It’s Thursday, June 27, 2019.

It’s the 70th birthday of Vera Wang. She apparently was a competitive figure skater before she became the clothing designer of note.

It’s also night No. 2 of the first Democratic presidential debate. 

And while both nights should count the same, they don’t. The only top five contender last night was Elizabeth Warren. Tonight, we see the other four: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

So everyone expects the two old guys to ratchet things up tonight. Especially Sanders – he never comes to these things unaggrieved.

Alas, I might miss the start of tonight’s debate because of a family commitment. So I’ll try to intelligently (or I hope someone other than me thinks so) weigh in tomorrow, but we’ll see.

I’ve spent the 11 hours since the debate ended watching the TV analysis and reading commentary on websites and on Twitter. 

So let me try to give 10 assessments that I believe are slightly different:

— I want Julian Castro or someone like him on one of the debate stages next fall – something I would not have imagined writing 24 hours ago.

Castro is being widely lauded – and rightfully so – for his performance last night. There were two reasons he stood out.

One is his command of policy. You just get the sense he understands the immigration issue better than anyone else – maybe it was his rolling off the Section 1325 provision and the idea of repealing it that doesn’t seem to come up in discussions about this issue. 

But he also took a strong principled stand on women’s health issues that made you nod your head in agreement.

The second reason is that he was forceful. He didn’t give ground to O’Rourke in their exchange, and he made his points clearly and confidently.

What surprised me was that, a few months back, when Castro appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” he seemed out of his league. It got to the point that Maher seemed to be trying to prod Castro into explaining why he was running for president.

His people must have given him a talking-to. Castro was completely different last night. 

Which brings me back to the original point. When Democrats debate in fall 2020 – assuming Trump and Pence actually show up, about which I’m skeptical – they need to bring two things: ideas and forcefulness. 

Hillary Clinton outdebated Trump all three times. But she didn’t humiliate him. Next fall, the Democratic candidate has to show Trump’s intellectual and spiritual weakness – to the point that his supporters get shaken. 

And, in the vice presidential debate, Pence outpointed a overly polite Tim Kaine. That can’t happen either. 

Castro showed the kind of debate skills the Democrats need. 

Now, is he going to be the presidential nominee? It’s still pretty unlikely.

But imagine him going toe-to-toe with Pence. 

Castro definitely played himself into VP contention last night.

— The NBC moderators played the hot hand.

When the debate started, the attention was on Elizabeth Warren. In the first half-hour, she had twice as many responses as any other single candidate – and with the focus on the economy, she was in her wheelhouse.

But then came the Julian Castro stance on immigration and his exchange with O’Rourke – and the fact that Cory Booker, standing next to him was able to get a word in.

For the last three-quarters of the debate, Castro and Booker were the dominant participants. In fact, on my scorecard, Booker had more responses – 12 – than any other candidate on the stage.

Warren, on the other hand, didn’t say as much in the final 90 minutes of the debate as she did in the first 30. 

My thinking is that the moderators were drawn to the people who were making the strongest statements.

That’s why you didn’t see a lot of Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan or Tulsi Gabbard until the very end, when somebody must have pointed out that they weren’t getting a lot of time and that was relayed to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

It’s a natural tendency. As a teacher, I tend to call on students who I know will sustain a discussion intelligently.

Booker and Castro were doing that last night. And the five moderators were naturally inclined to let them.

  It was as Trump-free as possible.

This was the first Democratic debate. A lot of these people were completely unknown to the Democratic electorate.

So this should have been an introduction – a chance for these candidates to share their ideas for governing the country.

And that’s – for the most part – what it was. 

It was not a Trump-bashing fest. Because it’s understood that Democrats HATE Trump.

The ten candidates needed to say their names more than they needed to say how much they can’t stand him.

— No wonder Trump thought the debate was “BORING”

That’s what he tweeted after he tweeted he was too busy flying to the G-20 summit and saving the free world to watch the debate.

They didn’t talk about him that much. Why would he watch?

There’s another reason why he might have found it boring: they were talking about issues and solutions that he completely doesn’t understand. The candidates knew what they were talking about. 

— I don’t mind these scrums 16-1/2 months from Election Day 2020 and eight months before the Iowa caucus.

