by Jeffery Rendall
“This is weird,” I said to myself as the eleventh 2020 Democrat presidential primary debate commenced in the isolated (quarantined?) CNN studio in Washington, DC on Sunday night. Originally conceived by the DNC as a means to narrow down the remnants of the party field ahead of the next round of consequential primaries, events and circumstances instead turned the evening into an even slower-moving snooze-fest between two long-past-prime rivals going through the motions one final time before people stop tuning in and impatiently wait for the summer political fireworks to commence.
The debate was originally scheduled to be held in Arizona, too. So much for the best laid plans. Instead it looked like two guys speaking inside a giant can of tuna. They were six feet (or more) apart, appropriate social distancing for the day, but looked odd. Did one of them forget their breath mints?
Whereas the infamous COVID-19 coronavirus wasn’t even on Americans’ radar screens barely over a month ago, now it seems as though it’s the only thing the news people — and the Democrat candidates — want to talk about. Anything to get off the subject of their hollow platforms. Remember how the talkers couldn’t stop obsessing over impeachment, and Nancy Pelosi ripped up President Donald Trump’s state of the union speech just six weeks ago? All that stuff is so yesterday. Where’s Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler these days? Democrats have a much newer and all-engrossing “crisis” to dwell on, however, and race frontrunner Joe Biden and party beauty pageant first runner-up Bernie Sanders didn’t miss an opportunity to savage the current administration’s response to the day’s challenges.
Of course their gripes were the standard, boilerplate Democrat nonsense…Trump’s travel ban was xenophobic, his administration had gotten rid of testing (though the change occurred under the Obama administration), the CDC’s budget was cut (another lie), they weren’t prepared for the magnitude of the threat, the “national crisis”… they were slow to react, the president didn’t take it seriously… called it a “hoax”… blah blah blah. They might as well let “Chucky” Schumer write their talking points and deliver them, too.
Sanders said, “When you get sick, you go to the doc-ta.” What a brilliant decision! The two of them looked like a couple elected representatives from the nursing home board!
Perhaps because it was just two candidates and the event took place in a studio rather than a college auditorium stage (or other suitably voluminous venue), the program felt a lot like a glorified Sunday morning news show postponed because of the coronavirus until 8 o’clock eastern time. As would be expected the space was eerily silent for the discussion. Without an audience the evening had the aura of two retired political science professors mumbling to themselves in a ceremonial return to the faculty lounge, only with more teeth gritting (for Biden) and hand gestures (for Bernie) than would be present between academics.
Maybe it would’ve been more enticing to conduct the questioning in a 24-hour restaurant like IHOP or Denny’s. Would you like more coffee, mister? You look sleepy! Want a donut?
I’m starting to see why all the major sports leagues cancelled or postponed their seasons without the benefit of spectators watching though. The crowd mentality is part of the excitement of these types of things — and just having the candidates themselves attend this duel-in-the-swamp was rather mundane. These guys want to be president? Can you imagine Joe Biden giving press briefings for four years? Will his eye fill with blood again?
From the outset it was evident Biden didn’t quite know what to make of his newfound status as presumptive nominee (“I don’t want to get into the politics here.” … “I would call out the military to combat the coronavirus!”). He coughed before answering the first question! What was his strategy? Should he attack Sanders to finish him off in the race or attempt to build bridges with the “Bernie bros”? Not say anything? Ask for a bathroom break? Seek clarification on the rules? How long until this is over? Can’t I have someone stand by me and tell me what and what not to say?
Joe also promised to pick a woman for his running mate, ending the speculation months in advance. Anyone shocked?
Biden was clearly playing to the lowest common denominator the whole evening. As the practically ordained Democrat nominee there wasn’t much he could gain by taking part in this forum yet he also couldn’t sit it out either. Imagine if Joe didn’t show up for this — speculation would run rampant as to the reasons. Was his staff consciously keeping him away so he wouldn’t commit another verbal catastrophe? Or was his brain in self-quarantine panic over the coronavirus? Or even more likely, was he simply afraid of Bernie?
Sanders, on the other hand, had little to lose by taking on Biden in a one-on-one format. There was always the possibility — likelihood — that Biden would say something stupid enough that Democrat voters in Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Florida would think twice about reaffirming the establishment’s choice in the race tomorrow. But then again, Biden blubbers all the time and it hasn’t had much effect on the primaries on the last two Tuesdays.
With pretty much everything involving large scale gatherings being cancelled from coast to coast these days, perhaps the Democrat party would earn additional goodwill by simply calling off the remainder of its primaries and declaring Biden the winner as a “precaution” against further spread of the coronavirus. Lord knows the 77-year-old Grampa Joe and the 78-year-old Sanders are right smack in the middle of the highest-risk categories (both with obvious health considerations, too). I’m surprised they were able to perform on Sunday night without teams of medical professionals trailing behind and in front of them sanitizing everything they touched — or might come in contact with.
