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Undecided 37%
Elizabeth Warren19%
Joe Biden14%
Kamala Harris9%
Bernie Sanders8%

Fri Aug 2, 2019, 08:48 PM


Friday Talking Points -- Judging The Fire In The Belly

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

Well, the second round of the Democratic debates is over, which means we are now smack in the middle of the debate about the debates. This is a window where we don't yet have an accurate picture of whether this week's debates will change anything in the polling (likely outcome: not very much), so instead of hard data all we have to argue about is sheer speculation and opinion. And, from what's being said, some are wringing their hands with worry.

They shouldn't be. Seriously, we are still so early in the process that all of this will be forgotten (for better or worse) by the time anyone actually casts a ballot. So calm down, everyone, and stop freaking out.

While we had our own specific reactions to the debates (which we wrote about Wednesday and Thursday, if anyone's interested), our overall impression was pretty good. The frontrunners, for the most part, showed why they are the frontrunners. The wannabes tried mightily to create a breakout moment, but for the most part this eluded them. Few people are likely to change the way they see the field after this second round of debates. But that's not to say it wasn't a valuable way to see the contrasts between the candidates.

For those who are freaking out (even just a little), please remember that there are a few things the mainstream media is largely missing. First on this list is the fact that of course Barack Obama's record is going to get some criticism. Joe Biden -- the far-and-away frontrunner -- was his vice president, after all. Biden's got a very long record, but anything older than his veep stint is going to sound dated. Biden has also tied himself so closely with Obama that he invites such scrutiny -- which, again, should really come as no surprise. Obama was a great president, but nobody's perfect. Biden is going to be faced with having to explain where he and Obama fell short, because it is the most prominent thing on his résumé, plain and simple. If Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris (or anyone else) were leading the pack right now, then this wouldn't be happening. But Biden is, so of course it is going to. Take a deep breath and relax -- there'll be plenty of time to bash Trump around once the nomination is secured.

Also, please everyone take another deep breath about all the punditary handwringing over "going too far left." In the first place, it is not going to matter, as Pete Buttigieg brilliantly pointed out in what was possibly the best line of either debate night: "If we embrace a far-left agenda, they're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they're going to do? They're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists." He's right. That is exactly what they're going to do. Whether it works or not is going to depend on the candidate, but also how popular these so-called "far-left" ideas really are with the American public. Most of them actually poll incredibly high -- even a majority of Republicans support Elizabeth Warren's proposed "wealth tax," for instance. If a solid majority of the country supports an idea, then by definition that idea is not "far left," it is, in fact, mainstream. Republicans will be working overtime to deny these facts, but Democrats shouldn't shy away from fighting back against this misperception.

In the second place, voters know candidates are going to overpromise to some extent or another. Presidential candidates run on goals, aspirations, and ideals. That's the way it works. When they get into office, they have to deal with the reality of Congress. But voters are pretty forgiving in this regard.

Think, for a moment, whether anyone now remembers exactly what Barack Obama's white paper said on his plans for expanding healthcare before he became president. Did his campaign's plan match up precisely with Obamacare? No, it did not. It had to survive the meatgrinder that is congressional sausagemaking. As all campaign promises have to, to become actual law. And, once again, voters know this. Which is why splitting hairs between 20 competing healthcare plans right now in Democratic debates may be fascinating to wonks, but won't really mean much in the end. Because in the end, the voters are going to be receptive to the much larger campaign message of: "Democrats want to improve healthcare, while Republicans want to take it away or make it harder to get." This larger message was one of the biggest reasons Democrats made the gains they did in the 2018 midterms, and it likely will still resonate pretty well with the voters in 2020. You know what any Democratic candidates' healthcare plan is going to go up against? Donald Trump promising -- once again -- that he'll magically create a wonderful healthcare plan after the election is over. This is the same promise that the GOP has been making pretty much since the day Obamacare passed ("Trust us -- just vote us in and we'll unveil the best healthcare plan you've ever seen... after the election, of course" ), and like always, they never make good on their promise. Which Trump won't be able to do this time, either. And the voters have woken up to this bait-and-switch con job, as 2018 already proved. So let's all have a little less handwringing about the relative differences between all the Democrats' healthcare plans, because any of them would be miles beyond anything Republicans can come up with.

Trump can't really make the case (although he'll probably try) that Democratic promises are unrealistic, because he has no legislative record to run on. All of his grandiose campaign promises have been broken or ignored. Let's take just one example from his most recent rally, in Cincinnati:

"The president promised to fix the Brent Spence Bridge, to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure projects and to support American workers," Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement. "Instead, we've seen a president who has betrayed workers."

