change forged in consensus and compromise.
Yet through it all you could feel the rage, the fury, aimed more at what’s wrong with America than what’s right. Through gritted teeth, from Sanders and Warren, to Kirsten Gillibrand and Harris, they offered missives without grace, feelings without charm, a future without a smile.
Predictably and on cue, as if to pass a political litmus test, they aimed their rhetorical guns at one person, Donald Trump, saying he alone is to blame.
Not a nation being torn apart by tribal partisanship, or by social media run amuck, no, it is all because of Donald Trump.
Which begs the question, are they more upset by the president, or with all of us for electing the master apprentice in the first place?
Clearly, the most painful debate moment was reserved for Night Two, when Kamala Harris set out to kayo Joe Biden with a brand of choleric racism she so often condemns.
Yes, it was another spotty debate performance for Barack Obama’s faithful second-in-command, stuck in analog in a digital world, and showing how age ultimately catches up with relevance. But instead of conveying righteous purpose, the viciousness of Harris’ attack unmasked the venom she’s prepared to wield against anyone, Democrat or otherwise, standing in her way.
The media will gush about this, but most of America will feel unnerved by her defense of illegal immigrants and her Sanders-fueled decimation of health care.
After coaching countless debates over four decades, here’s my scorecard:
Winners: Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders, Harris.
Survivors: Biden, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro, de Blasio.
One More Look: Delaney, Bennet, Ryan.
Forget about it: Inslee, Beto, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Yang, Williamson.
In other words, the progressive left has the sensible center on the ropes. And that should frighten every Democrat who fears giving President Trump all the ammunition he’d ever need to make 2020 more a referendum on them, not on himself.
Two contenders who are unlikely to survive this progressive firing squad offered some sage words of warning.
John Delaney, sculpted in the mold of Joe Friday, said Democrats must not make impossible promises, especially ones that take stuff away from people (like private health insurance).
Tim Ryan, who has served Ohio in Congress for 17 years (which, irrationally, he kept repeating as a badge of honor), was nevertheless spot-on in saying Democrats have become too elitist, too coastal, and too divorced from the reality of working families to pretend they still speak for them.
So, let the cable pundits drone on about how Julian Castro beat up an already beaten Beto O’Rourke, or Kamala Harris sucker-punched Biden, or how Mayor de Blasio speaks for normal Joes despite his elitist bootstraps and snobby demeanor.
It doesn’t matter. Americans aren’t buying it anytime soon.
Like him or loathe him, Donald Trump has presided over one of the best economies in decades.
There are more jobs, especially in manufacturing. Growth in wages is at a 10-year high. And despite the incursions of a trade-deceiving China, America remains the best, most open and most admired economic engine in the world.
For Democrats nauseous over the possibility of four more years in the wilderness there’s little — short of a suddenly sour economy — they can do to counter this.
Worse, by going on record to strangle prosperity, endanger health care delivery, and all but condone illegal immigrants who cross the border at will, they’ve turned these debates into a self-inflicted debacle … and their opportunity to win into a long shot.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.