What is it with candidates getting caught flat-footed during debates this year? First we had the Democrat in New York’s 21st congressional district discovering that she didn’t know what her position on a gun ban was while the cameras rolled. Then, on Tuesday night, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren found out there was an ethics complaint lodged against her in the middle of her debate with GOP challenger Geoff Diehl. Warren seemed stunned at the news, with almost nothing to say in response to the charge.
The complaint, sent to the senior members of the Senate Ethics Committee by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), was based on fundraising mailers the Warren campaign sent out during the Kavanaugh hearings. (Free Beacon, emphasis added)
After some back and forth between the candidates, one of the moderators cut off Warren’s complaint about the president to return to the ethics complaint against her. “I would like to drill down on what Representative Diehl said. The fundraising while the vote was being taken on the Kavanaugh hearing – did you or did you not do that?”
“Actually, I don’t know,” she replied.
The audience gasped.
“Yes, there’s an ethics complaint that has been filed about a fundraising email,” one moderator replied.
“Then, then I will, I will check into it,” Warren said, “but I don’t know.”
There’s that phrase again. “I don’t know.” Those are the exact three words that Tendra Cobb used when asked about the gun ban during the New York debate I linked above. There are cases where an “I don’t know” answer can be refreshingly honest, particularly when a candidate is hit with a question about breaking news in the middle of an interview or debate. Better to admit that you’re not up to speed and promise to look into it. But this was not one of those times.
Some of this can be written off to staffing failures and not having the candidate adequately prepped before they take the stage. And the reality is, particularly in the case of a national or state-wide race, the candidate rarely signs off on every single fundraising email or snail mailer that goes out. But you’re supposed to at least present the perception that you’re on top of your organization.
In the case of Elizabeth Warren, however, the problem runs deeper. This doesn’t mean she’s in danger of losing to Diehl, but it’s something I’ve been saying for years, particularly when her name is brought up as a possible presidential contender. The fact is that Warren simply isn’t a very good candidate or campaigner and she never has been. She’s an awkward public speaker who almost always looks like a deer caught in the headlights when a sticky issue comes up. She’s not good at retail politics and the mandatory gladhanding that convinces people you’re genuine. She’s really just not good at this.
If she wasn’t running in such a solidly blue state she’d never stand a chance. Frankly, I still find it amazing she was even able to win a primary race, and if it weren’t for all the attention Barack Obama showered on her during the formation of the CFPB, she likely wouldn’t have made it to a general election. Tuesday’s debate was only one more example of this problem. If she’s the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee she’s got a lot of growing to do in a short time or Trump will simply eat her alive.