A top aide to former Ohio governor and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich said the reason Trump has not delivered is not complicated. "He's a liar," said John Weaver. "Yet some of the suckers still flock."

An administration official, on condition of anonymity, said: "There is considerable disagreement between Ohio and Kentucky as to how to pay for a new bridge. It is our hope that an agreement can be reached between the two sides to fund this important project."

Trump, though, promised in 2016 to build a replacement bridge -- not broker an agreement between the two states to pay for it themselves. The official declined to address that question.

Trump first promised to address the bridge just days before the 2016 election, at a rally in nearby Wilmington, Ohio, adding that the money could come from not paying "billions" to the United Nations to combat climate change. "Let's save the money and replace the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, you like that? Which is critical to the region."

He repeated the promise weeks into his term, in March 2017, telling a local TV reporter: "We're going to get it fixed.... It's dangerous, OK. We have many bridges like that."

Trump promised then, as he has promised many times both before and since, to push a massive "infrastructure" plan: "We're going to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure and we're going to renew our country. We have no choice. The roads, the bridges, the airports, the schools."

But now in his 30th month in office, Trump and his White House have yet to send a comprehensive infrastructure plan to Capitol Hill, despite repeated claims that they were about to. The last meeting scheduled on the topic between Trump and Democratic congressional leaders, on May 22, ended moments after it started, with Trump leaving in a huff over the House's investigations of him. "Infrastructure week," in fact, has become an inside-the-Beltway joke to describe any particularly chaotic week in the White House.

This is Trump's record, which he will have to run on. This is just one of hundreds of such promises Trump has broken or ignored. And whomever the Democratic candidate turns out to be, they'll be pointing this out on a regular basis. So Trump really doesn't have a leg to stand on in the "you're promising too much" debate.

We do wish at least some of the Democratic candidates would start "working the refs" a bit more in these debates. We saw one example of this on CNN, where the network promised it wouldn't ask silly "raise your hands" questions, but that's more of a technical problem than a journalistic one. The media likes to have things both ways -- they hammer one particular issue, and then they turn right around and criticize Democrats for not "getting their message out" about all the other issues of the day. The best example of this is impeachment, which is barely being talked about on the campaign trail because voters for the most part don't really care about it all that much (at least, when choosing which presidential candidate to support). You wouldn't know this from the amount of attention the media spends on it, but it's true.

So instead of some inane "Would you like to attack the person standing next to you on the stage for a miniscule difference in your position papers?" leading question, what we'd sincerely love is to hear some Democratic candidate respond with the following:

"You know what? That's a stupid question and I'm not going to answer it. You're trying to 'create conflict' because it boosts ratings, but in all the debates so far I have yet to hear one question from you guys about an issue that working Americans really care about -- raising the minimum wage to fifteen bucks an hour. The House of Representatives passed a $15-an-hour hike, but you guys in the media totally ignored it so you could write another 'Democrats focusing too much on impeachment' story. This would be a monumental change for tens of millions of American workers, and it is a fundamental difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and you are absolutely ignoring it. Shame on you! Hiking the minimum wage would most likely mean wage increases starting from the bottom of the jobs ladder and moving up, in a J.F.K. 'rising tide lifting all boats' sort of way. Millions of Americans would have millions of dollars more in their paychecks to spend on whatever they like. It would be an absolute gamechanger for a huge slice of the American electorate. Democrats have now become unified over accepting nothing short of $15 an hour, but the Republicans refuse to act because they hate the concept of a minimum wage to begin with. That is a core difference between the parties on a core issue that I feel is much more worthy of a question in these debates than whatever nonsense you just asked me."

You think that would get a big hand from the crowd? You think that clip might just go viral? Because that would cut through some of the repetitious questions about issues that may be important to some but are nowhere near the core agenda of the Democratic Party today. Work the refs -- shame the media into doing real journalism and finding out what the voters want to hear discussed during the debates, rather than what the editorial room decides. And there is no shortage of such ideas to spontaneously bring up, because as usual the debate moderators have limited themselves to a very strange subset of issues. Bringing up voting rights, or gerrymandering, or all the infrastructure Trump promised but didn't deliver on would resonate with the voters rather than the list of Republican talking points the moderators seem to be working from, but this dynamic will not change until one of the Democrats directly challenges them on it.