Unlike a lot of other folks, I’m not bothered by 24 candidates. It’s still early – as Castro illustrated last night, some of these folks who are not in the top tier have some pretty good ideas.

So this two-night debate in Miami and the two nights in Detroit next month are a fair opportunity for all these people to make their case.

And a lot aren’t making the case expecting to waltz into the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2021. Some of them are playing for jobs on other parts of Pennsylvania Ave.

Because these aren’t just presidential candidates. Some of them are candidates for cabinet positions – one analyst made the astute point that Tulsi Gabbard might have strengthened her case to be Defense Secretary.

I do think that, starting in September, it will be time to cut the debates down. The people on the periphery should have no complaints.

— My ageism is severely challenged by Elizabeth Warren.

I’m 65 and I’ve taken the stance that the next president of the United States has to be younger than me.

That’s eliminates three prominent Democrats: 

Bernie Sanders, who’ll be 79 on Election Day. 

Joe Biden, who’ll be 78 on Inauguration Day.

And Elizabeth Warren, who turned 70 this week.

I want a new generation of leaders that understands the changes in our lives because they’re more affected by them than my generation is or will be.

And older people tend to be stuck in their ways. Trust me, I understand.

But Warren doesn’t seem quite as affected by geriatric matters. She has an energy level that far exceeds some of her younger opponents. And the fact that she’s running an idea-oriented campaign is more than admirable – it’s what presidential campaigns should have been my entire life.

So I’d love to support her. 


That fade out in the final three-quarters last night has me wondering: Was it just that Castro came on strong? Or was it Warren fading late on a Wednesday night, just like I do?

— New Yorkers are wondering who that guy who looked like Bill de Blasio was.

de Blasio didn’t say that much in the debate. But when he spoke, he delivered like a Brooklynite. Forceful, brash and self-assured. 

The line about how immigration is not what’s causing the problems for middle America was one of the strongest of any candidate all night.

Now, if he had been as self-assured as mayor the past six and a-half years, New Yorkers might be a little bit more behind his candidacy. He is not popular here.

— Tim Ryan might be a good Secretary of Labor.

That’s what I think he’s running for. 

I mean, he really wants to be president, or so he says. But if he really wanted to be president, he would have run for Rob Portman’s Ohio Senate seat in 2016 or for governor against Mike DeWine last year.

Yes, he’s right – the Democratic Party shouldn’t ignore the people in his district, which is the area around Youngstown. They’ve been screwed over by General Motors and by Trump, and have been paying the price for the deindustrialization of this country for the past 50 years – think of Bruce Springsteen’s song and you get the idea.

But the core of the party – the mass of its members – are on the coasts and in enclaves like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul. That’s who determines the nominee. And those people will determine the next nominee.

So Ryan’s contribution to the 2020 race is likely to be a strong voice not to forget his constituents. That’s a good thing – Democrats shouldn’t. 

Having Ryan as the point person for the Biden/Sanders/Warren/Harris/mystery administration’s policy toward middle America would be pretty good.

— Jay Inslee is less formidable than I would have thought.

If you’re going to be a one-issue candidate, climate change isn’t a bad one. 

It was ignored in 2016. And now, the situation is getting worse. Unprecedented heat waves and flooding don’t seem to be wholly due to nature’s capriciousness.

But the governor of Washington blew his chance to make a forceful case. Even when Rachel Maddow gave him the first question on the subject, he didn’t present the kind of coherent, convincing argument that Castro did on immigration.

And Amy Klobuchar, who had enough of a presence that she might make the second round of debates in the fall, zapped him after he made that dumb remark about being the only one to advance women’s issues.

If there was a chance that any of these people would drop out before the July debate or the second round beginning in September, I’d bet on Inslee and Beto O’Rourke.

— Overall, it was a good night for Democrats.

On CNN, reporter Gary Tuchman – one of the network’s best – was in Iowa with a focus group of uncommitted voters.

Most of them believed Warren, Booker and Castro did best – one person said Klobuchar and another said Inslee.

None of those participating said they had found their candidate – which means they’re still listening closely tonight.

And, when Tuchman asked if the debate made them feel as though Trump might look better they, to a man and woman, laughed.

Democrats know they will have a better person running in 2020 than Trump. Frankly, it doesn’t take much.

But after the first night, they have to feel better about their chances. 


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