Issues & Insights

10 Democratic Candidates. Times Two Nights. Just. Shoot. Me. Now.

I was gearing up to write that the best thing about last night’s debate among 10 (count ‘em, 10!) Democratic presidential wannabes last night was that it finally ended.

Except that then NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie delivered the night’s worst news, by many magnitudes of awful: “Guess what? We’ve got 10 more candidates tomorrow night.

Just. Shoot. Me. Now.

Not that the long line-up of hopefuls didn’t each have their coveted “defining moments.”

Teacher’s pet Lizzie Warren breaking out of the gate with an energetic riff on inequality and call for “structural change” And later, a common-sense concept of actually differentiating among different types of gun buyers.

Earnest Wonder Boy Beto snapping heads (and creating a viral Twitter moment) by breaking out in Spanish (suddenly the party’s language of choice).

Hizzoner Bill De Blasio, drawing megacrowds numbering in the teens on the trail, boldly breaking in on multiple occasions – and his surprisingly ardent plea to “all the American citizens out there who feel you’re falling behind” that “immigrants didn’t do that to you.”

“Gotta-Google-this-guy” Julian Castro holding forth with a crisply articulate plan on immigration and scolding a chastised and largely substance-free O’Rourke to “do your homework on this issue.”

Confident Congressman John Delaney setting himself apart as a former entrepreneur offering “real solutions, not impossible promises.”

Iraq Veteran (thanks for reminding us 10 times) Tulsi Gabbard taking down Tiny Tim Ryan with forthright assertions that it was “unacceptable” to tell soldiers about being “engaged” in Afghanistan, that “the Taliban was there long before we came in. They’re going to be there long after we leave” and that “we have to bring our troops home.”

Ryan with a heartfelt closing plea for unity, serving notice that he was “ready to play some offense.”

Klobuchar showing up Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on abortion funding with the evening’s most effective play of the woman’s card.

“What’s-he-doing-here” Inslee’s otherwise initially effective ability to point to actual accomplishments as governor (which did ultimately wear thin).

And “I-never-noticed-he-had-blue-eyes” Corey Booker’s own reminder of his ability to bring a coalition together behind prison reform legislation.

But that’s just it. Everyone did have her or his “defining moment.” Calling to mind brainiac villain Syndrome’s admonition in Disney’s bitingly satirical animated flick The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super… no one will be.”

It was all too earnest. All too heartfelt. All too practiced. All too pat. And in the end, all too much.

From the starting gun, it all ran together in a muddy muddle of moving personal narrative-spinning, resume-padding, finger-pointing, sound-biting, and worst of all, can-you-top-this leftist posturing.

Not to mention that each candidate’s soaring high point was offset by an equally cringe-worthy crash to earth.

We get it, Sen. Booker. You have an especially annoying sense of “urgency.” And yeah. You speak Spanish, too.

Beto: must you start the answer to every question with someone’s tragic story?

Tulsi. We all know Henry Kissinger’s infamous approach to “strategery:” “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?” But don’t you at least have to give a nod to the query before launching into your stump speech?

Gov. Inslee: yessiree, you’re the candidate of climate change. But it’s not just a tad over the top insisting it will be the subject of your deathbed declarations to your grandchildren?

Right, Secretary Castro. It might be “past time” to “pursue legislation so that women are paid equal pay for equal work in this country.” Which is why it happened in 1963. (P.S. No one in America is impressed that you know what Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act says.)

Sen. Klobuchar, you seem pretty serious. So what’s with your outlandish notion that grown-ups should make policy on marriage and guns by listening to 17-year-olds?

Mayor De Blasio, that’s a surefire applause line among Democrats that there’s plenty of money, just in the wrong hands. Except the rest of us who actually work for a living recognize that you’re talking about the money now in our hands.

Congressman Delaney, not to quibble, but doesn’t “giv(ing) everyone in this country health care as a basic human right for free, full stop” while maintaining private insurance count as an “impossible promise?”

Mr. Ryan, ya think maybe President Trump has already thought about sending doctors and nurses to care for illegally transported kids now overwhelming our border resources?

And gee, Sen. Warren: not many complaints on your style, versus your substance. But maybe lighten up on the Oklahoma roots narrative, given its close association with your “Fauxcahontas” legend?

In the end, the story of the night was the sheer volume of rehearsed rhetoric, finely-tuned tactics and practiced policy prescriptions ensured that some sliver of America spent two hours we will never get back without anyone really breaking out of the pack.

And that we have to do it all over again tonight. And many more nights to come.

Underscoring what we all already knew: culling an unwieldy herd of 24 largely fourth-rate candidates for the privilege of being cut to shreds by Donald Trump is going to be a protracted — and particularly painful — process.

Bob Maistrosis a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist. He was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, a former Senate subcommittee counsel. He can be reached at

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