Looking at the bigger picture, when we watched the debates this week, we focused on only one thing: Does this person have the "fire in the belly" to take on Trump, or not? Can you imagine this particular candidate debating Trump onstage, and how do you think they would do against him? That's really all that matters at such an early point in the race.

Debating Trump is going to be hard, because he's a loudmouthed bully and a blowhard. He has no command of the facts, but he doesn't care one whit. He launches playground insults by the bucketful and refuses to admit he's ever been wrong about anything. Anyone who thinks debating him is easy should ask the 16 Republicans who had to do so last time around how it went for them. That is what the Democratic nominee is going to face, and that's what was foremost in our minds while watching them all.

As previously mentioned, we aren't too worried about the Democratic field at this point. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris would each (in their own way) be a strong candidate in a Trump debate. All four of them have sufficient fire in the belly to face him. Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg didn't make as strong an impression, but then that's probably why they aren't quite in the top tier. This is a sorting process, and so far it's working out the way it is supposed to. So we're not particularly worried about Democrats' chances at this point in time, personally.

There was some other political news this week, but most of it revolved around Donald Trump proving for the umpteenth time that, yes, he is a racist. This time his target was Baltimore, a city Trump knows so little about that a few weeks back he praised them for that big "Star-Spangled Banner" battle they won during the Revolutionary War (that actually happened in the War of 1812). Trump tweeted, everyone with a conscience (meaning precious few Republicans, of course) reacted strongly against him, and then Ben Carson -- probably the only African-American left who still gets to attend meetings at the White House -- went to Baltimore to defend Trump's racism. So it goes, in the Trump administration. During the fray, it was revealed not only that Trump had lit into Obama about Baltimore years ago, but also that his son-in-law is a slumlord there as well. We'll get to all of that in the talking points, however.

What else? It was revealed that none other than Saint Ronald of Reagan was also a racist, way back when he was the governor of California calling up his fellow Californian Tricky Dick Nixon in the Oval Office to chat about the "monkeys" he saw on his teevee screen. Nothing like the architect of the "Southern Strategy" to be revealed for what he was to all the world, is there?

Speaking of California, there's going to be a marquee court case pretty soon, since the state just passed an eminently reasonable law to require any presidential candidate to publicly release five years of income taxes before appearing on the ballot. After all, both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did so, back in the day, so what could possibly be the problem?

Trump, in a snit, declared that he'll be levying more taxes on American consumers, in the form of more tariffs on everything China sends us. He also, before his snit, told his voters that -- astonishingly -- there will be no trade deal with China until (are you sitting down?) after the election. This all came during the week when the Federal Reserve had to lower interest rates during good economic times precisely because Trump's trade war with China is bringing the economy down. Irony is dead, in other words.

And finally, Trump signed the bill that Jon Stewart (and others) had lobbied so hard for, which will permanently fund the money for the 9/11 first responders. Being Trump, though, he had to try to shoehorn himself into all the praise. No, really. Here's what Trump had to say:

Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers and other first responders. And I was down there also. But I am not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.

This isn't the first time he has blatantly lied in a disgraceful and disgusting attempt to steal some of the first responders' thunder -- he did so back while campaigning the first time around as well: "Everyone who helped clear the rubble -- and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit."

Every time you think Trump has set the bar so damn low that he just can't move it any lower, he manages to do so in increasingly revolting ways. This is just this week's installment of this progression, in other words.

Just imagine for one tiny second what Republicans would say about a Democrat who made such a false and self-serving statement.

These awards are, as always, pretty subjective, and this week they may be more subjective than most, because we're choosing them only from the debate candidates.

While several candidates turned in fairly impressive debate performances, we have to agree with the general sentiment that Elizabeth Warren was the most impressive of all of them, so we're handing her this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

Warren is as sharp as they come and, famously, "has a plan" for everything. She combines wonky command of all the details with one of the rarest qualities any politician can have -- she can explain the most complicated and complex issue in a way that just about anyone can understand. Previously, the best politician we've ever seen achieve this was Bill Clinton, but we have to say that Warren even gives Bubba a run for the money in this respect.

During the first round of debates, Warren was the only frontrunner on the stage for one of the debates (all the others drew the other night), so she really didn't have anything to prove. She stayed in the background for the most part, which was probably the smart move. But this time around, she was on stage with Bernie Sanders. There was no tension at all between them, because they effectively teamed up against all the low-polling moderates who were attacking their ideas. In fact, we could easily have given this week's MIDOTW to Bernie, who also had a good night.

