Sunday, June 30, 2019

How and why Kamala Harris won her debate - America is ready for Madame President in 2020

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Surely it’s not riskier to back the women who won the debates than the men who lost them. - Michelle Goldberg.

Goldberg elaborates in her opinion piece at the NY Times, The Women Who Won the Debates Are the Democrats’ Best Hope, arguing that “We need to get past the trauma of Hillary Clinton’s defeat.”

There’s a bleak paradox here. Feminists, myself included, are probably more likely than others to believe that sexism played a profound role in Clinton’s loss. Looking back, the 2016 campaign seems to me like a slow-motion symbolic femicide — the “Lock her up!” chants, the “Trump that Bitch” T-shirts, the proliferation of medusa imagery. But the more you think that misogyny undermined Clinton, the less inclined you might be to support another female challenger, given the hellish prospect of four more years of an authoritarian goon — who has now been credibly accused of rape — defiling the White House.

… the last two debates have made it clear that the two strongest Democratic candidates are women. Warren has the most well-developed ideas and the clearest vision for what she wants to accomplish as president. Like Sanders, her platform isn’t an accessory to her campaign, but her entire reason for running. Harris is fierce with an ineffable charisma; she’s often warm and joyful, but you could imagine her vivisecting Trump onstage.

… every candidate will have something to overcome. Sanders would have to deal with widespread fear of socialism. Biden demonstrated again on Thursday that he’s ill-equipped to justify much of his long record in public life. Sexism is a disadvantage but it’s not the only one.

… most women don’t want Trump to be president, and the 2018 midterms showed a widespread eagerness to put women in office. This week should give us confidence that a woman can lead the fight against this grotesque president. Surely it’s not riskier to back the women who won the debates than the men who lost them.

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. If you stay at home, out of the hurly-burly of this election, because you don’t believe a woman can beat Trump, you are living a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me take Kamala Harris as an example of a woman who I think can win in 2020.

Jelani Cobb, writing in the New Yorker, observes that Kamala Harris Exposed the Biden Weaknesses That Trump Will Exploit.

For most of the evening, the author Marianne Williamson spoke at the periphery of the issues, but she was right about one thing: the coalition of voters needed to remove Trump from office will be drawn to the candidate who reminds them least of who we are at this moment and most of who we aspire to be. On Thursday, that was not Joe Biden. Kamala Harris’s unsparing sharpness and unsentimental willingness to flay Biden onstage only served to highlight that fact.

Also in the New Yorker, John Cassidy takes note of how Joe Biden’s Faltering Debate Performance Raises Big Doubts About His Campaign.

… Biden may have been able to salvage something from the night if he had provided a more arresting vision of a Biden Presidency. His description of his health-care plan was vague. He talked about restoring America’s soul, but didn’t say very much about rebuilding its infrastructure and industrial base, two issues that he has previously emphasized. In response to a question about what he would do about guns, he gave a fairly strong answer, only to step on it at the end by remarking, “Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the N.R.A., the gun manufacturers”—as if the two pillars of the gun lobby could be separated.

The immediate question is this: Just how much damage did the second Democratic debate do to the campaign of the front-runner, Joe Biden? Only opinion polls conducted in the next few weeks will provide a definitive answer. Since entering the primary, in April, Biden has said a number of things that provoked outrage in progressive circles and shrugs from more moderate Democratic voters. We’ll have to wait and see if Biden’s heated exchange about race and busing with Kamala Harris provokes a different response. But one thing cannot be contested. Considering the debate over all, Biden’s performance raised fresh doubts about his preparation, age, grasp of the environment in which he is operating, and basic political skills.

Kamala’s attack on Biden was months in the making She and her advisers assiduously plotted the attack — and how to capitalize on it afterward. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Harris’ surprise cross-examination of frontrunner Joe Biden produced the third-biggest fundraising bonanza since her launch. The Democratic senator is working to capitalize ahead of a crucial second quarter fundraising deadline: She blanketed news shows with nearly a dozen TV appearances, and her digital team is pumping out clips and other reminders of her interrogating Biden, hoping that Democratic voters will envision her doing the same thing to Donald Trump.

