I had promised my editors at The Washington Post that I’d get them a post-debate review on Friday, after the dust settled. But there was so much dust in my eyes, ears, nose and throat that I could hardly sleep Wednesday night.
That. Was. Awful. The candidates have had months to prepare, yet only John Delaney and Tim Ryan on the center-right and Jay Inslee and Bill de Blasio on the left prepared one-minute capsules of their campaign? (Inslee gave “robotic” a whole new definition, but at least his preprogrammed message came through his Alexa-like delivery.) Delaney and Ryan are out of Democratic “winning candidate” central casting from the FDR-to-Bill-Clinton era, and are the only Democrats from Wednesday night who would give down-ticket Republicans in 2020 at least a scare. The other eight? Not so much.
Beto O’Rourke might have been the Music Man of the past two years, but his performance Wednesday night must have had donors demanding refunds. Anyone making a contribution to O’Rourke’s coffers after that display of bilingual non sequiturs should have family bring out the power-of-attorney and conservatorship forms.
Elizabeth Warren tried to out-Bernie Bernie Sanders - an impossible task. Having fooled many into believing she had successfully reanimated her zombie campaign on the fuel provided by reams of position papers, she dashed the hopes of scores of volunteers by calling for - wait for the bold vision! - more research into guns while simultaneously launching a missile at all private health insurance. I can’t imagine the union rank-and-file would be pleased at losing their plans.
The candidates’ joint damning with faint praise of President Barack Obama’s Iran deal - while revealing much about why Obama did not dare submit it to the Senate for ratification as a treaty - committed everyone except Cory Booker to a return to appeasement toward Tehran. Mullahs watching the replay could reasonably conclude that another shoot-down of a drone will bring surrender from the Democratic field. Speaking of the Senate, the best media moment of the night was Chuck Todd doggedly trying to get someone, anyone, to talk about the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is and probably will remain the rock upon which left-wing dreams have been dashed since 2014 and for the foreseeable future.
In our ratings- and algorithm-driven world, Democratic primary voters will see mostly nice things being said about their preferred candidates. (Except Delaney, who dared to speak the truth that millions of Americans no longer care about the giant wet blanket that is the Mueller report.) It’s going to take more than Ryan rolling right and talking about the closing of the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, after GM took the auto bailout to wake up the Democrats from their #Resistance-induced trance. The “hope and change” of 12 years ago is now “hope for a change in tactics and strategy” among Democrats racing headlong toward a socialist Shangri-La (the folly of which is currently on full display in Venezuela - a word that, conveniently, did not escape the lips of one candidate).
Even from a ratings perspective, the debate fell flat. The 10 million projected viewers total who did tune in represented a fraction of the 24 million who watched the first GOP debate four years ago. Was it exhaustion with shrill politics? Was it the expectation that the “grown- ups” debate is Thursday night, with former vice president Joe Biden in it?
Or was it the fear, unexpressed but real, that none of these people can beat President Trump? The smaller audience suggests that all the Resistance marches, the left’s hardened hatred of Trump and the addiction to “Mueller time” fantasies have obscured the political strength of an incumbent president running for reelection with historically low unemployment, rising wages, a rebuilt military and a judiciary slowly but surely being repopulated with rule-of-law judges.
Hugh Hewitt is a columnist with The Washington Post.