Two nights, four hours, 20 candidates, zero issues: so ends the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates about nothing. The first round starred Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a spate of inevitable also-rans. Moderator Savannah Guthrie began by noting that 71 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Democrats believe the economy is doing well.
"What do you say to those who worry this kind of significant change could be risky to the economy?” she asked.
The question forced each candidate either to admit that President Trump has handled the economy well or else to deny the reality of record high markets and record low unemployment. Unsurprisingly, they all chose the latter, exposing themselves as shameless liars from the very first moment.
For the rest of the debate, the candidates tried various gimmicks to capture voters’ imagination. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker attempted unsuccessfully to speak Spanish. Julian Castro coined a new euphemism, “reproductive justice,” to describe abortion, a procedure that stops reproduction through the unjust killing of a baby. When Castro then endorsed extending abortion rights to “trans-females” – that is, biological males – Booker saw his opening.
“We do not talk enough about Trans-Americans,” declared Booker, “especially African-American Trans-Americans.” The tortuous descriptor appeared to refer to a racial sub-category of a group estimated to constitute 0.025% of the population. Finally, we were getting to the issues people care about.
The second night of debate began somewhat more seriously, with only one random outburst of Spanglish from Pete Buttigieg and moderator José Diaz-Balart. The candidates spent the rest of the evening redefining various commodities as “human rights” and promising to give them all away for free, from health care to college to cold, hard cash. Every single candidate pledged “free” – that is, taxpayer-funded – health care to illegal immigrants.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell attempted to distinguish himself by endorsing gun confiscation. “Keep your pistols, keep your rifles, keep your shotguns. But we will take the most dangerous weapons,” he explained, apparently unaware that more deaths each year involve pistols than any other weapon by a factor of almost four.
The second night of debate began somewhat more seriously, with only one random outburst of Spanglish from Pete Buttigieg and moderator José Diaz-Balart. The candidates spent the rest of the evening redefining various commodities as “human rights” and promising to give them all away for free, from health care to college to cold, hard cash.
Then Marianne Williamson inveighed against “plans” before threatening to reach “into the psyche of the American people” and harness “love for political purposes.” Never has Sen. Bernie Sanders looked so serious by comparison.
In one notable exchange, Sen. Kamala Harris accused Joe Biden of racism – after she had already exonerated him of racism – for working with segregationists in the 1970s, a charge against which Biden had been ably acquitting himself before losing steam and giving up. No one really believes Joe Biden is a racist. No one really cares about any of this.
The 20 would-be presidents filled two nights of debate time with endless promises and precious few details on how they would accomplish any of them. They echoed a common theme: Trump is wrecking the country. But with a booming economy, record low unemployment, relative peace abroad, and wages rising for the first time in nearly a decade, the candidates couldn’t quite explain how.
Eleven debates remain before Democrats choose their nominee. Then comes the more difficult task as they face an incumbent in a time of prosperity: finding a legitimate gripe.