Cross-talk, bad questions and yelling defined the 10th Democratic debate.
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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
It’s another special debate edition — that means today’s format is a bit different than the usual Tangle newsletter. But it was the 10th debate and the last one before Super Tuesday, which could determine the election anyway — so this may be the last debate edition of the primary!
Reader calls B.S.
On Monday, I took aim at Axios for publishing a Mike Bloomberg ad in the middle of their politics newsletter. And I pledged to never do that in Tangle. A reader wrote in and said, “I call bullsh*t. If Bloomberg offered you a million bucks to run that exact ad in tomorrow’s Tangle, would you do it?” I have to admit I flushed a bit when I saw the question. A million dollars? That’d pay for my upcoming wedding, a house, my fiance’s tuition, my kids’ college tuition, I could pay myself a salary for five years and work Tangle wherever I wanted. And still invest some money. So my answer? Yes. I think I would. But, in my defense, I’m just one guy who makes very little money! If I could run one ad to fund Tangle for a few years the cost-benefit analysis of running ads would change. I’m not a publication with millions in revenue like Axios, and I’d probably try to right the ship by telling my readers how much money I got, what I was going to do with it and spend the rest of the newsletter trashing Bloomberg for buying the election. But to that reader: you’re right. Everyone talks a big game until the money is in front of them, and I’m not sure I could refuse a lifechanging offer of a sum like that. A successful B.S. call on your part — though my plan remains to keep Tangle independent and ad-free forever. (That just means one day some of you might have to pay for it!)
P.S. here was the Bloomberg ad in Axios that rubbed me the wrong way:
Last night, I did something new. Instead of watching the debate with pen and paper in hand, computer and Twitter open, taking notes and rewinding things people said… I just watched it. I tried to take it in as a regular voter and then, when it was all finished, jotted down my notes and impressions. This morning, I woke up and — before looking at Twitter or reading all the news about the debate — I wrote down my thoughts on each candidate. I’m going to dive into them here and then will get to what other folks saw from last night.
First, on the whole, I’ll just say it seemed like the moderators lost control. The night was filled with crosstalk and about 25% of the debate was totally unintelligible because people were shouting over each other, raising their hands or complaining about speaking time. It also seemed like the least favorable crowd for Bernie of any debate yet and the most favorable for Joe Biden. The latter makes sense, given that Biden is leading in the polls in South Carolina and has a long history in South Carolina politics. As for the candidates…
Bernie Sanders seemed to be on the defensive more than he has at any time during the election. That was expected, as he’s the clear frontrunner. He faced sharp questions about how he’s going to pay for his biggest and boldest policies, but I think to most voters his responses will pass the sniff test. One, there’s a new study from a nice big well-known university (Yale) that says Medicare-for-all will save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Sanders leaned into that. Two, there’s a cost to not changing anything which is that the system we have now — that a majority of Americans don’t like or can’t access — will stay in place. I did think, on the whole, the generalities of Sanders’ policy positions were on display more than ever before last night. He was high on rhetoric and sparse on details, which is how he usually is — but it showed in a way it hadn’t (to me) in previous debates.
Mike Bloomberg is dry on stage. There’s no other way to put it. Watching him talk makes me want to fall asleep. Ultimately, I’m not sure whether that helps or hurts him in the long run, given how easily he can frame himself to voters with ad buys across the country. But I can’t imagine these debates adding to his support. I did think he had the best answer of any candidate on marijuana legalization (de-criminalize it but “take it slow” because the science is worrisome, which nobody else on stage had the guts to say) and I thought he had the worst answer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he didn’t even seem to understand. Bloomberg’s first debate was a disaster, even by his own campaign’s admission, and this one was better. He was in control and confident when discussing how he changed New York City for the better and some of his successful business policies. I did think it was insane that he didn’t get more heat for not calling Xi Jinping, China’s communist leader who is currently enslaving millions of Muslims, a dictator.
Joe Biden continues to just make me laugh up there, and I can’t decide whether that’s a good or bad thing. When he’s “passionate” (read: feigning anger) he can be really abrasive, but there continues to be something about him that is just endearing to me. Maybe that’s just the basic, stupid white male in me, but if there’s anybody up there on stage I’d want to have a beer with or get trapped in an elevator with, it’s probably Biden. He has incredible stories, even if they’re totally incoherent, and I find myself captivated by whatever he’s saying. He’s at his best when he’s smiling and joking (him repeatedly yelling “Tommy come lately!” into the microphone to criticize Tom Steyer actually had me laughing at loud) and he’s at his worst when he is addressing the specifics of his policies. I don’t think I’d ever vote for Biden, but I respect the fact that he’s “seen it,” been around the block, has endured more pain and suffering than probably anyone on stage and is still up there fighting. I can’t decide whether he’d wax Trump in a general election or get pummelled, but I don’t think we’ll ever find out.
