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First, some miscellaneous winners and losers from last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Houston:
Major winner in the VICE Presidential sweepstakes: Amy Klobuchar.
The Minnesota Senator emphasized her center-left theme, making her one of two ideal woman running mates for Joe Biden, the other being Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. As US Senator from Minnesota, Klobuchar has the greater federal experience, Whitmer has the more electorally significant state, one of three won narrowly by Donald Trump in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) to give him an Electoral College victory.
Also, Amy had the most significant line of the night. Bernie Sanders is fond of saying about his health care bill, “I wrote the damn bill.” In noting that the bill precluded the retention of private health insurance, Amy stated, “You wrote the bill, I read it.”
Disqualified from the race for a low blow, earning him the Andrew Golota award: Julian Castro
Castro’s distortion of a Joe Biden answer on health care, coupled with his false insinuation that the former Vice President had displayed loss of memory due to age was viewed by most Democrats to be a cheap dirty trick, disqualifying the former HUD Secretary from any consideration for either the Democratic presidential or vice presidential nomination.
Winner of a Cabinet seat in the Democratic presidential administration taking office on January 20, 2021: Pete Buttigieg.
Mayor Pete performed excellently in debate and displayed a thorough issue competency. At present, however, he has a poor relationship with African-American voters due to circumstances arising during his administration as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He would make an excellent Defense Secretary in a Biden Administration.
Winner of a US Senate nomination, if he’ll take it: Beto O’Rourke.
He now has a clear and compelling message on the gun issue, and he conveys his message with sincere passion and eloquence. Biden has locked up the center-left lane, so his chances of winning the presidential nomination are remote.
Previously, Beto had disclaimed all interest in running for the US Senate seat held by Republican John Cornyn. There are, however, three factors that could persuade Beto to seek the seat from Texas once held by former president Lyndon Johnson.
First, the tragedy of El Paso appears to have profoundly energized supporters of common sense gun control legislation in the Lone Star State. Second, the growth in numbers and influence of the Latino community in Texas is a factor working very much to the benefit of the Democrats. Third, Cornyn may face a primary challenge from Texas Tea Party State Senator Pat Fallon.
You can come home again, Beto – and win a cherished US Senate seat. You are only 47 years old, young enough to make a future run for the White House at any point during the next 25 years. A US Senate seat will enhance your presidential prospects – and the White House will not run away.
Going nowhere: Cory Booker.
He has the adulation of the national media – and massive indifference from the voters. Now he is emphasizing his connection with Newark. If these national media acolytes ever visit Brick City, they will learn from the good people of Newark how Cory stayed on the campaign trail and never came home to Newark during the recent water crisis, as distinguished from Beto, who left the campaign trail and returned to El Paso after the mass shootings.
The Winston Churchill “The Pudding Has No Theme” Award: Kamala Harris.
After the first debate and her memorable exchange with Biden, I thought that the California senator may well be poised to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
In the second debate, however, she proved to have the same problem that former heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson had: the political equivalent of a glass jaw. Tulsi Gabbard’s attacks on her record as California Attorney General had the same effect as Ingemar Johansson’s right hand had on Floyd when he knocked him down seven times en route to the heavyweight championship on June 26, 1959. Floyd could punch, but he couldn’t take a heavyweight’s punch. The same thing is true of Kamala Harris.
Floyd left the ring that night muddled and confused. And since Tulsi scored her technical knockout victory over her, Kamala’s message has become muddled. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when it comes to Kamala Harris, the pudding has no theme.
Coincidentally, the three Democratic presidential candidates with the most clear and unmuddled messages are the top tier candidates in the race. They are, with their messages in parentheses the following: Joe Biden (Return to normalcy), Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist social revolution, emphasizing government ownership of major industries when needed), and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (Social revolution within a heavily regulated capitalist system; i.e., “free markets with rules”). Both Sanders and Warren are identified by Democratic primary voters as “Progressives”, with Biden identified as center-left.
The “normalcy” Biden seeks is not one of inaction. It implies a return to the quest for racial and ethnic tolerance, political civility, and respect for institutions that were all targets of destruction in the parafascistic regime of Donald Trump. Biden will strive to expand access to health care, will end Trump’s destructive trade war with China, will implement a national transportation and water infrastructure plan, will enact common sense gun control, will rejoin international climate change conferences, will repair the relationships with our NATO allies so damaged by Trump, and will end Trump’s war on the environment. None of these much-needed measures are “revolutionary.”
The social revolution messages of both Sanders and Warren have a heavy redistributionist concept, as exemplified by Warren’s wealth tax proposal. And their Medicare for All proposals would doubtless result in sharp tax increases on not only the wealthy but on the upper middle-class taxpayers as well. And it is inevitable, as former Democratic Congressman from Maryland John Delaney noted in the first two debates, that Medicare for All will require that hospitals and other providers lower their rates for patients of all ages to those charged to current senior citizen Medicare recipients, resulting in the bankruptcy of hospitals and the exodus of doctors from the profession.
Polls show that it is impossible for Donald Trump to win reelection. The American electorate accurately perceives Donald Trump to be a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, a grifter, an enemy of the environment, and the cause behind the trade war with China which has cost America already 300,000 jobs, according to Moody’s.
While Donald Trump cannot win reelection, the Democrats could lose in 2020 with a Warren/Sanders social revolution message. Trump can only win if the electorate perceives the Democrat to be a more frightening alternative. If either Sanders or Warren is nominated, Trump will have the opportunity to paint his opponent as the more dangerous alternative.
Fortunately for the Democratic Party, polls show that a decisive majority of Democrats identify themselves as “center-left”, rather than “Progressive,” therefore more inclined to support the Biden message than that of Sanders or Warren. If Biden wins one of the first three primary contests (the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and Nevada primaries) and then follows up, as expected, with a victory in South Carolina, he will be well on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination and a landslide victory over Donald Trump.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.