Debate Lists: Top 5 in the Dems Primary Race … Not Who You Might Think

GELFAND’S WORLD--The main importance of the latest Democratic presidential candidate debate was that it happened at all, thereby providing close to 6 hours of uninterrupted liberal messaging.

This political movement, communicating through those running for president, provided viewpoints on several issues that have now become essentially the liberal consensus: Everyone has a right to medical care. Endless war is a bad thing. The rich should be taxed more. Racism exists in this country and should be battled. Donald Trump should not be president. 

That’s pretty much the opposite of the conservative point of view, and it was nice that for once, the Democrats (for the most part) did not pussyfoot around by making up less forceful sounding words to represent what they mean. They still say progressive instead of liberal, but that can be excused. 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg got in one of the better lines when he pointed out that whatever any of them say, whether they tone down their messages or not, the Fox News/Trump side will call them socialists so why not say what they mean and leave it to the voters. 

For those who actually watched it (I watched so you didn’t have to), it was an endurance contest for the viewer. Here is my biggest sore point – the moderators did their best to enforce time limits by interrupting and then talking over the candidates just as they were winding up to their punch lines. I have to say that there should be a better way to enforce some bit of time management. Let’s hope that when the field is cut down, there will be a chance for candidates to finish their answers without interruption. 

My view is that the first night of this round (the first 10 candidates) was the stronger. That was partly because the average viewer might not last till the second night.  Besides, the best matchup was on Tuesday because we got Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren taking up the center of the stage. Add Pete Buttigieg and you had the makings of some decent speechifying. 

About the only draw for the second debate was the rematch between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. As predicted, other candidates went after Harris this time around, but didn’t really land any stinging blows. Harris wasn’t as politically effective this time around because she no longer has the stealth attack scenario available to her. Everybody knew she was going to keep coming after Biden – she did – and he was a little bit better at fending her off. That having been said, Biden doesn’t have much new to say, and it became entirely clear by the end of the second debate. He gave Obama a lot of credit, but didn’t take credit himself for much of anything that really resonated. 

Here’s how I scored the debates, given under the understanding that I have some views of my own. Rather than do one of those “full disclosure” statements (I don’t work for any of them, or take money from any of them, so this is a bit useless), I will just say that I come into this season with a modest preference for Elizabeth Warren. Along with lots of other viewers and writers, I felt that Warren did one of the better jobs in this second debate. Bernie also did well. He got the best line in his now famous, “I wrote the damn bill!” retort. The other candidate who speaks clearly and well, and who answers questions persuasively, is Pete Buttigieg. 

Here’s my list of candidates who by rights should be in future debates – the ones who came across as credible opponents who could carry a campaign: 

Elizabeth Warren

Pete Buttigieg

Bernie Sanders

Kamala Harris

Cory Booker 

Here’s my list of candidates who don’t seem to be as competitive politically, but who would obviously be competent as president and far superior to the present holder of the office: 



Jay Inslee 

Here’s my list of candidates who might make a decent president but left me with some questions: 

Joe Biden

Bill de Blasio 

Here’s my list of candidates who I think should drop out or not be taken too seriously, either because they are still nobodies even after these debates or because they won’t generate reasonably good polling numbers: 




Tulsi Gabard

Beto O’Rourke



Maryanne Williamson

Steve Bullock

Tim Ryan 

A word on the healthcare part of the debates 

The moderators tried really hard to stir up contention if not outright passion. A few of the nobodies found ways to differentiate themselves from the frontrunners, but it was by setting forth fairly sterile, academic sounding positions (I know, a United States Senator is not a nobody, but in these presidential level debates they became nobodies). The standard arguments went something like this: The American people won’t like being told that they have to give up their private health insurance in exchange for Medicare For All. We should adopt a plan of Medicare For Anybody Who Wants It. 

Fair enough. I hope that Bernie and Warren will come around to admitting that if the congress gives them a bill establishing Medicare For Anybody Who Wants It, they plan to sign it. Call it MFAWWI or call it the Public Option – who cares? It’s a position that a strong majority of the country seems ready to accept. And let’s give credit to a previous U.S. Senate which passed the ACA (aka Obamacare) which gave people the expectation of being able to get insurance in spite of preexisting conditions. The current day Republicans suddenly discovered that they were getting enormous blowback when they talked about getting rid of Obamacare because people recognized the peril of going back to the old system. 

There were other objections – originally stoked by the CNN moderators – basically pointing out that a public option would have to substitute tax dollars for the money that currently goes into the private insurance system. One moderator kept repeating the question to Warren, and she deftly sidestepped it. He repeated the question and she repeated her sidestepping. 

Other issues 

There was a lot of talk about immigration. I suspect that this is largely in response to the fact that Trump has made it his signature issue, and not because anybody other than Castro really wants to talk about it. But they had to. I suspect that there is a modest consensus that tossing a little foreign aid into central America and suspending some of the worst current practices will be the next administration’s policy. 

Curiously, the moderators didn’t ask about what is going on in Hong Kong right now. We didn’t have a robust discussion about Trump’s effectively traitorous foreign policy – giving away the store to North Korea, undermining NATO, and the latest outrage, presenting an incompetent, vile partisan for the next Director of National Intelligence. I wonder why these topics were not raised. 

Matters of style: A list of buzz words and clichés that could be retired 

“I visited a family in Iowa . . . “ 

Any argument based on the fact that rich people would get something too, as in “free college for rich kids” (which money we could get back by a higher rate of taxation on the rich, as we should have been doing all along). Historians have pointed out that we have Social Security and Medicare because they were presented as universal programs. 

“I’ve created two thousand jobs . . . “ 

Use of the word “bold” for anything 

Use of the word “tough” as in “the need to make tough decisions” 

“My plan would . . . “ as if the president gets to dictate to the Senate. Good luck with that. 

Random observations 

Bernie is now known by a one-word name, like a Brazilian soccer player. 

Gillibrand is a good speaker. Too bad she irritated people during the first debate by thinking she had to interrupt constantly. She sometimes gets to the heart of the question when the previous speaker missed it. 

Williamson spoke reasonably well, but her record shows she is anti-vaccination and her wording is kind of flakey. 

I’d like to see a few of the candidates who come to California do some public rallies instead of just taking the limousine to the Bel Air fundraiser. 

Addendum on the Mueller testimony 

Some of the criticism of my previous column centered on suggestions that the Steele Dossier was bogus and that some FBI people were out to get Trump. The question isn’t whether you can find something to criticize about one folder of reports (Steele), but whether the conjectures in it had a basis in fact. The same counter goes for the argument that some FBI people were concerned about Trump’s connections with Russia – which were not only no secret, they were something that Trump and his family spoke about openly. Do the Russians have compromising information on Trump? We don’t have evidence one way or the other, but his behavior towards Putin, his undermining of NATO, and his treatment of our allies are consistent with that speculation. So, if Trump is not in Putin’s back pocket, why has he been behaving that way? You can criticize the Steele Dossier, which was never intended to be released publicly, but how do you evaluate Trump’s bizarre behavior? And who cares whether the Democrats paid Steele’s employer? The Republicans do opposition research, as do Democrats all over the map. What were the Wikileaks dumps if not opposition research? 

By the way, Trump’s recent behavior towards North Korea is equally puzzling, considering that he gave its president a major propaganda coup and we’ve been repaid by the north firing missiles once again. In a way, Trump has been behaving in the way that the Republicans used to accuse the Democrats of doing. 

Great put down: Since Mitch McConnell has been blocking a bill that would fund election security efforts, he is now being called “Moscow Mitch.” He reportedly does not like it.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)