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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

Trump v. Democrats: Campaign 2020 Now in Full Swing – “Sunday Political Brunch” - June 23, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It’s now “official,” which is what we’ve all known for about two-and-a-half years. President Trump has declared his candidacy for a second term. Many
Democrats are predicting a blood-bath victory, but I say not so fast. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Location, Location, Location!” – The old real estate mantra holds true in politics as well. Location is critical. So where did President Trump choose to kick off his reelection bid? Why, Orlando, Florida. This was wise. Florida is truly five-states-in-one. Trust me, I’ve lived and worked there on-and-off for over thirty years. South Florida is a Democratic haven. The Jacksonville-Gainesville-Tallahassee corridor is very liberal, while the panhandle is quite conservative. The Daytona-Orlando-Tampa corridor is the moderate-to-conservative swing belt, of this swing state. If you win here, you win the state. Trump’s kick-off rally in Orlando was a smart choice. The same holds true for Democrats picking Milwaukee for their 2020 Convention, and the Republicans selecting Charlotte. You’ve got to go where you need to win!

“The Magnificent Seven?” – I love polls; I hate polls. They are over-rated, and often give us a very jaundiced view – one snapshot-in-time – of the electoral mood, which in no way is indicative of the end result. That said, as I look at the latest composite poll from Real Clear Politics, I see only seven viable Democratic candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden 32 percent; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont 15 percent; Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts 12 percent; Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) South Bend, Indiana 7 percent; Senator Kamala Harris (D) California 7 percent; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) Texas 4 percent ; and Senator Cory Booker (D) New Jersey 2.3 percent. The rest are buried in the weeds.

“What Have You Done for Me Lately?” – Politics is about performance. It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” business. The surging economy and markets are a bonus for Trump, but the 2020 election is still 18 months away. President George H. W. Bush was riding high in June 1991, but the economy tanked into recession – briefly - by the end of the year. While the economic downturn was relatively short and mild, it created a lot of anxiety and uncertainly and Bush lost to Bill Clinton.

“Here Come the Debates” – I’ve said this before. The Democratic nominee will not get to the main stage just by attacking President Trump. If he or she wants to be the Democratic nominee, the candidate will need to also attack other Democrats in the field. That’s why so many of the younger Democrats have criticized elder statesman Joe Biden for his comments about being able to work with, and get along with, two segregationist senators in his early Senate years. While what he said is true, critics found the statements insensitive, out of touch, and relics from a bygone era. I bet he gets hammered on it again in this week’s two Democratic debates in Miami.

“The Trump-Iran Factor” – The stand-off this week between Iran and the United States is one of those critical test moments in a presidency. It’s critical from a public policy standpoint (the response), but it’s also critical from a political standpoint (it’s role in the 2020 election). It’s a unique moment for any president, because he stands naked and alone at the decision-making podium. He can’t blame Congress, he can’t blame political foes, and he can’t blame previous presidents. In a crisis, the duty falls squarely on the shoulders of the president. The last U.S.-Iran crisis in 1979-80 was a watershed moment for President Jimmy Carter, who ultimately failed winning reelection.

“The Impact of Trump’s Options” – This was clearly one of the most fascinating moments in the Trump presidency. While many anticipated a tough show of force with a quick military retaliation, Trump stopped the mission ten minutes short of execution. I believe there are three possible explanations: 1) he flinched under pressure and relented; 2) he’s true to his word, and really was concerned about the proportionality in the response where zero died on one side, and 150 could die on the other side. I like option 3), that this was a Trump “Art of the Deal” moment where he purposefully and intentionally aimed to knock his enemy off balance. Was he trying to provoke Iran, being an unexpected “peacemaker?” My gut says scenario 3 was the plan. We’ll see!

“Trump 2.0” – To underscore my hypothesis from above, I submit “Exhibit B,” which was Trump’s reversal on Saturday’s promised ICE raids around the nation. The President said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would round up and start deportation proceedings against thousands of people who are in the U.S. illegally. Like the Iran strike, he pulled the threat at the eleventh hour. “At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution…” Trump said in tweet.

“What’s the Deal?” – Is President Trump trying to be like former President George H.W. Bush, who tried to appeal to, and inspire “a kinder, gentler nation?” Look, up until now, Trump has been the proverbial “bull in the China shop” on both Congressional relations and international diplomacy. He’s not known to have a softer side. Is he growing into the job and realizing he must share power, or is he setting a trap for opponents if they accomplish nothing, even though he extended an olive branch. A more conciliatory and inclusive presidency might boost his reelection bid, or will the public just view it as more of his theatrics? Stayed tuned as 2020 is shaping up to be fascinating year.

Have you made a choice for 2020 yet among the 24 Democrats and two Republicans who have announced so far? If so, tell us who you picked and why, by clicking the comment button.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: WhiteHouse.gov

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