Originally appeared at The American Conservative.
As Rod Dreher has already observed, Warren destroyed Bloomberg in the debate last night with her attacks on him. She has shown would-be Bloomberg voters what a terrible candidate he is, and that does everyone a great service. I have no idea if Warren’s passion and energy will be rewarded by voters, but it was refreshing to see some genuine righteous indignation from her instead of her making corny appeals to “unity.” That passion is what she built her political reputation on, and it is why many people respect her. Virtually everyone seems to think this was her best debate, and I agree with that.
Bloomberg wasn’t just out of practice at debating. He was unprepared to defend his record despite all the negative coverage it has received in the last few weeks, and he gave Democratic voters little reason to trust him or believe that he had learned anything from his past errors. Bloomberg was stiff and clumsy in his delivery, and he was so disengaged for long stretches of the debate that one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was there. Where Warren was bursting with energy and passion, he had none. It was a lifeless performance that was also light on substance.
There were a few other remarkable things from the debate that deserve a few comments. Probably the most important exchange was between Sanders and Bloomberg. Sanders defended his democratic socialist label by pointing to the use of government funds to subsidize and assist corporations, and his point is that the government is already intervening in the economy for the few rather than the many. This was, as he put it, “socialism for the rich.” Bloomberg’s counter to this was as lame and unimaginative as everything else the former mayor had to say: he attacked Sanders for owning three homes and being a millionaire, and he tried to scare people by mentioning communism. The exchange was important because it shows he easily Sanders can turn the attack on his “socialism” around on the attacker in an appealing way, and it also shows that the biggest critics of this “socialism” evidently don’t have much of an argument against what Sanders is actually proposing. Like Bloomberg, they have to engage in tired red-baiting or they try to accuse Sanders of hypocrisy because he doesn’t live in a hovel.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s mutual hatefest was entertaining to watch, because they exposed each other’s flaws as they tried to take each other down. They showed why neither of them is prepared to be exposed to the scrutiny that winning the nomination would bring. Buttigieg showed himself to be as annoying as he was vacuous, and Klobuchar showed how easily she could be provoked and rattled when challenged. Both of them trail significantly in the upcoming contests, and this was probably their last chance to change that. They saved their harshest attacks for each other, and in the end they seem to have canceled each other out.
There was no real discussion of foreign policy in the debate. It is common for presidential debates to skimp on covering these issues, but it has been a long while since there have been no questions about it. If it hadn’t been for a question bringing up Klobuchar’s inability to name the president of Mexico in a recent interview, there would scarcely have been any mention of the rest of the world. I joked last night that it was just as well because listening to Chuck Todd ask a question about foreign policy would make me ill, but it was a serious failure on the part of the moderators to have no section of the debate dedicated to the area where the president has the most authority and greatest freedom to act. It’s true that most voters care about domestic issues far more, but the fact is that presidents have a limited ability to change things at home and they have tremendous power in deciding how the U.S. acts in the world. Right now, I would argue that presidents wield far too much power in this area because they keep bypassing and ignoring Congress. We should hear what all the candidates think about this, especially when someone like Bloomberg is such an admirer of authoritarian political systems abroad.
Whoever wins the next election will be presiding over multiple wars, and none of these was even mentioned. It is a huge disservice to the public and the candidates to ignore the issues that will consume much of the attention of the next president. The omission of foreign policy from the debate was even worse because most of the candidates do have something to say about this subject, but they are limited by the format to the subjects that are selected for them. If the purpose of these debates is to inform voters which candidates are best-prepared to be president, this debate was mostly a failure.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.