This was far less chaotic or interesting than the Republicans from the same year, and also less contemptuous than the previous Democratic primary from 2008. I’m not gonna analyze a whole debate from this cycle, at least not for the foreseeable future, because I watched these as they occurred (so there was no need to refresh myself) and the overall dynamic of ’16 is still so well understood to my readers as well. Basically, it was like a cross between 1992’s contest between Bill and Jerry Brown and 2000’s narrow field with a clear establishment favorite.
Hillary ran a pretty lousy campaign. At various times, she hugged Obama and claimed to be his third term. At others, she said she was a progressive, fighting for the same things as Sanders (even as she declared that many of his goals would “never ever happen.”) It was obnoxious watching her accuse Sanders of being sexist and needing to “work on his tone” even as he refused to take the bait and focus on her emails (potentially his biggest weapon) or her other scandals past and present. She accused him of not caring about the Sandy Hook families and he still took the high road. Her campaign slogan was “I’m with her” which offers no message, no hope, no rallying cry…just a cultist pledge of allegiance to Hillary herself. (This was wisely changed to “stronger together” for the general, but that’s still a generic and not-catchy slogan.) Her logo was a rip off of Goldwater’s arrow pointing right, and cribbing from the founder of modern conservatism isn’t exactly inspiring when you’re trying to convince us lefties you’re really a progressive. I don’t like how she focused on the “woman card” thing either–you didn’t see Obama talking about race in his elections or shaming black people to fall in line. Call me a conspiracy theorist, call me a spoil sport, but I think she won the primary through name recognition, big donor money, her husband’s reputation as the “first black president” and help from the DNC. If she was an unknown coming into this race, her poor oration (complete with weird emphasis on the wrong words half the time) and wishy-washy rhetoric would have been a recipe for failure.
Bernie also ran a pretty flawed campaign. His message was great, as was his grassroots mobilization and internet presence. He was a great fiery orator and I thought he wiped the floor with Hillary at the debates. He made his campaign actually about something where her’s was just “I’m Hillary. It’s my turn.” Where Bernie failed was:
- Not having good ground game.
- Not tailoring his message to black people and the south.
- Not talking up his own record enough.
- Hiring a comic book store owner as his manager.
- Not diversifying his stump speech enough to appeal to multiple audiences.
- And finally not leveraging his base of support and the revelations of the DNC collusion to either get himself a better deal (like VP or a guaranteed cabinet or committee chair spot) or get Hillary to commit to more.
Overall though, Bernie’s one of my top 5 favorite candidates in history and he single-handedly got me to care about politics again. If it weren’t for his inspiring run, and the crazy Trump fiasco, I never would’ve followed the 2016 election, much less done so much research into past elections to see how we got this far as a country.
The other guys were meh.
O’Malley was a pretty solid debater. I’d have like to see him again in 2020, but he didn’t run and probably would’ve drowned in the crowd had he done so. He was also the only one to focus on environmental issues in the ’16 cycle, so he deserves props for that. He just couldn’t open up a niche between Hillary and Bernie. Bernie caught on too hard and too fast to “out left,” and Hillary was guaranteed the establishment money and endorsements since the Clintons own the DNC. Jim Webb would’ve been a great Republican candidate, or a compromise candidate between the two. But like Joe Lieberman before him, he was way too right-wing to have any place on that stage. He was just wasting everyone’s time.
Chafee got made into a joke, but he seems like a good man from what I’ve read. He grilled Wolfowitz in the Senate about Iraq and looked like a badass doing it. He was also the only person to call out America for bombing a hospital in the Middle East, and to say Snowden should come home a hero. That’s incredibly honorable. He lacked any kind of gravitas or charisma to be anywhere near viable, but like Babbit and Gravel before him, we need unconventional people on stage sometimes to offer up valuable input that would otherwise go unsaid. Still, Chafee’s the only candidate I can think of that got knocked out of a race by a single, straightforward moderator question. And his response to that question is probably the single worst answer any candidate has ever given in the history of US political debates.
I may go back someday and do a more extensive commentary of a debate from this cycle in the vein of previous entries in this series. But not right now. I can’t stand to watch Hillary Clinton for more than a few minutes at a time, I already know the dynamics of each candidate enough so that there’s no mystery to keep my attention and even I have something of a life to live, even in these quarantined times.