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Opinion

Op-Ed: A red-state Republican takes on the Democratic debates, Part II

Democratic presidential candidates left to right, author Marianne Williamson, former Colorado Gov. J
Democratic presidential candidates wave as they enter the stage for the second night of the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News in Miami on June 27.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

In case there was any doubt, Thursday night’s debate — this time with the varsity squad — crystallized for Republicans just how liberal the Democratic Party has become. The debate was more entertaining than the previous night’s, but all that GOP voters will take from it is that Joe Biden is weak and the Democrats are plunging headlong into throwing open our borders and providing free healthcare for illegal immigrants. Here are some additional observations from this red-state Republican:

The Harris-Biden dust-up

After two nights of flapping lips, we have only one exchange anyone will remember: Sen. Kamala Harris taking Biden to task for his record on busing. Harris is widely judged to have bested the former vice president on this point, but I am dubious he will drop much in the polls, given that his older base is unlikely to abandon him over the busing issue. Nonetheless, it was impressive to watch former prosecutor Harris lay the trap and then tuck into her prey, and it was a good reminder of why Biden has never done well in presidential campaigns.

He looked stunned that anyone would dare question his record, and that the moderators stood idly by as he was being murdered in the alley. As a Republican strategist, I look at all these exchanges through the lens of how President Trump would react to a similar ambush; I doubt he’d respond as passively to someone driving a rhetorical stake into his heart.

I can’t believe Biden wasn’t ready for an attack on race issues, given the candidate and media interactions he’s had on the topic recently. He should have parried Harris’ attack with one of his own on her record of putting everyone in prison, but he just doesn’t seem suited to hand-to-hand combat.

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You know who must be darn rueful? Sen. Cory Booker. He could’ve gone after Biden on race issues on the first night and just didn’t. In politics, good things come to those who go after them.

The economy. Again.

What we Republicans find amazing about these Democrats is that unemployment is under 4%, there are literally more job openings than people looking for work, and they all — to a person — act as though massive swaths of the country are out of work and impoverished. That’s just not true.

There was lots of (additional) lying about the Republican tax cut on Thursday. I’m sure some reporter will dutifully fact check it (as they did Wednesday night’s debate) but it won’t matter — the Dems have decided that telling the truth about Trump’s tax cuts is a loser. Interestingly, they rail on Trump when he lies but have no problem lying deeply themselves about taxes and the American economy.

Bernie’s fading star

The debate opened, as it did with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the first night, revolving around Sen. Bernie Sanders and his core issues. And then he sort of disappeared, just like Warren. Bernie lives to fight on because he has a durable organization that laps up his brand of socialist politics, which are popular in a party that’s moving rapidly in his policy direction. But he wasn’t the star of this debate by any means and didn’t have a memorable moment, other than giving Sen. Michael Bennet a death stare usually reserved for the person in front of you taking too long to make their Starbucks order.

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Marianne Williamson. Really?

The Democratic National Committee put her on a stage instead of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and instead of letting Warren or Booker mix it up with the varsity squad. The DNC’s major failing was the New Zealand tourism bureau’s gain, I guess.

Who’s up and who’s down?

Mayor Pete Buttigieg was one of the winners and definitely lives to fight another day. He had some nice moments that made the media happy, including his usual condescension about who is allowed to be a Christian and who isn’t (spoiler: only St. Pete meets his own criteria, and no Republican even comes close). Poor Liz came out not looking so great. Warren was riding on the media’s shoulders for a couple of weeks, but they tossed her overboard for Harris after Thursday’s debate. Several folks from this week’s debates won’t last much longer. Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Kirsten Gillibrand and Eric Swalwell are for sure done, as are Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, John Delaney, Jay Inslee, Tulsi Gabbard and Bill de Blasio. At some point the money will run out, and so will the cable interest.

The Republican opportunity

The Dems’ debate nights accelerated a lurching to the left by the party that the GOP has been hoping for. Free transgender abortions. Open borders. Free healthcare for illegal immigrants. Higher taxes. Executive action to restrict gun ownership. Republicans are giddy that all of the top contenders have signed on to an agenda that is easily portrayed as being out of the mainstream in rural and suburban America. The notion that Democrats will raise taxes on American citizens to pay for free healthcare for illegal immigrants will reverberate loudly throughout the heartland.

For Democrats, the usefulness of these debates was to begin to thin the herd. For Republicans, the utility was in watching the herd move so far to the left as to be unrecognizable to most middle American voters. By the way, 10 people on a stage is too many. Groups of five over four nights, or stricter requirements to keep the gadflies out, would’ve served the DNC better.

Scott Jennings is a long-time Republican advisor, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and CNN political commentator. Scott@RunSwitchPR.com & @ScottJenningsKY

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