Too bad for Democrats that Bill de Blasio is mayor of New York City, and not the mayor of a city in a state narrowly carried by Donald Trump in 2016 - the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, say; or Ann Arbor, Michigan; or even Pittsburgh.
As the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2020, imagine Mayor Bill attacking Trump, after the whupping he put on Barack Obama at the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Detroit a couple of weeks back.
After listening to de Blasio and several others on the debate stage, including former housing secretary Julian Castro, you might have been confused as to who was the Democrats’ chief election foe - the former president, still hugely popular with the party rank-and-file, or Donald Trump.
Instead of concentrating fire on Trump, they scored the Obama administration on trade, immigration and criminal justice.
It appeared that de Blasio relished the opportunity to demonstrate his 2019 liberal creds, criticizing centrist Joe Biden, who, of course, served as vice president during the eight years of the Obama presidency.
Based on his Detroit performance, de Blasio would make the perfect attack dog for the man/woman at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2020. But that will never happen. The very least of the party’s worries is whether or not New York state remains true blue next year. It will, thus virtually eliminating Mayor de Blasio as a vice presidential possibility.
Unless - unless the party goes completely bonkers. You might say it is half way there now, what with the attacks on Obama, the sheer number of Democrats running for the nomination, and the structure of the debates. The fact that the party hierarchy has opted to begin debating now is itself problematic.
As veteran journalist Walter Shapiro recently wrote in The New Republic, “This is a time when [the candidates] should be going local, focusing on early races in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Better they should going house to house, to every restaurant and social in Ida Grove Iowa, and New Ipswich, New Hampshire, as well as to other places where they might engage persuadable independents, wayward Democrats, disenchanted Republicans, and Obama-to-Trump voters - places like western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh.
Local retail politics has a long and honorable place in presidential campaign history, including Kennedy-Humphrey in West Virginia in 1960, Jimmy Carter in Iowa in 1976, and Barack Obama in Iowa in 2008.
Instead, the DNC has the candidates, all 20-plus, grubbing for online dollars and individual donors in the hope of being allowed an opportunity to debate before a national cable TV news audience.
As much as they hate the guy, Democrats appear mesmerized by the example of Donald Trump in 2015, when the reality show host first reality-showed his way across GOP debates stages, reducing Jeb, Marco, and the many others to pulp cutouts of national political figures.
This is not to deny the importance of debates in the contest for the White House. The two Roosevelts, “Silent” Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower were each brilliant debaters whose skills helped them win the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. (On second thought ...)
This year’s crop could use a little debate tutoring. While Elizabeth Warren and company acquitted themselves quite well on evening one in Detroit, the night-two crowd didn’t do themselves any favors, especially with their elaborately detailed explanations of their plans to expand health care coverage to all Americans.
They must have lost three-quarters of the room as they roamed from one disconnected clause to another in search of coherency.
A wise bit of campaign advice was offered the Democratic nominee for president in 1956 by the Harvard professor and political junkie Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who told candidate Adlai Stevenson to forget the “the refinements and concentrate on plain statements of what you think is essentially right.”
Voters are not waiting to hear the technical aspects of policy, but “clear and definite expressions of the way you would propose to tackle” problems. “Don’t hesitate to give a short answer.”
Come September, the Democratic hopefuls will gather in Houston for another try. By then, due to DNC rules, the debate field will be considerably smaller.
Likely to be gone are Andrew Yang, he of cash give-away fame; Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Youngstown’s Tim Ryan; the interesting and mystical Marianne Williamson; successful governors Steve Bullock and Jay Inslee; the moderate, and the moderately-engaging senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet,; de Blasio; just maybe senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand; and others, including Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who, my gosh, should be running for the Senate (as should Stacey Abrams in Georgia.)
The political and media worlds have fallen hard for debates. As time passes, however, they are more and more suspect. Is this really the way to choose a president?
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. He can be reached at email@example.com.