Editor’s Note: Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
I had the craziest dream last night that the Democratic primary for president had devolved into a debate about how best to get an absentee ballot to the Boston Marathon bomber. I’ve got to stop eating so many pecans before bedtime. Democrats would never make it so easy on Donald Trump, right?
On Monday night, I hunkered down in front of the TV to watch all five hours of the Democratic presidential candidate town halls hosted by CNN.
I stared into the abyss, watching hour after hour of the socialist parade. I imagined my taxes going up. I imagined my guns and pickup truck being confiscated by the Green New Deal police. I imagined Donald Trump being impeached. I imagined Bernie Sanders ordering his bros to pick me up by the ankles and shake the change from my pockets.
I looked up my 23andMe test results to find that I had about the same amount of Native American DNA as Elizabeth Warren. I wondered why Amazon, with all the money and power and lobbyists, has zero friends at the top of either party. I wondered: Is Anderson Cooper taller than Mayor Pete? I worried for the audience members’ safety when Amy Klobuchar barked at them: “That’s when you guys are supposed to cheer.” Yikes.
Anyhow, before I see my therapist, here are some notes I took on these five contenders:
I don’t understand why she’s not polling better. She says everything liberal Democrats want to hear, has more specific plans to back up those views (God help us), and seems more confident and committed than Klobuchar or Kamala Harris.
At least Warren runs her campaign the way she would run the government, spending the vast majority of what she raised in the first quarter while running one of, if not the, largest staff bureaucracies in the Democratic field.
Warren’s calls for impeaching Donald Trump and forgiving nearly all current college loans is pandering at its finest, as I suspect her views on both are right in the sweet spot for most Democrats. Orange man bad, redistribution of wealth good. Got it.
Oh, right. Maybe she’s lagging because she claimed to be a Native American, made the disastrous political decision to prove it with a DNA test and somehow made virtually everyone – the Cherokee Nation included – angry in the process. If you can’t get your identity politics right in a Democratic primary, you are doomed.
Ultimately, Warren turned in a nice performance and could be a contender in New Hampshire if her campaigns’ wigwam payments don’t bounce by January.
I loved that he started by slamming Obamacare as a dysfunctional system, highlighting its failed results despite all the spending on health care we do in this country.
I can see why the Democrats like Sanders; it reminds me of why Republicans liked Trump back in 2016. Sure, he’s not really in our party, but he is more direct than anyone else in the race. His disdain for pablum appeals to regular folks.
Sanders went right at Trump’s working-class base with his answer on trade. His description of relieving the financial stress on families was on point, as someone who well remembers listening to his own parents having stressful conversations after the latest round of factory layoffs.
It was an aside, and I don’t know how it plays among partisan Democrats, but I found it interesting that he blamed some marriages dissolving on the financial stress families endure. That is no doubt true.
Should he get the Democratic nomination, Sanders will come to regret his push for terrorists, murderers and rapists to get their absentee ballots while in prison. Trump will hammer him on that every single day. If he doesn’t walk it back, he will face some of the most brutal attack ads in American political history.
For a guy who is usually sure of himself, Bernie stumbled around on impeachment like a rookie. His statement that he didn’t “nationalize” anything as mayor of Burlington was a laughably dumb way to explain his track record.
As Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott once said: “Sometimes, I’ll start a sentence, and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” There’s your new Kamala Harris campaign slogan.
She took forever to get to it, but Harris called for impeachment. It was almost like she wasn’t sure if she was going to come out for it when she started talking but finally meandered into it after running out of breath.
In contrast, on gun control, Harris clearly feels passionate. Her promise to use executive action sent chills up my spine, which I assume means it sent a corresponding thrill down Chris Matthews’ leg. I was surprised she didn’t use Trump’s executive order on building the wall as a template for potentially taking executive action on gun violence; probably a missed opportunity.
The story she told about her mother’s cancer experience was powerful. Personal, emotional stories like that give voters confidence that you know more about issues than what some staffer told you to say. It was one of Harris’s best moments, by far. Don Lemon’s question on the elimination of private insurance companies under the Medicare for All plan that she supports ruined the moment a bit because it appeared to show that she doesn’t really understand what she’s backing.
Harris’ answer on reparations for African-Americans was passionate, right up until Lemon asked if she supported “financial reparations” and she boldly said, “we should study it.” She did the same thing on Bernie’s plan to let terrorists and rapists vote from prison. She was all in until ending with, “I think we should have that conversation.”
I imagine ordering at a restaurant with her is extremely frustrating. I’ll have the soup. This soup looks amazing. Actually, let’s talk about whether I should have the soup. In fact, can we study the soup for a few years and then order? Everyone at the first state dinner in a Harris administration will starve to death.
Harris is a master of using as many words as possible to explain why she’s taking a non-position. This is why Bernie is eating everyone’s lunch – he just says what he’s for or against and then moves on, while the rest of them talk and talk before disappointing their audience.
It happened again on a question about cyber warfare. She started talking with apparently no idea what to say and wound up with a word salad that had nothing to do with the question. She did the same thing on lowering the voting age to 16, starting with, “I am really interested in having that conversation” and ending with – after many, many words – maybe.
The best part about speaking at 11 p.m. in New Hampshire is that it is only 10 p.m. in Iowa. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is either going to be president of the United States in 2021 or the head White House tour guide for President Kardashian in 2025.
Either way, this affable Midwesterner is a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.
His comparison of Sanders to Trump is pretty astute. Democrats should listen to him as he clearly gets the Trump voters better than anyone in the field.
The audience applauded Buttigieg when he flatly said no to the nonsense of letting the Boston Marathon bomber vote from prison. It is a no-brainer question that only Buttigieg got right, making me think he isn’t totally beholden to the fringe of his party. There’s a lot of time left in this primary, though, for the common sense to drain from his body.
He equivocated on impeachment (how can you not have an answer?) and bogged himself down in a question about demolishing vacant houses in South Bend. At one point during his soliloquy, I thought our baby had sat on the remote and changed it to a real estate infomercial. It felt like one of those timeshare sessions you have to sit through in Las Vegas to win a free dinner. I suspect there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as people cried for the 10 minutes of their life they just gave away.
His best moment came when he riffed on the need for American moral authority in the world. “I still believe that America can spread values related to freedom and democracy.” Nice line, and his call for more national public service opportunities was a great idea.
She will make a fine deputy secretary of something or other if she gets tired of the Senate. The most memorable question Klobuchar answered had to do with whether frozen pizza should be part of school lunches, as she had supported a company in Minnesota that makes frozen pizzas (aren’t all pizzas frozen up there?).
She finally tossed the company – and its pizza – under the bus. Kudos to the kid who asked the question. He may have a future as an opposition researcher. The obvious follow up was not asked: Can you eat pizza with a comb?
After five hours, I’d say the Geneva Convention should be amended to say that more than four hours of capitalism deprivation is torture.
Warren and Sanders won the night, although Sanders trying to sign up precinct captains in federal Supermax prisons will haunt him. Harris and Klobuchar seemed ill-prepared for prime time and Buttigieg, while exhibiting a bit of pragmatism and some clear talent, ultimately underwhelmed.
Somewhere, Uncle Joe Biden is revving up the Trans Am, grinning from ear to ear under his Ray-Ban Aviators. If I can power through Hairssniffergate, I can power through these amateurs. He didn’t see anything that scared him. At all.