Naturally there was no pre-debate hand shaking. But there was an elbow bump! Personal space was observed. Seeing as it’s the Democrats, blowing kisses might’ve been apropos, but between two old white guys?
Besides the odd two-man, no audience setting, the biggest departure from the previous debates was the absence of demographic and gender diversity. It’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren were (technically) still in the race and participating with full force.
With all the nationwide hysteria over the coronavirus of late, people have already forgotten that the previous Democrat debate was a no-holds-barred shouting match with most of the contestants taking open aim at “The Bern” figuring he needed to be knocked off his pedestal if they were to have a chance at staying in the field. Whatever was the strategy, it seemed to work — and Biden went from comatose and nearly out to amassing an insurmountable lead in the party.
The tone on Sunday night was much more subdued than last month in Vegas and South Carolina. Sanders was his usual crusty socialism-defending self, but there was a noticeable departure from the way he approached the other debates. Instead of getting out front and letting his “revolution” message do the talking, Bernie kind of held back and tried to lay the groundwork for another 2016-like capitulation that might satisfy his rabid followers and pacify the party establishment at the same time. Without a realistic possibility of him being the delegate frontrunner going into the party convention (assuming it won’t be scuttled over virus fears), Sanders seems okay now with the notion that a nominee could lead and have the party superdelegates choose someone else on the second ballot.
Sanders’ path to success has become so slim it’s barely even discernible any longer. Sure, it’s possible Democrat voters might abandon Biden for him. They made a wholesale switch just a couple weeks ago, right? But Bernie’s only chance at survival now rests with holding Biden short of the delegates necessary to win on the first ballot and then hope against hope that something intervenes to make his candidacy so important to the Democrats’ fortunes that the elites wouldn’t possibly deny him.
Like what? Something akin to a physically debilitating injury (or other circumstance) to Biden that would all-but take the leader out of the race might do it. But even then, the party poohbahs would probably tap Hillary Clinton to fill the void as a “savior” or “White Knight” candidate.
Sanders used the coronavirus as the basis for another call for government control of everything — also recognized as socialism. The Green Mountain State senator appeared energized from the notion that Wall Street was struggling to deal with the day-to-day evolution of events. Like trillions in wealth disappearing within a matter of minutes is a good thing. Even Biden seemed pleased that the economy is sputtering (temporarily), which he reasoned provides him an opening vis-à-vis Trump.
Despite the overwhelming presence of the coronavirus, both contenders rehashed for the umpteenth time their various plans for the country should they ever be elected president. Of course, Congress would never pass most of this stuff. Talk about pie in the sky. Healthcare took the next largest slice of attention and both Biden and Sanders bandied back-and-forth about how providing universal coverage was more important than ever now, since sick people need the government to take care of them and everyone would die without a bureaucrat sending them a check, etc.
They didn’t couch it in so many words, but that’s the essence of the argument. On Friday President Trump took pains to harness the power of the entrepreneurial private sector to help combat the spread of coronavirus, but clearly if the Democrats take over it’ll be a different emphasis. In all of this, it would only make sense that the same drug companies that Democrats seem to hate so much would be critical to manufacturing and then dispersing the vaccines or medicines to treat the populace.
If Democrats place shackles on these companies, what happens then?
One would think with all the entire world now refocused on a pandemic that attention might turn away from “climate change” and bashing the energy industry, yet the last two Democrats weren’t about to let the subject lie. It’s curious how neither described the issue as “the existential threat of our times” as they have in the not-so-distant past. It’s hard to get people worked up over the prospect of a warmed earth in twenty years when they’re worried about how they’re going to make ends meet and survive twenty more weeks. Or less.
Citizens don’t care much about windmills and solar panels these days. But it’s nice to have gas prices hovering around two bucks. (Note: I paid $1.79 a gallon on Saturday.)
Was there a winner or loser on Sunday night? If there’d been a spin room after the final words, maybe Bernie Sanders would’ve received a bit more consideration on this one since he’s more coherent and has a better sense of humor than bumbling dopey Joe Biden. And he believes what he’s saying even if it doesn’t make any sense to the rest of us. Any benefit Sanders gets from this debate will either be nonexistent or short-lived, however, as there aren’t enough socialism-friendly states left to allow him to overcome Biden’s sizeable lead in delegates.
For better or worse, the Democrat race is over… and again, this was likely the final 2020 candidates’ debate. In this sense, the American public was the “winner.” The next time we see Joe Biden on the debate stage, he’ll be opposite President Donald Trump. Anyone (besides the media) think Biden will come across as the better man then?
Watch the full debate on CNN here.
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Jeffery Rendall is a senior columnist at ConservativeHQ.