At the New Hampshire Democratic debate on Friday — who schedules a debate on a Friday?! — the knives came out for former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Church of Social Justice), the winner (?) of the Iowa caucuses. Candidates also took shots at Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) — the second-place (?) finisher — over Medicare for All. Former Vice President Joe Biden needed a strong showing but fumbled right after the kickoff.
The candidates all went after President Donald Trump to one degree or another, repeated tired Democratic mantras against free speech in politics (Citizens United), originalist judges and justices, and the right to life. All of the candidates hesitated to raise their hands when asked if they were concerned about having a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket. Only Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Someplace Cold) slowly put her hand up. This winking at socialism defined the policy trajectory of the debate, with candidates pushing government solutions to nearly every problem.
The debate began with health care, an issue that has been covered in almost every single Democratic debate this cycle. Bernie wants Medicare for All, Sen. Elizbeth Warren (D-1/1024th of a Plan) used to want it, while everyone else has their own version of a public option that would still ruin the health care market and likely push America on the path toward socialized medicine.
It was mostly the same old debate, but Klobuchar got a powerful blow in at Buttigieg. Mayor Pete was for Medicare for All before he was against it. Indeed, the mayor tweeted his support for socialized medicine “most affirmatively and indubitably, unto all ages” — in 2018.
Gosh! Okay… I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All, as I do favor any measure that would help get all Americans covered. Now if you'll excuse me, potholes await.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 19, 2018
David Sirota, a Bernie Sanders speechwriter, had also slammed Mayor Pete for this tweet, claiming that Buttigieg “touted Bernie’s Medicare for All plan — then [Pete’s billionaires] gave him cash & Pete suddenly started attacking the same plan. This story tells you exactly who Pete answers to.”
Yet billionaire coal-investor-turned-green-activist Tom Steyer ($-IMPEACH) put things in perspective.
“I have had this conversation on this debate stage from these people now every single debate, and they’re all right. Everybody on this stage is better on economic justice and health care than anybody in the Republican Party and a million times better than Donald Trump,” Steyer claimed. “That is not the question in front of us today. The question in front of us today is how are we gonna beat Donald Trump.”
Steyer pointed to George Stephanopoulos, communications director of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign, and noted that Clinton’s slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid.”
“Well, if you look at what Mr. Trump is saying, he’s saying those words: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ I trust every one of these people a million times more, but we’re gonna have to take Mr. Trump down on the economy because if you listen to him, he’s crowing about it every single day and he’s gonna beat us unless we can take him down on the economy, stupid. And that’s the issue here. It is not about who has the best health care plan,” the billionaire insisted.
Steyer got a dig in at Buttigieg for his lack of experience, and then he returned to the theme: “I have heard this debate so many darn times, and I love all these people, and they are all right. If we win, we can get the right thing, Bernie, I am with you. If we win, we can get the right thing, Pete and Amy. But we’ve got to win or we are in deep trouble. ”
"If you look at what Mr. Trump is saying, he's saying those words, 'it's the economy stupid."
Tom Steyer urges Democrats to focus on the issues that matter pic.twitter.com/1arKvUChmF
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) February 8, 2020
This moment helped explain why Democrats hesitated to express their worry about a democratic socialist taking the top of the ticket in November — they don’t care quite as much about the radicalism of the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, they care about beating Trump. They all support a government takeover of health care and the energy industry — they just want it to varying degrees. Trump is going in the exact opposite direction and they can’t stand it.
Ultimately, this is the question that matters most: will America drift in the direction of socialism or will it free up the markets that unleashed the unprecedented prosperity of the modern era? Every candidate on that stage represents a step in the wrong direction. Even businessman Andrew Yang (MATH) attacked capitalism — while rightly admitting that “You can’t regulate away racism with a whole patchwork of laws that are race-specific.” (Are you listening, Mayor Pete?)
Andrew Yang: "You can't regulate away racism with a whole patchwork of laws that race-specific."
— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2020
Throughout the debate, the Democrats marched in lockstep on various issues. When it came to the federal courts, each of them pledged their undying loyalty to Roe v. Wade (1973) — which twisted the meaning of the Constitution to legalize abortion. As for writing law into the Constitution, Joe Biden insisted he would only support a Supreme Court nominee who believes in “unenumerated rights” like the right to abortion. He then proceeded to take credit for Supreme Court precedents on abortion, bragging about the character defamation of Robert Bork.
When Pete Buttigieg, who agrees with Biden, said, “We cannot allow the Supreme Court to continue to become one more political battlefield, as we are seeing today,” he was trying to defend Roe but he was effectively making an argument for originalism. After all, liberal judges reinterpreting the Constitution made the Supreme Court political in the first place. The Court should let Congress make law on controversial issues.
All the candidates also seemed to agree on Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the Supreme Court case that upheld people’s rights to band together and spend money to advocate for political causes they believe in. The 2020 Democrats demonize this ruling, suggesting that it gives “dark money” control over politics, but in reality, the decision actually makes politics more democratic by allowing more voices in the political arena. (It did not change the legal limits on direct campaign contributions.)
The candidates nearly fell over themselves in condemning this free speech in politics, but ostensible moderate Joe Biden proved the worst. He insisted he would replace the free market of political ideas with a system in which “only public money can be spent in elections.” In other words, the government would control the whole thing.
In another telling moment, Tom Steyer condemned Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “stacking the court for a generation with young, right-wing radicals.” These Democrats are so off the deep end, they think interpreting the Constitution according to its original public meaning is a “radical right-wing” perspective.
Tom Steyer: "These Republicans are in control. They're stacking the court for a generation with young, rightwing radicals…The question is what are we going to do about it?" https://t.co/Rhy9aOaDTU #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/J01co5jqxX
— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2020
The Democratic horse race only matters because it will determine which kind of radical anti-originalist big-government opponent President Trump will face off against in November. These pro-abortion, anti-political free speech candidates all want America to go in a more socialist-friendly direction. Whether or not they are socialist is debatable, but they are all winking at socialism.
That said, the horse race does matter. Mayor Pete took some pretty heavy fire, with Klobuchar slamming him for saying the Senate impeachment trial was “exhausting to watch” (Fact check: True), and ABC News correspondent Lindsey Davis pressuring him on his record in South Bend, Ind. These attacks are not likely to stop his momentum from Iowa (the mayor of New Hampshire’s second-largest city recently endorsed him), but they may slow him down a little.
Amy Klobuchar praises Mitt Romney's "courage" for impeachment vote, then turns to Pete Buttigieg: "You said it was exhausting to watch and that you wanted to turn the channel and watch cartoons." https://t.co/93QauZSK6e #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/O4wFL1cfZR
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 8, 2020
Key exchange (second time asking question):
DAVIS: “How do you explain increase in black arrests in South Bend under your leadership for marijuana possession?”
BUTTIGIEG: “Again, overall rate was lower”
DAVIS: [interrupts] “No, there was an increase…” pic.twitter.com/E2cGyyaFU7
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) February 8, 2020
Bernie Sanders … was Bernie Sanders. He did not alter the trajectory of the race, although he did handle a difficult question on gun rights rather well. Warren acquitted herself well — if hypocritically, as Matt Margolis pointed out. Klobuchar had a strong performance, but she will need a great deal more to pull off an upset win in the next few primary contests. Andrew Yang stood out by being different, but he is also a longshot candidate.
Steyer proved surprisingly memorable. He needed to draw attention to himself and explain what his role in the campaign is, and he achieved both of those goals. Much of the debate in this primary has centered on the question of ideology: far-left insanity or slightly less insane “moderation”? Mayor Pete is running on novelty, Biden on experience. Steyer essentially jettisoned ideology altogether and said he would run on political organization — something he did well in the “need to impeach” campaign. With Democrats focused on beating Trump above all else, this may be a smart strategy for a longshot candidate.
Biden has never been a good debater, and tonight was no exception. After his disappointing fourth-place showing in Iowa, he needed a win and this debate was at best a wash for him. Biden admitted he would likely lose New Hampshire, but his real test will come in South Carolina — a state with a large share of black voters. This debate did little to help him — and may have actually hurt him — in that regard.
— Matt Margolis 🇺🇸 (@mattmargolis) February 8, 2020
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.