Elizabeth Warren is still the most well-read with the most detailed plans and I left last night feeling like she’d make the best president — from a policy perspective — of any Democrat on stage. I don’t think she’s gotten enough credit for translating her economic goals, which are extremely progressive, into a pro-capitalism and anti-corruption platform. Unlike Sanders, she really isn’t calling for a radical burn it all down re-structuring. She’s calling for more regulation and cops on the corner on Wall Street, and she’s doing it in a way that could be inviting to some moderates. Like Buttigieg, some of her lines make me cringe, particularly the scripted ones, but Warren really does have a rock-solid answer for everything when it relates to domestic policies. From a “beat Trump” perspective, I have no doubt that she’d run circles around him on the policies in a one-on-one debate — but so did Clinton, and that didn’t help much. Still, though, in the last two debates Warren has chewed up and spit out Bloomberg, and if that’s a trial run for Trump she passed with flying colors.
Pete Buttigieg is tough for me to put my finger on. I saw him speak in person in New York City last year and I remember the feeling I had when I left: “Wow.” The guy is slick on stage, quick on his feet, and clearly a brilliant mind. As a politician, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who is as sharp as he is in front of a crowd. But there’s this feeling I can’t shake that the closer I listen to him, the less it seems like he’s really saying. He has platitudes and he knows how to delicately walk the line, but I still don’t know what he really stands for. What’s his core message? It seems like unity and “what’s going to happen after Trump,” but that’s not how you run the country. I think the hate from the progressive left toward Pete overblown — after all, he’d be the most progressive president ever, he’d be an openly gay man in office and he’d be someone who has experience translating urban, progressive ideals to rural communities. At the same time, I can relate to the sense that everything he says has been practiced and rehearsed. I rarely feel like I’m seeing a genuine moment from him, and it’s hard for me to let go of that feeling — even if I do appreciate how level he is on stage.
Amy Klobuchar has moments of absolute brilliance. She is an experienced legislator and when topics fall into her lap that she knows (like affordable housing or rural health care) it’s clear why she’s up there. She also has a strong message about her ability to win elections in red states, and I think she’s been overlooked throughout the race. My fiance actually felt really positively toward her last night, which was an interesting focus group of one to hear from. But I still struggle to understand her lane. She’s a moderate, surely, but she doesn’t seem like the person for this moment. She doesn’t strike me as someone who would energize the Democratic base or handle an unhinged Trump on stage. Watching Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders — I’m left thinking those candidates would twist Trump into pretzels in a debate. I felt the same way about Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang. I just don’t get that from Klobuchar, and like Biden, she’s seemed easily ruffled on stage several times throughout the primary. She’s been a good senator in Minnesota and there’s a reason she keeps winning elections, but I think her days in this race are numbered.
Tom Steyer seems to be enjoying himself, though I’m not sure what he’s still doing in this election. Almost every time he talks I think, “oh, right, he’s still here!” It feels a lot like political tourism to me, and the billionaire certainly has the money to stay in it for a bit longer. I do appreciate his tenor and tone, though, and I find that of all the candidates he seems like the guy who would be the best neighbor. He’s friendly and affable, and he seems like a genuinely happy person. That’s all great. It’s also great that he’s spent millions of dollars in the last ten years trying to undo his lifetime record in the private sector as an investor and businessman, but I still don’t understand what his goal is. He wants Trump gone — fine. Support Democrats in House and Senate races, throw your weight behind the nominee — but why waste hundreds of millions of dollars running for a position you’re wholly unqualified for? He’s got no experience in government and a checkered track record on his biggest policy initiatives. And yet… keep an eye on him in South Carolina, as polls show he is poised to surprise some folks.
What the right is saying.
Anytime there is a primary debate, I love hearing what the “opposite” party is saying. Liberals commenting on the 2016 Republican debates was always fascinating, and it’s interesting to see what conservatives are saying about this year’s Democratic primary. Here were some themes I found:
These guys have nothing to offer on foreign policy. Bernie Sanders dug his heels in on praising Fidel Castro’s Cuba and its ability to improve education, despite the fact he’s a murderous dictator. Bloomberg had zero understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and embarrassed himself while trying to discuss it. He also inexplicably refused to call President Xi a dictator. Elizbeth Warren wants to evacuate the Middle East in a way that would harm our allies. Does anyone have a real plan?
- Liberals continue to not understand the gun issue. Sanders got some props from the right, which typically crucifies him every chance they get, on guns. That’s because he made the apt point that in order to change gun laws, you need to negotiate with gun owners who yield tremendous political power. There’s a reason gun reform legislation keeps failing, and it’s not just the NRA lobby. It’s because most liberal politicians still don’t know the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic weapon and have no empathy for people who own firearms and use them regularly.
Trump, naturally, chimed in.
Pete Buttigieg seems to draw particular ire. Bernie Sanders was mostly being laughed off last night. Ann Coulter said Warren was the real threat because she had “idiotic plans” for everything and would keep everyone up until it “gets done.” Buttigieg, though, provokes a certain unique kind of anger. He’s mocked for inflating his military record, for “pretending” to understand rural America, and for leaning into his religious beliefs — but only selectively (conservatives often accuse him of hypocrisy for being a pro-choice, openly gay man who quotes scripture). Last night was no different. Here’s a sampling of tweets:
What people are saying.
