Thursday 27 June 2019

First Democratic Debate, Miami

For a recap, the Guardian liveblog, and here's a transcript

I am trying to learn more about all the candidates, since I am only familiar with four or five of them. There will be 12 debates in total, 6 of them this year. The criteria for being allowed to participate in the debate will willow down the cast of characters (at the moment, 23, not all of which will even make it to the first two) until we have a competitive field. For the first two debates, the criteria are polling at more than 1% in at least three approved polls, or raising a minimum of $65,000 in donation from at least 200 unique donors (a good qualifier there). 

There are twenty candidates who will participate in those two first debates, ten in each. In the first debate on June 26, 2019, the candidates were: 

John Delaney, former U.S. Representative from Maryland
Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York
Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington
Tim Ryan, U.S. Representative from Ohio
Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative from Hawaii
Julián Castro, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Amy Klobuchar, the senior Senator from Minnesota
Cory Booker, the junior Senator from New Jersey
Beto O'Rourke, former U.S. Representative from Texas
Elizabeth Warren, senior Senator from Massachusetts

Of those candidates, only Warren, O'Rourke, Booker, Klobuchar and Castro polled more than 2% in the qualifying polls. All of those candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, are more than 10% behind the two top-polling candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who will both participate in tomorrow's debate, so there's a lot of ground to make up for. 
Commentators have criticised that the width of the field in the debate means that most of what we will get out of these preliminary debates is short soundbites, rather than detailed discussion about policy, but that has always required digging into voting history and Foreign Policy essays anyway. Cynically, what you would want from a primary debate is to figure out which of these candidates can 1) withstand the pressure of the ridiculous financial and physical costs of a campaign (a reminder that election campaigns in Australia last about a month and stop three days before the election) and 2) win against Donald Trump in 2020. Winning against Donald Trump in 2020 means being able to win the majority of electoral votes. This is why Amy Klobuchar used the 30 seconds allocated to her to make her closing statement to say that she could win in states where others have failed. 

The first debate did give an indication of which issues these candidates will be judged by. For domestic policy, they were asked about health care, inequality (candidates were asked both about LGBTQI rights and racial inequality), the student loan crisis, gun control, and immigration. For international policy, they were asked about Iran, the climate crisis (a discussion Tim Ryan from Ohio derailed to talk about "real politics" for working people, in case you were wondering how Tim Ryan is attempting to beat Donald Trump). 

The reality of this race is the paradox at the centre of politics in general: that the Republican party so successfully sells itself as the party of (white, straight, male) average Americans (not even working class, but creating a situation in which actual working class people vote against their economic interest because of fears of progress and an inclusive world), so that anyone campaigning against them has to prove that they are more so the party of those people, rather than questioning the creation of this political class in the first place. How do you manage to sell Donald Trump as the kind of President that Amy Klobuchar needs to point out she can beat in Wisconsin and Michigan? How do you create the kind of political pressure to make everyone declare their working class roots in spite of the fact that Donald Trump, who inherited all of his wealth, manages to capture those voters?

Other things...

Most candidates seem to agree that a health care reform would include an extension of Medicare, although candidates were split on whether "Medicare of all" should replace private insurance entirely. John Delaney was most vocal in defending keeping private insurance companies in place as an option for patients, while Elizabeth Warren was most vocal in replacing them. 

The most surprising moment for me during the debate was Julián Castro, unprompted, using the debate about health care as a jumping off point to discuss reproductive justice, and then continued to argue for the rights of the trans community to have equal access to health care. He also suggested pathways for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship, creating a system that honours asylum claims, and creating a Marshall plan that would work on the push factors of immigration. Most of the candidates except Beto O'Rourke (from Texas) and Amy Klobuchar, who wasn't clear on the issue, agreed to remove a section from the criminal code that makes crossing the border a criminal offence, which is being used to separate children from their parents. 

The candidates were not asked directly about Russia and China, but mentioned them as trade and foreign policy challenges. 

It is frustrating that the only hope we have to get any kind of debate about the climate catastrophe and how to mitigate it will be about how renewable energy technologies can create job opportunities. It's hard to hear those statements in light of the fact that the climate catastrophe ties in with so many other issues, and that it is an existential crisis, not one that can neatly be shoved in right after a statement about factories moving to China.

So, in conclusion - from this debate, Warren and Castro seem like well-prepared, engaging candidates able to speak about policy while still making memorable statements. 

Here's some more about how the Democratic candidates struggle to differentiate themselves from Donald Trump's foreign policies. 

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