Harris had been in search of a breakout moment to match her tough questioning of Attorney General William Barr in May, and her pummeling of Trump cabinet officials since she arrived in the Senate in 2017. She proved she can translate that same type of performance to a campaign setting, said Brian Fallon, a former aide to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer.

“That goes a long way to helping voters envision her prosecuting the case against Trump on a debate stage next fall,” he said, “which is exactly the impression she wants to leave with Democrats who are prioritizing vague notions of electability.”

Her cross-examination of Biden aside, much of Harris’ appeal as a candidate rests on her story-telling says Katy Waldman in the New Yorker: Kamala Harris Is the Best Storyteller on the Democratic Stage.

We’ll remember the busing moment, but Kamala Harris dominated the debate from the start. She is fervent but deploys her anger precisely, like a flashlight. As Eric Swalwell and Joe Biden tussled over whether the elder statesmen of American politics should “pass the torch” to millennials, Harris calmly waited for her moment. Then she said, “Americans don’t want a food fight. They want to know how they’re going to put food on their table.” There was silence, and then applause, including from several of the other candidates—a recognition that, however the generational scuffle might shake out, an adult had spoken. Onstage, Harris, the former prosecutor, distinguishes herself as a storyteller, who conjures up images as well as arguments in ways the other contenders do not. Answering a question about health care, she spoke of parents looking through the glass door of the hospital as they calculated the costs of treating their sick child. Answering a question about detainment camps for undocumented immigrants, she hypothesized about a mother enlisting the services of a coyote, desperate to secure a better chance for her kid. “We need to think about this situation in terms of real people,” Harris insisted. She certainly demonstrated her ability to do so—to imagine policy as embodied in actual American lives. That narrative instinct framed the most powerful moment of the debate. Criticizing Biden for his past lack of support for busing, Harris began telling another story. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

And that is (at least partly) why Benjamin Wallace-Wells believes that Kamala Harris Won the Night.

Harris, long presumed to be a front-runner, was not at her best during the first months of the Presidential campaign, when the candidates began to introduce policy proposals. Hers had a slightly speculative feel: early on, she came out in favor of abolishing private health insurance, though she did little to explain why. But now we are beginning the next phase, perhaps a full year of regular debates, and Harris, a former prosecutor, and the most vigorous interrogator on the Judiciary Committee, stands out. Her language, more than any of the others’, is direct; she has an oppositional energy. What would Harris do on her first day in office? “Release children from cages,” she said. …

I can imagine how that would play with Trump on the stage. Would he respond with “Keep children in cages”? Harris would shred him. Unlike what Hillary Clinton did not do as she was stalked by Trump, I imagine that Harris would order him back to his corner and keep him there. Imagine the exchange: “Mr. President would you keep children in cages? Yes or no.”

Jeet Heer, in The Nation, concludes that Kamala Harris Won the Debate With Prosecutorial Zeal, saying that Her forensic destruction of Joe Biden may prove to be a game changer.

A debate featuring 10 candidates is an absurd event, one where it’s virtually impossible to have rational discussion or for any single candidate to get their message across. But on Thursday night, Senator Kamala Harris achieved the nearly unimaginable and broke through. She entered the debate as a second-tier candidate, polling well behind not just the front-runner, Joe Biden, but also Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. After tonight, Harris has to be regarded as belonging to the top rank.

Harris broke through the din and confusion of a chaotic debate by foregrounding her talents as a prosecutor (she served as attorney general for California from 2010 to 2016). A good prosecutor knows how to hold a jury’s attention by dramatizing an argument, using his or her voice to underscore the seriousness of the stakes. Quickly summing up a polemical thrust is also a key skill. Harris must have been a superb prosecutor, because she had all those talents in full command.

… In her closing statement, Harris said that “We need a nominee who has the ability to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump, and I will do that.”

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