The Democratic carnival lights up
The Democratic presidential primary debate was like an amusement park ride that begins with a slow and creaky uphill climb, then careens at high speeds while veering left and right until it comes to a fairly numbing end.
First we witnessed a hotly debated half hour of substance on the finer points of health care policy, including the memorable line from John Delaney, “It is in Section 1200, I think.” We heard about “Medicare for All” from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, “Medicare for America” from Beto O’Rourke, and “Medicare For All Who Want It” from Pete Buttigieg.
Here is a novel idea for the Democratic National Convention platform committee. Take the best elements of the platforms of each candidate and mash them into one munificent “Medicare For all Americans Who Want It Or Any Americans Who Want Some Of It Or Most Americans Who Really Are Not Quite Sure What They Want So We Will See” policy plan.
The severe time limits imposed by CNN almost required candidates to skip every other word before being cut off with a brisk “thank you.” There were some polished sound bytes and deeply considered ideas. The most authentic moment in the debate was Tim Ryan telling Sanders, “You don’t have to yell, Bernie.” Also, did Steve Bullock not learn from Jimmy Carter never to use the word “proliferation” in a debate? Round two is tonight, and when it is all over, this is what the field of candidates will look like.
Group One: The last gaspers
For the lesser known candidates polling in the low single digits, it is “third and long” in football parlance. They have one goal to qualify for the next debate in Houston in September. That requires polling above 2 percent in four recognized polls and having at least 130,000 donors. Ryan, Delaney, Bullock, and John Hickenlooper at least received the attention they need to make a case to supporters. Tonight, it is up to Michael Bennett, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, and Bill de Blasio to secure spots in the next round during the debate tonight.
Group Two: Battle for the left
Sanders and Warren, two progressive senators from New England with generally aligned voting records, had to create a contrast in the debate last night. Both want “Medicare for All” and higher taxes for, evidently, former businessman Delaney and his fellow rich Americans. One is a hard progressive “Democratic socialist” the other a hard progressive “capitalist to my bones.” If there was any daylight between them, it was blotted by the multitude of arrows aimed in their direction by their moderate rivals.
Group Three: Eyes on Biden
The candidate beating President Trump by the widest margins in all the polls has to beat the narrative from his opponents that he is too old to beat Donald Trump. Next month will test the stamina and treasuries of the candidates. It will wilt some campaigns and energize others. The carnival then moves to Houston, home to former Enron and National Museum of Funeral History, where the parade of candidates fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.