But Warren somehow edged Bernie out. She strongly defended and advocated for her ideas and plans, and took on all comers with aplomb. She got off several zingers while at the same time never crossing over the line into nasty or personal attacks. She rarely (if ever) stumbled over her words or what she was trying to say. She showed that she will be a formidable opponent for any of the other Democrats to beat, and now the buzz over the third round of debates seems to all be about how she'll fare on the same stage as Joe Biden (who is the leader of the moderate faction).

Warren had a good debate, and we would not be surprised at all if she reaps a polling bounce as a direct result. She is the increasing choice of those who want big bold ideas but who shy away from backing Bernie (for one reason or another). She's Bernie without the edginess, in a lot of ways.

Of course, we have no idea what her ultimate chances are to win the nomination fight, but she sure looked pretty impressive on stage at this week's debate. Which was enough for us to award her the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, once again.

{Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

Even limiting ourselves to candidates from the debate stage didn't make this choice obvious at first. There were plenty of disappointing Democrats on stage, who disappointed the viewers in different ways. Either by turning in a really bad debate performance or by advocating the same "Dream Small!" moderation that likely contributed heavily to Hillary Clinton's loss, there was disappointment all around.

We finally decided that John Delaney deserves the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, because he was the most prominent of the bunch. Delaney led the charge of the moderates in the first debate, aided and abetted by CNN shining an overlarge spotlight upon his candidacy. All night long, he spouted Republican talking points and warned how dangerous it was to have big and bold ideas. He was Debbie Downer wrapped in a wet blanket, if we might mix a metaphor or two.

The media has an ongoing obsession with the moderate faction of Democrats, because many of them think the same way" "...let's slow down, don't go too fast, let's just take some incremental steps...." But let's look at the reality. Joe Biden, the biggest moderate name, is indeed leading in the polls. But then he's also the biggest name in the race, and has been since Day One. But other than Biden, how many of the moderates are doing well? From where we sit, none of them are. The second, third, and fourth place in the nomination race are all occupied by progressives (Sanders, Warren, and, to a lesser degree, Harris). Pete Buttigieg still has some energy behind him, but not nearly as much as many pundits thought at the start. So what's the fascination with so many moderate candidates polling at one percent or less? Their ideas (or, to be fair, their personalities) just have not caught on with the voters, and this is not likely to change any time soon.

Delaney was the poster child for this obsession with the moderates, and as such he didn't do all that bad a job of presenting his case. But his case was the problem, not his delivery. In fact, we've saved the best quote from Elizabeth Warren for Delaney's award segment, because it is just as profound as the Buttigieg line we quoted earlier. In exasperated response to one of Delaney's "whoa, there, let's not get too crazy" answers, Warren shot back at him: "You know, I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for. I don't get it."

Which pretty much also sums up our feelings, and which was the biggest reason why we decided to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to none other than John Delaney.

{John Delaney is a private citizen and our blanket policy is not to link to candidate webpages, so you'll have to look up his contact info yourself if you'd like to let him know what you think of his actions.}

Volume 536 (8/2/19)

OK, we're finally back to our enumerated talking points for the week. This week, we focused mostly on the Trump idiocy surrounding Baltimore, and his racism in general. But we just had to take one more swipe at Mitch McConnell to get the ball rolling, as well.

As always, please use our talking points responsibly! Heh.


This was the theme of last week's column, and apparently it's getting under Mitch's skin. Or turtle shell, if you prefer. Whatever, it seems to be working.

"I see that the hashtag #MoscowMitch seems to be getting more popular, as Mitch McConnell struggles to defend the indefensible. Over and over again, we are getting warned that Russia is currently interfering in our elections and that they will be doing so throughout the 2020 election cycle. We've heard this from multiple national security experts, but none of it matters to Moscow Mitch. Bill after bill has been proposed -- by Democrats, by Republicans, and by bipartisan groups -- and Mitch refuses to allow votes on any of them. His inaction is playing into Vladimir Putin's hands, plain and simple. We're being told there is a four-alarm fire raging, and Mitch refuses to allow the firefighters into the building. Moscow Mitch even gave a long speech this week where he whined about his new nickname, which was not exactly a profile in courage. If Moscow Mitch doesn't want to be Moscow Mitch any more, then he should allow the Senate to defend American democracy by passing election safety legislation. Until he does so, Moscow Mitch is what I'll be calling him."

Really? Where?

This is amusing, but also could be the start of a growing trend.

