It’s all about that base. That’s what the second Democratic presidential debate turned into Thursday night – a laundry list of giveaways, tax hikes and extreme liberal positions. The far-left audience clapped mightily. And no one took advantage of it better than Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Harris went after former Vice President Joe Biden – hard. The media and the left loved it in equal measure. She called Biden out for working with “two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
Then it got personal. Harris told of “a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.” She called out Biden over his opposition to busing years ago and he floundered in response.
Twitter caught fire. CNN political commentator Ana Navarro-Cardenas tweeted: “#KamalaHarris going for the jugular. This is brutal.”
The Root’s Politics Editor Jason Johnson shared an image of Harris, with the comment: “Moderators, I would like to report a murder: White male, 70's answers to Uncle Joe .... Suspect still on stage....”
They weren’t joking. The 76-year-old Biden – and to a lesser extent the 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – both showed they were from a different generation.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California took the first big swing at Biden early in the debate, telling a story from his youth that called attention to Biden’s age.
“I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. That candidate was then-Senator Joe Biden,” Swalwell said.
It was a hint of the bad night to come for Biden.
Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia summed it up with just two words. Retweeting a Biden quote from the debate that said “‘My time’s up. I’m sorry.’ — Joe Biden,” the reporter followed with “Metaphor alert.”
The quote spurred lots of snark. HuffPost senior political reporter Kevin Robillard commented: “You think Joe Biden would do basically anything to avoid using the phrase ‘My time is up.’”
Robillard’s boss – Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen – cited a popular black “Scandal” TV character: “Major Olivia Pope vibes on stage tonight.” Then she added: “No one needed to go after Biden tonight. The fact that Harris did, and seems to have bested him, is remarkable.”
Bested was right. Biden neared the end of the debate reminding viewers about the “Obama-Biden administration.”
The 76-year-old Biden – and to a lesser extent the 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – both showed they were from a different generation.
NPR Senior Editor Ron Elving elaborated on the strategy: “Not the worst idea for Biden to retreat into Fortress Obama at this point. Most Democrats see that as nostalgia, even if some do not. It also helps cover some of Biden’s vulnerabilities on race and progressivism.”
New York Magazine Washington Correspondent Olivia Nuzzi said on Twitter: “A source close to the Biden campaign tells me his staff is ‘freaking out’ about his poor performance tonight.” She added that someone on Biden’s staff said “he isn’t listening to his debate prep and he’s ‘set in his ways.’”
Commentators on TV sang Harris’s praises. MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace said Harris “changed the dynamics of this event and perhaps the Democratic primary tonight.”
CNN reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said: “I think Kamala Harris owned the night. It was a masterful performance from her, unexpected in many ways.”
It’s still more than 16 months until the presidential election and more than seven until the first Democratic primary, but the night still looked like the passing of Swalwell’s torch.
Washington Post opinion writer Elizabeth Bruenig noted that “biden's soft heartbroken sadness is the sorrow of a dude whose party has moved past him.”
It sure appeared that way.
Earlier in the evening, MSNBC host Joy Reid had said the election was all about core voters. “This is about the base. It’s about firing up the base. It's about getting about getting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s fans to vote for you,” she said.
It was obvious the debaters agreed with her. There was less speaking Spanish and more speaking the language the audience wanted to hear – an endless stream of liberal positions and anti-Trump rhetoric.
During the first debate Wednesday the most prominent candidate – Sen Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – avoided attacking Trump. Few held back the second night.
The debate had barely begun when Biden complained about “Donald Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy.”
Harris echoed the tax cut complaint. Then Sanders really let loose, saying “that Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign.”
NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie detailed some of the Democrats’ promised goodies in one question: “There's is a lot of talk in this primary about new government benefits, such as student loan cancellation, free college, health care and more. Do you think that Democrats have a responsibility to explain how they will pay for every proposal they make along those lines?”
That barely scratched the surface. Proposals for reparations for African-Americans, going after guns, rotating Supreme Court justices “to other courts” and more dominated the night.
Early in the day, The New York Times headlined a debate story: “Democrats Split on How Far Left to Nudge Nation.”
They sure weren’t split Thursday night. They took a sharp left turn and stepped on the gas.
Trump responded to one such liberal fantasy, tweeting: “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”
Instead, it was only the beginning. Reid got exactly what she wanted, a debate that focused on the far-left policies that the activist wing of the party desired. And, at least for a night, the Democratic Party found what MSNBC host Chris Matthews had said Democrats wanted, “a pugilist.”