I did my best to insulate myself from the “takes” for as long as I could. But eventually, I devoured all the hot takes from last night, the news coverage of it, and the way other people saw the debate. Here were some over-arching themes.
Who was in the debate crowd? Last night seemed particularly hostile toward Bernie and favorable toward Biden, Buttigieg and even Bloomberg. A lot of people wanted to know why that was, and the answer seemed to appear late in the evening: tickets to the debate cost $1,750. That means the room was likely filled with wealthy donors for each candidate. Bernie Sanders hammered that point home in a post-debate interview, saying “most working people that I know don’t spend $1,750 to get a ticket to a debate, and that’s problematic.” DNC officials tried to tamp down the criticism, but it didn’t do much. For what it’s worth, I’m often asked to expound on “things I like about Trump” because I criticize him a lot. One of my all-time favorite Trump moments was in the 2016 debate when he was being booed and then pulled the curtain back, telling the television audience that the room was filled with lobbyists and donors who get tickets to the debate. It was one of those genuine Trump moments that made him appealing to some Americans and I always appreciated it.
Biden and Buttigieg were “winners.” This was definitely the take that was most divorced from my independent thoughts, and I was surprised to see it when I logged on. But there seemed to be a big consensus that Biden and Buttigieg out-performed the competition last night. Politico ran a headline stating “Biden finally shows up to the debate stage — just in time.” Hugh Hewitt declared Buttigieg the clear winner, David Freedlander said he was “astonishingly good” on the metric of pure political talent, and the spin room talking heads were all impressed with Mayor Pete’s performance.
They said what? I missed it live, but it was all over Twitter: it did appear at one point during the debate that Michael Bloomberg almost told the audience he “bought” Congress in 2018 before stopping himself. Joe Biden falsely claimed 150 million people have been killed since 2007 after Bernie voted to exempt gun manufacturers from liability, which would be an astonishing statistic since it’s about half the U.S. population. Biden also declared that “gentlemen don’t get very well treated up here,” something a lot of women watching at home could only laugh at. Pete Buttigieg offered a bizarre warning about the election coming down to “Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.” He also deleted a tweet with the same line after people pointed it out that it really sounded like he was trashing the 1960s revolutionary politics that brought the Civil Rights movement, MLK, JFK, etc.
Bloomberg repeatedly denied telling a female colleague to “kill it” when she got pregnant, and while we can’t know for sure what happened, it’s worth pointing out that other co-workers say they witnessed the comment. Joe Biden tried to deny his role in writing the 1980s and 1990s crime bill, but it was prominent. Bernie Sanders said “every study out there, conservative or progressive,” says Medicare-for-all will save money. That’s categorically false and a stupidly inaccurate thing to claim, especially when he could have stuck to the truth — that the recent Yale study looks great for him. Bloomberg tried to take credit for helping pass same-sex marriage laws in New York, which is pretty laughable. Elizabeth Warren made the case for ending the filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to take up a bill. Ending the filibuster would mean a simple majority in the Senate could pass legislation. Warren said the filibuster would continue to give Republicans a veto on immigration bills, a variance on a claim she made before in reference to the 2013 immigration bill. That’s not exactly true and misses some context. Joe Biden claimed Bernie Sanders doesn’t condemn Cuba or authoritarian governments — this is a lie. He does and he has. Pete Buttigieg claimed that Sanders' proposal to eliminate private health insurance is actually “unprecedented” among other big countries. This isn’t quite true — Sanders' plan doesn’t actually eliminate private health insurance, it just prevents “private health insurers from offering products with benefits that replicate those offered by the government plan,” as The New York Times put it. Buttigieg is right that no big countries totally eliminate private health care, but Sanders’ plan is not unlike the countries Buttigieg is referring to.
- 45%. The percentage of Democratic debate watchers who said they were impressed by Bernie Sanders, best of any Democrat, according to a CBS poll.
- 43%. The percentage of Democratic debate watchers who said they were impressed by Joe Biden, second-best of any Democrat, according to a CBS poll.
- 40%. The percentage of Democratic debate watchers who said they were impressed by Elizabeth Warren, third-best of any Democrat, according to a CBS poll.
- 24%. The percentage of Democratic debate watchers who said they were impressed by Tom Steyer, worst of any Democrat, according to a CBS poll.
- 26%. Bernie Sanders’ support amongst African-American voters, best of any Democrat and the first time he’s surpassed Joe Biden, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
- 23%. Joe Biden’s support amongst African-American voters, the first time he’s not been in first place during this election, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
- $1.25 billion. The amount of money the White House is asking for to address the coronavirus, which CDC officials warn will spread in the U.S.
- $85 million. The amount of money the White House proposed cutting from the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease in its budget proposal this year.
- 26%. The combined proposed budget cuts the White House suggested to the CDC and Health and Human Services Department this year.
Have a nice day.
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