The Democrat Presidential Debates Free-For-All - "The Sunday Political Brunch" June 30, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It was a fascinating two nights, watching 20 Democratic candidates for president debating on stage in Miami. With that many candidates, you need sharp elbows to try to stand out from the crowd. Some candidates clearly defined differences. There were lots of highlights, so let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Tough Tulsi” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) Hawaii, is one of the few candidates with military experience and she showcased it well. “I enlisted in the rmy National Guard after the Al Qaida terror attacks on 9/11 so I could go after those who had attacked us on that day. I still serve as a major. I served over 16 years, deployed twice to the Middle East.” Later saying of a potential U.S. – Iran War she says, “This would turn out to be a regional war,” suggesting it would be longer and more dangerous that the Iraq War. Gabbard was matter-of-fact, smooth, measured and authoritative in her delivery.

“Bilingual Beto” – Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is fluent in both Spanish and English and spoke in both often. The only Latino in the race, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, did not speak Spanish until the end of the debate. Sen. Cory Booker spoke brief Spanish early on. Look, the nominee is going to need to cobble together a broad patchwork of constituencies to win in the primary season and in November. O’Rourke was wise to showcase his bilingual skills.

“Warren Warning” – I’ll wait for the summary to come out, but it seemed to me that Sen. Elizabeth Warren got to speak most often, including rebuttals to other candidates. NBC kept promising the public that the debate would be fair, and it would try to get equal time to candidates (an undeliverable promise in the ten-candidate chaos), but I think she got favoritism. I suspect that’s because she’s one of the frontrunners in the polls. And no, don’t say it’s a sexist thing, because one of the people I think was cheated most on time was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D)Minnesota. Moderators, I want to hear more from everyone, not just the poll leaders. I’ll say this though, Warren was one of the most passionate and angry debaters. That can fire up her base!

“Cory’s Corner” – Again, I think it’s so critical for candidates to make themselves stand out and highlight their differences. Sen. Cory Booker (D) New Jersey may have done this the best. Booker lives in a tough, urban neighborhood in New Jersey. “I hear gunshots in my neighborhood. I think I'm the only one -- I hope I'm the only one on this panel here that had seven people shot in their neighborhood just last week. Someone I knew, Shahad Smith, was killed with an assault rifle at the top of my block last year.” Booker also advocated having a license to buy and possess a firearm, perhaps the toughest gun control proposal.

“Delaney’s Dilemma” – Many of the Democrats support the populist notion, “Medicare for All.” It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon especially if you have sub-standard or no health care. Former Rep. John Delaney (D) Maryland. was one of the most passionate advocates for keeping private health insurance, along with publicly subsidized options. Delaney, who is a health care entrepreneur said, “If you go to every hospital in this country and you ask them one question, which is how would it have been for you last year if every one of your bills were paid at the Medicare rate? Every single hospital administrator said they would close.”

“Heroine Harris” – About 20-minutes into the debate, there was a verbal battle royale that wouldn’t stop. Senator Kamala Harris interrupted, “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we are going to put food on their table.” It may have been the best single, spontaneous line of the second night of debate. It had the most applause by far.

A ‘Berning’ Issue” – Was Senator Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont really the only one who openly admitted he’d raise taxes on the middle-class? I believe he was (although the moderators really didn’t try to pin anyone else down on this). Anyway, Sanders said his Medicare-for-all plan would eliminate most expenses and government would pay for all of this through taxes on Wall Street. But the bottom line, according to Sanders was, “People who have health care under Medicare for all will have no premiums, no deductibles, no co-payments, no out-of-pocket expenses. Yes,they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.”

“Hey, Hickenlooper!” – Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Colorado was the most vocal about the Democrats veering too close to having the government solve all problems and seemingly provide most critical services. He thinks the opposition will pummel that strategy. “Well, I think that the bottom line is, if we don't clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists,” Hickenlooper said. “You can't expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many of whom don't want to give it up,” he added.

“The Ying of Yang” - Business entrepreneur Andrew Yang proposed perhaps the most unique idea of the night. He would pay everyone in America $1,000 a month to do with what they pleased. It would be funded by a value added tax like the one levied in many European countries. It will fund other things as well, “which would speed us up on climate change, because if you get the boot off of people's throats, they'll focus on climate change much more clearly,” said Yang.

“Biden Boasting” – The former vice president probably made a lot of points by invoking President Obama’s name often. It buffered some of the harsh criticism, especially from Sen. Kamala Harris, that Biden was racially insensitive in talking about his work with two segregationist colleagues in Biden’s early Senate days in the 70s. Biden loudly, and firmly defended his civil rights record. “It's a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I did not praise racists. That is not true, number one. Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I'm happy to do that,” said Biden, a long-time Voting Rights Act supporter.”

“The Bottom Line” – As much as MSNBC claimed neutrality and equal treatment, you could tell by who got the most questions and airtime, that the network was trying to pick winners and losers. The top five candidates in the polls, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris and Buttigieg, probably did no harm. And other than a few bright spots, most of the lower tier candidates missed making any breakout moments. Who will drop out first? This race will have a tough time sustaining 24 candidates for the long-term.

Mark Curtis Ed.D. is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He’s a National Contributing Writer for the White House Patch on www.Patch.com.

© 2019 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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