It took four months and three debates, but Kamala Harris finally found a comeback to Tulsi Gabbard. After getting shredded by Gabbard in the late-July debate, a catalyst for Harris’ polling collapse, Harris tried to wreak her revenge on the Hawaii congresswoman, Unfortunately for Harris, Gabbard had also spent the intervening time sharpening her own sword.
And for one brief, shining moment, there was actually a reason to watch this game-show rerun:
Harris starts this off by attacking Gabbard after the latter criticized the “foreign-policy establishment” track record for its interventionist wars and included Hillary Clinton in that club. That’s hardly in dispute; Hillary openly bragged about her role in decapitating the Moammar Qaddafi regime in Libya, smirking that “we came, we saw, he died.” Even other members of the “foreign policy establishment” has issues with Hillary Clinton, after all.
Even though Gabbard never referred to Harris, she struck back by calling her a Fox News shill who’d “buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump Tower.” Gabbard immediately fired back:
What Senator Harris is doing is unfortunately continuing to traffic in lies and smears and innuendos because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I’m making, the leadership and the change that I’m seeking to bring in our foreign policy, which only makes me guess that she will as president continue the status quo, continue the Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy of regime change wars, which is deeply destructive.
At that point, Harris sounded retreat. Her response didn’t include any reference to Gabbard at all, nor did it answer the question about foreign policy:
I believe that what our nation needs right now is a nominee who can speak to all people. I’ve spent my entire career standing mostly in a courtroom speaking five words: Kamala Harris for the people. And it was about all the people, regardless of their race, regardless of their gender, regardless of where they lived geographically, regardless of the party with which they’re registered to vote or the language their grandmother speaks. We need someone on this debate stage in November who has the ability to unify the country and to win the election. And I believe, again, I am that candidate.
Maybe Harris should have left bad enough alone. Being called a liar and not responding to that charge might have been even worse than her Dan Quayle-esque response to Gabbard in July.
But at least it was entertaining, brief as the interlude was in the tedium that preceded and followed it. In my column for The Week, I point out that the entire night was a rehash of platitudes and zingers we’ve heard in every debate thus far, only with even less purpose:
Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate followed a familiar recipe: Put 10 candidates on a stage, fold in four questioners, and mix for two hours. This combination reliably produces lots of platitudes, which make for light eating but provide next to no substance at all.
For instance, can anyone identify without a transcript which candidate asserted that we must “unify the country”? Which candidate insisted that we have to get money out of politics? Who told the audience that Democrats are “focused on tomorrow”? Which issue(s) are “not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue”? How about identifying the person who plans to “bring this country together” as opposed to the one who will “restore the soul of this country,” or the one who wants to “heal the nation”?
It’s a trick question. Nearly everyone on stage in Atlanta on Wednesday offered variations of these same clichés to moderators trying to squeeze in as many topics as possible. ….
Voters saw nearly nothing at the fifth democratic debate they hadn’t seen at other debates or could have easily assumed about the myriad and generalized Democratic Party agenda. Even Biden’s stumbles and gaffes have become routine enough that this particular performance will likely only have a small, temporary effect on his polling and fundraising. We can all look forward to the December debate, when most of these same candidates will be back to answer the same questions with the same canned responses. If voters want to know anything else, go to the contenders’ websites … and save themselves the bother of tuning in.
I didn’t save myself that bother so that I could accurately analyze it. You’re welcome, sane America.
Addendum: Gabbard tried the same strategy of punching up to get attention on Pete Buttigieg. It, er … didn’t go nearly as well for Gabbard.
BUTTIGIEG: So I’ve got to respond to that. I know that it’s par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish even by the standards of today’s politics.
GABBARD: Are you saying that you didn’t say that?
BUTTIGIEG: I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships, for example. Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?
GABBARD: That’s not what I said. That’s not what I said.
BUTTIGIEG: I’m talking about building up — I’m talking about building up alliances. And if your question is about experience, let’s also talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn’t accumulated in Washington, enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.
The moral of this story is that not everyone is Kamala Harris.