Blog Posts, Op-Eds, Presidential Debates, Presidential Elections

The 10th Democratic Presidential Primary Debate: “It was Exhausting”

Published in Politico Magazine, 02/26/2020 01:41 AM EST

By, Michelle D. Bernard

In the wake of Sanders’ decisive victory in Nevada with a broad coalition that included the largest number of nonwhite voters in the state, I could see why so many “feel the Bern.” I saw why so many Americans of every race, ethnicity, sex, gender and religion support Sanders’ bid for the presidency. I saw a man who appears to understand the fears, hopes and dreams of all Americans in a way that we have not seen since Barack Obama left office.

Then, I watched Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

What a mess.

It was exhausting. At times, I felt as if I was watching a team of 5-year-old kids peacocking for attention. They raised their hands incessantly, talked over and interrupted one another frequently, and ignored the questions they were asked to discuss whatever they felt like discussing. Bloomberg even delivered an incredibly bizarre joke about the Naked Cowboy that no one outside New York could have comprehended.

It was impossible for any of the candidates to even begin to pretend to look presidential in an atmosphere so focused on pummeling one another at any cost.

So, in this very unpresidential presidential debate, the winners were Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Sanders, Steyer and Warren. The losers were Biden, Klobuchar and, quite possibly, the Democratic Party.

On issues of racial and economic justice, Steyer really stood out. His statements on these issues gave him standing with the African American community that he probably hasn’t enjoyed to date. For the first time over the many weeks of debates, he made us want to listen to and believe in him.

As always, Warren was superior on issues of gender, racial and economic justice. However, Tuesday’s attack on Bloomberg didn’t seem to resonate with the audience and may have caused her campaign more harm than good. Bloomberg does not appear to be a Harvey Weinstein, and the allegation made against him and voiced in the debate will inevitably be investigated. If it proves to be inaccurate, Warren’s attack on Bloomberg may hurt her campaign and the #MeToo movement. If it turns out to be accurate, Bloomberg will be out of the race.

Bloomberg’s discussion about his experience with charter schools in New York was a beautiful symphony for the ears of the thousands of people of color who are advocates of school choice. His work in creating Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are huge feathers in his cap, but his ability to get things done may not be enough for him to dispel the myth that he is a Republican in Democratic clothing.

Biden and Klobuchar were fine, but fine isn’t good enough. They just didn’t rise to a level that seems capable of putting together a coalition close to anything that will be needed to win the 2020 election. If Biden or Klobuchar loses South Carolina, their campaigns will effectively be taken off life support.

The Democratic Party has changed drastically before our very eyes. The caucuses in Nevada proved that a large swath of Democrats of every demographic believe in and want all of the things that Sanders and Warren are promising. The phrase “democratic socialist” doesn’t frighten many of them. However, no matter how boring he was in demeanor, Bloomberg was correct when he declared that the country just can’t afford many of the things that are being promised. Most Americans must know that a wealth tax will not propel a Democrat into the White House; that there will never be government-mandated free tuition for public colleges and universities; and that capitalism is as American as apple pie.

Michelle Bernard is a political analyst, lawyer, author and president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.

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