Democrats, going after each other is a bad strategy

Democrats, going after each other is a bad strategy
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Last week was Shark Week on TV — and CNN played along buy goading the Democratic presidential pretenders in the 2020 race into jumping the shark to attack the real contenders in the Showdown in Motown.

Former Maryland Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates MORE took the bait and called out Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump MORE (D-Mass.) for committing “political suicide” with their support of Medicare for All. If Delaney didn’t exist, CNN would have needed to invent him to add drama and to go after Warren and Sanders. Journalist H.L. Mencken once said reporters are fight promoters and CNN proved him right.

The debate format was designed to create more heat than light. Moderators prioritized Democratic reaction to GOP talking points over giving the hopefuls the time to explain their positions on complex public policy issues.

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This is no way to run a railroad much less a presidential debate unless you want a train wreck. Train wrecks create casualties and if it bleeds, it leads. But constricted conversations on complex problems cheat the voters and play right into President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE’s penchant for attack politics.

It’s impossible to have thoughtful discussion on complicated issue like health care with time limits and 10 candidates on the same stage at the same time. There’s got to be a better way. There may be more time for serious policy discussions during Round Three in September when there fewer candidates cluttering up the stage. We can only hope.

The initial public opinion indicates the second round of debates and the media coverage of the festivities did not have the profound impact on the polls that the first round in Miami did. That may have been because the ratings for this set of debates were much lower than the first round in Miami a month ago.

We still have four Democratic hopefuls in double digits with the other candidates on the outside looking in.  A post-debate Morning Consult national survey has former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat representing Pennsylvania district Trump carried plans to vote to impeach  MORE at 32 percent, Sanders at 18 percent, Warren at 15 percent and California Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE at 10 percent.

Biden took a bruising

Biden did do better than he did during the first round. He was beaten like a rented mule by the other debaters, but he was better prepared to respond this time. He has managed to recover some of the support he lost after Harris beat him up a month ago.

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But the attacks did bloody and bruise him and he may be battered beyond belief and relief after 10 more rounds of these fights. His age betrayed him as he fumbled his campaign's text address and he did not respond effectively to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE's (D-N.Y.) attack on his op-ed on the danger of women working outside of the home. 

Much has been made of the ideological divisions revealed in the debate, but the nomination battle is as much generational as it is ideological. Biden is on the wrong end of the generation gap.

Sanders set the policy debate

Both night’s debates were dominated by the health care discussion and that’s the big contribution Sanders has made to the Democratic Party and the nation.

But Democrats would be better served attacking Trump and the GOP for their failure to address the health care crisis than eating their own.

Last November, dissatisfaction with Trump and disgust over the health care status quo were the biggest reasons for the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. Two out of every five midterm voters (41 percent) indicated that health care was their biggest electoral priority. Immigration was No. 2 at only 23 percent. Voters with health care as their priority voted Democratic by a three-to-one margin (75 percent to 23 percent).

Trump and the GOP have nothing to sell but snake oil while the Democratic presidential candidates have creatively addressed the health care crisis facing American working families. Democrats run the risk of losing that advantage if they continue to trash each other’s health care proposals. 

Warren at the center of attention 

She commanded the stage and the debate revolved around her like it did in the first round. The world revolves around the president of the United States and it’s easy to imagine her directing traffic from the Oval Office.

Warren speaks with passion without screaming. She always splices her story and the story of real people into her policy discussions. Sanders never modulates his voice. He’s always seems to be yelling. That doesn’t help him reach primary voters who want to be persuaded not scolded.

Harris under fire

Turn-about is fair play. Harris threw the blood into the water in round one when she attacked Biden for his opposition to court ordered busing. This time the California senator came under fire from Hawaii Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardDemocrats set early state primary debates for 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Gabbard news items generating more social interactions than other 2020 Democrats: study MORE. Gabbard went after Harris’ record as a prosecutor in California as harshly as Harris went after Biden in Miami.

The difference is that Gabbard’s efforts went unrewarded, while Harris assault against Biden elevated her in the polls. The Gabbard thrust may have dinged Harris but it did not advance her effort if the Morning Consult poll is any indication.

Circle the wagons 

Democratic presidential hopefuls, candidates who criticize former President Obama do so at their own peril. The former commander in chief is more popular than any of the current contenders.

The Democratic nominee, whoever it is will have, Obama as their virtual running mate next fall, whether they like it or not. If you beat up Obama this year, the eventual nominee pays the price next year

Wednesday night, there was as much time criticism of the former president as there was the current White House occupant. There also was more criticism of the current Democratic frontrunners than there was of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump McConnell says he'll be in 'total coordination' with White House on impeachment trial strategy MORE (R-Ky.).

Democrats must decide whether to circle the wagons or form a circular fire squad. If Democrats don’t hang together now, they hang separately during Trump’s second term.

Sanders and Warren deserve credit for forming a united front against the Democrats who attacked them Tuesday night. The Democratic party could use more comity and less conflict.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.