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Post-Debate Prospects for Progressives

Don Rose 6 July 2019 No Comment

The first set of Democratic debates may realign the top five candidates but gives no sign that any bottom tier player will burst out of that pack to threaten leaders Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg.

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Conventional wisdom is that Harris was the breakout winner of the two-day panderfest because she wounded front-runner Biden while Warren glided though her less contentious evening and Sanders treaded water. I am not yet ready to say that Biden was fatally wounded, but he showed the continuing vulnerability of simply not getting it–he’s mired in the language and concepts of the ’80s–and still unable to admit any wrong.

Can you fathom a 2019 debate driven by school busing?

We must wait to see whether Biden begins bleeding black votes–a key demographic he has had a lock on–and whether Harris inherits them. She made a powerful play to become THE black candidate, obliterating Cory Booker’s prospects. Biden’s winning poll margins are due to holding sway with African American voters, whose loss would let the air out of his balloon.

Harris’s prosecutorial skills in Thursday’s set-to also won her points as one who could KO Donald Trump in debate–a skill no one else showed.

Mayor Pete, who until now has been sort of tied with Harris for fourth place, I’m afraid is on his way down and out. A shaky performance at home midst protests over a police killing locked in his inability to get the necessary African American votes while his laudable effort to take personal responsibility during Thursday’s debate was obliterated by Harris’s performance.

Also obliterated was Kirsten Gillibrand’s desperate pitch to get the woman’s vote, which will likely consolidate around Harris or Warren.

While some bottom-tier performers such as Booker, Tulsi Gabbard and Julian Castro–who erased Beto O’Rourke–did well for themselves, none could be called breakout appearances. Nor did the professed moderates from Amy Klobuchar to John Delaney gain any traction.

One poll taken during and after the debates shows Harris zooming up and tying Warren–but she did so at Warren’s and Buttigieg’s expense, not Biden’s. It’s too early to give it much credence, but the coming week will tell more.

It’s also beginning to look as if a brokered convention might occur next year–I give it a 25 percent chance.

The question remains as to what it will take to defeat Trump. I have a feeling that pundits left and right may be making calculations based on fighting the last war while Trump has already radically reconfigured the political battlefield.

Can he have caused a tectonic shift to the left nationally? Meaning a progressive-populist campaign is definitely the way to go? Meaning people of color are already poised to turn out strongly, along with surging young voters?

Or can it be that he has actually expanded his base although it isn’t yet evident–the way we all missed his rise in the upper Midwest? Meaning even a moderately liberal Democrat is poison?

The mid-term elections and polls showing all five leaders defeating Trump are encouraging.

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Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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