Whether you watched the various bits of media analysis of last night’s debate in real-time or are catching up this morning, you’re probably sensing two themes emerging from the various liberal expert analysts. The first is that Joe Biden did terribly, looked old and tired and was outmaneuvered at every turn. The second theme can be summed up in a far more digestible soundbite. Wasn’t Kamala Harris AWESOME?!?!?!
Despite most of the candidates only receiving a paltry amount of screen time to make their marks (Yang got less than three minutes total), journalists across the band are zooming in on one exchange. It was the moment when California Senator Kamala Harris got all up in Joe Biden’s grill over his claims of comity with a couple of his openly segregationist colleagues and his opposition to bussing back in the days before Mayor Pete Buttigieg was even born. (Associated Press)
Kamala Harris spoke slowly but bluntly as she stared at Joe Biden, then began treating him as a hostile witness.
The former federal prosecutor turned California senator started by saying she didn’t think the former vice president “was a racist.” But she criticized him for recently “defending segregationists” in the Senate and for once opposing mandatory busing of students to desegregated public schools.
Harris described a young girl in the 1970s who boarded such buses before dramatically offering, “That little girl was me.”
Here’s the video from CNBC. The exchange in question starts right near the top.
The part of that exchange that the Associated Press coverage, along with a number of other outlets left out was when Harris said that hearing Biden make those statements was personally very “hurtful.” It’s in the video above, however. But if this is the moment Harris is relying on to break out of the middle of the pack, it’s problematic at best.
Why? Because if you’re angling to be the leader of the free world, I’m not sure that your best defining moment is saying insufficiently woke man hurt my feelings. What are you going to do when Nicolas Maduro calls you the daughter of Satan? Hide in the West Wing and sob?
Getting back to the dueling themes unfolding this morning, I can understand why the liberal bastions of the commentariat desperately want to give Harris her moment while finding ways to slow down the Biden juggernaut. Many of them still haven’t recovered from their nagging case of 2016 poutrage and very much want to see a woman in the Oval Office. If it can be a woman of color, that’s just a bonus. But their options are rather limited at this point. As of Wednesday’s RCP average, only two women (Harris and Elizabeth Warren) are registering support above one percent. Warren has been showing some surprising juice in the last couple of polls, but it remains to be seen if that’s real momentum or a couple of outliers.
Also, Warren tends to be a terrible candidate on the stump, generally coming across like she’s lecturing you more than engaging you in a conversation. She seems fragile, and it’s not hard to imagine her folding like a wet paper bag in the face of a blustering Donald Trump in a head-to-head debate.
So that leaves us with Harris. She’s a bit better on the stump than Warren, but she hasn’t caught fire in the imagination of the primary voters, so the establishment media needs to give her a push. It’s true that she’s doing better than twenty of the other nomination hopefuls, but that’s not saying much. There’s still a 25 point gulf between her and Joe Biden in the RCP average. Certainly not impossible to make up with all the time that’s left, but the challenges are obvious, so she’ll need a little help from her friends at MSNBC and CNN.
And what of poor Joe Biden, the insufficiently woke, painfully white, definitively cisgender, straight septuagenarian Christian male? I tend to agree with our friend Jim Geraghty’s assessment. Biden is still in good shape but he’s looking a little less invincible now than the prior polls might have led you to believe.
One night won’t sink the Joe Biden campaign, but boy, did he look like he had a glass jaw, and he also seems to have aged a decade since he left the vice presidency. When asked what his first priority as president would be, Biden answered that it would be defeating Donald Trump.
This night shouldn’t have gone this badly for him. “Build upon what we’ve done” is probably a more reassuring and appealing message than completely scrapping the entire existing system of private health insurance.
Biden supporters shouldn’t be heading for the panic room just yet. One single debate has probably never definitively killed the electoral hopes of any candidate with the possible exception of Richard Nixon in 1960. Of course, that race was also between a Vice President and a Senator, so who knows?