"More and more Republicans in Congress are taking a look at their re-election chances and deciding that this would be a good year to 'spend more time with their family' rather than run again. Eight GOP House members have announced their impending retirement in the past few weeks, the most recent of which is the only African-American Republican in the House. Now, my reaction to this news was probably the same as yours: 'There's a black Republican in the House?!? Who knew!' Kidding aside, though, it's looking like 2020 is going to be another election cycle where we see a whole bunch of Republicans just throw in the towel rather than attempt to defend their record -- and Donald Trump's -- to their voters. Better to bow out gracefully than lose big time at the ballot box, I suppose."

There's a tweet for that

As usual with Donald Trump, there's almost always a previous tweet of his which exposes his own bluster and hypocrisy better than anything anyone else could say.

"Donald Trump certainly has a different viewpoint of what the president is supposed to be responsible for now that he's in the Oval Office. He now lays the blame for the state of Baltimore with a House member, as if Representative Elijah Cummings were mayor of his own district or something. But Trump didn't always have this hands-off attitude towards who should be responsible. Way back in 2015, he tweeted at Barack Obama: 'Our great African American President hasn't exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!' He followed this up with another tweet: 'President Obama, you have a big job to do. Go to Baltimore and bring both sides together. With proper leadership, it can be done! Do it.' He also promised 'I would fix it fast!' Now that he's in the Oval Office and has the ability to 'go to Baltimore and bring both sides together,' instead he is the one creating all the division. As is almost always true, Donald Trump is contradicted most scathingly by... Donald Trump."

The slumlord of Kushnerville

Hoo boy. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

"If Donald Trump wants to make things in Baltimore better, perhaps he should just tell his own son-in-law to get on the ball. Jared Kushner's company owns buildings in Baltimore than have, quote, maggots in the living room carpet and raw sewage spewing from the kitchen sink, unquote. That's right -- if Trump wants to see vermin-infested properties that no human being would want to live in, he just needs to borrow the keys from Jared. Nancy Pelosi pointed this out to the press this week, saying: 'Maybe you could ask {Trump's} son-in-law, who's a slumlord there, if he wants to talk about rodent infestations.'"

The people have spoken

Another fun poll to taunt Trump with!

"A new poll just in shows that over half of the American people think that the president of the United States is a racist. That's an astounding thing, especially when you consider that more people think Trump is a racist now than thought that George Wallace was a racist when he ran for president in 1968 on a segregationist platform. That's stunning. Now, some presidents can disguise their racism in dog whistles and plausible deniability, and their racism won't be uncovered until years later -- as just happened with Ronald Reagan, I should mention -- but for someone like Trump, racism is not just who he is, it will also be just as central to his second presidential campaign as it was to his first. The only difference is that more and more people are waking up to this reality."

Please double down, Mr. President

This also needs to be hammered on by Democrats.

"Donald Trump thinks he is the biggest political genius of all time, which of course proved not to be the case in the midterms. in 2018, the entire Republican Party ran on fearmongering the immigrants and trying to use Nancy Pelosi as a terrifying vision of the impending Democratic apocalypse. You know what? It backfired. Badly. The Democrats -- led by Pelosi -- retook the House. This time around, Trump is still convinced that racism and fear of dark-skinned people is going to be the winning ticket for him. He is leading the party to make their demonizing focus the 'Squad,' led by House freshman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. This is going to work about as well as demonizing Pelosi did. He's already beginning to lose a big part of his base -- white women with no college education. After surveying this demographic in the battleground states, one veteran Democratic pollster summed things up by saying: 'I came away utterly unafraid of {Trump} playing the immigration card in its most extreme form.' It seems that Trump's bullying tactics are turning off some of the same people who voted for him last time around. If Trump continues to double down on the nastiness, it could backfire even more spectacularly than it did in 2018."

Right-wing domestic terrorism

Once again, Democrats need to point this out, because nobody else is going to.

"One of the biggest terrorism threats America faces is being completely ignored by our leaders in Washington. Right-wing domestic terrorism is a growing problem, but the Republicans have their heads in the sand. More people have died in recent years from right-wing terrorist attacks such as mass shootings than have died in this country from Muslim terrorists. This week, the F.B.I. warned in no uncertain terms about the growing threat from 'conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,' like the guy who listened to too much Fox News and started sending pipe bombs to Democratic leaders. The warnings are plain to see, for any who will look. And yet we do nothing on a national scale to combat this growing threat, because one political party is too afraid of their own base voters."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:

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Reply Friday Talking Points -- Judging The Fire In The Belly (Original post)
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oasis Aug 3 #1

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Sat Aug 3, 2019, 12:24 AM

1. K and R. Well worth reading.


If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Joe Biden

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