I know, it happened on Wednesday, not Friday, but the entire “Black Friday” sale thing has gotten out of hand so why not use it in the context of politics? If you perused any analysis or predictions heading into Wednesday night’s debate, you would have expected Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be carved and served up on a platter. After all, recent polling shows him surging in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, surely his opponents will be out to knock him down a bit or bring up parts of his record that voters may not be acquainted with. Instead, there was none of that, save Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s digs at Buttigieg’s foreign policy experience, but nothing major that stuck or made any scoring blows.
Instead, much to the credit of the moderators attempting to keep the focus on President Trump and Republicans, the ten Democrats on stage sounded like they were, by and large, all part of the same political party. Yes, there was Sen. Kamala Harris practically telling Tulsi Gabbard that she didn’t belong on the stage, a moment which could have turned into a more intense discussion, but quickly diminished as the moderators moved on.
In some reports, it’s being called the “most polite debate yet” when compared to several of the previous outings:
Democratic White House contenders united in condemning Republican President Donald Trump and supporting the inquiry into his impeachment at a debate on Wednesday, but largely backed away from the attacks that marked their earlier encounters.
During the fifth debate in the Democratic race to pick a challenger to Trump in the November 2020 election, candidates expressed differences on details of healthcare and tax policy but kept their disagreements polite.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the progressive who has pushed ambitious plans to tax wealth and create a government-run healthcare plan, and Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has been rising the polls, escaped what had been expected to be sustained attacks from their rivals.
Buttigieg defended his relative lack of experience, saying it was not traditional establishment Washington experience but “the right experience to take on Donald Trump.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar agreed he deserved his spot on the debate stage, but she said there was a double standard when it came to women candidates.
“Otherwise we could play a game called name your favorite woman president,” Klobuchar said, adding: “If you think a woman can’t beat Trump, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi does it every day.”
The candidates repeatedly blasted Trump and said the president’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender, were an example of the administration’s corruption.
The candidates, with the help of moderators, to be sure, stayed on message against the President rather than spending a lot of attacking each other.
Perhaps the most cringeworthy moment once again came from former vice president Joe Biden who stumbled a bit during answers on race and gender issues:
Still, though, other candidates on stage sort of laughed it off, even Sen. Kamala Harris, a historical foe of Biden’s in past debates shook her head and moved on. The analysis of MSNBC commentators after the debate also helped Biden smooth over the rough edges by declaring that his “heart is in the right place,” and “viewers knew what he meant.” By that measure, Biden had a fine night accounting for his expected level of clumsiness with his words.
Don’t get me wrong, there were disagreements, of course, but you can watch the full debate video and see that most of the time, the discussions were civil and nobody’s record was impugned to the point of insult. You can also read the transcript if you’d prefer.
The Washington Post highlighted, perhaps, the most pressing discussion within the context of the debate venue of Georgia, a state with a large African-American population. It’s true that Pete Buttigieg is surging in other states, but he’s been fairly locked out in neighboring South Carolina thanks to African-American voters:
“For too long candidates, I think, have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “They show up when it’s close to election time, show up at a black church.”
She urged the party to do more to rebuild the Obama coalition.
“I completely agree,” Buttigieg said. “I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters who don’t know me.”
Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) criticized former vice president Joe Biden in blunt terms, attempting to peel away the black voters who have been the backbone of Biden’s support.
“Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried,” Booker said. “I have a lot of respect for the vice president … But this week I heard him literally say that ‘I don’t think we should legalize marijuana.”
Looking toward Biden, Booker said, “I thought you might have been high when you said it.”
Reading that exchange after the fact, with Booker insulting Biden saying he “might have been high” when saying he didn’t think marijuana should be decriminalized, you’d think it was more heated than it was. This was the moment that produced Biden’s gaffe (see video above):
“I come out of the black community in terms of my support,” Biden said. “They know me.”
Biden also claimed to have the support of “the only black African American woman had ever been elected to the United States Senate.” It was an apparent reference to an endorsement from former senator Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.), but disregarded Harris — who, onstage, laughed and shrugged.
Harris could have shot back and criticized Biden for ignoring the African-American Senator standing on stage next to him, perhaps in reference to his memory or age, but she laughed and moved on in a way that left the night largely civil.
In short, this was the debate that the Democratic primary needed. The only problem is that the ratings for this debate will probably be down from prior events. The impeachment hearings during the day went late into the evening and cut off much of the debate pre-show and lead up. I haven’t seen the numbers yet to know how much of a rating loss this debate took over the prior debate, but being locked to a cable channel late in November doesn’t bode well for competing against the plethora of other entertainment options.
The next Democratic Debate is set for Thursday, December 19, live from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.