As I watched the Democratic presidential debate in New York last night, I wondered if anyone who was doing so was still in the process of making up their mind about who to support. Of course, we don’t yet know how many people actually watched. But it’s likely that most Americans didn’t. Those of us who did are probably die-hard political junkies who made up our minds long ago.
The reason I was thinking about that is because this one was a lot more contentious than previous debates. While issues were discussed, no real new ground was broken about where they stand – but both candidates spent a lot of time pointing the finger at each other to identify flaws in their past and/or present positions. The object seemed to be to score a “hit” on your opponent. In other words, it shed more heat than light.
I suppose that is to be expected at this point in a campaign. But it sure seemed like the kind of debate that each candidate’s supporters will score as a “win” for their side, while I’m not sure there were any real winners. The contentiousness was aimed at people who have already made up their minds and are looking for a reason to dig in their heels against the opposition…no uncertainty allowed.
To the extent that this debate was aimed at New Yorkers, the burden was on Sanders to win over voters in order to reduce Clinton’s lead in that state. Polling averages have her ahead by over 13 points and are likely to be pretty accurate given that this is a closed primary. I doubt that a “dig in your heels and attack your opponent” debate will change that very much.
That is why I went to bed last night thinking that I’m really ready for this primary to be over. No, that doesn’t mean that I am advocating for Bernie Sanders to drop out. I’ve always felt that he should stay in this race as long as he wants to. I also appreciate that there are a lot of people in states to come that deserve to have their say in choosing a nominee. But when it comes to things like debates and the back-and-forth between the candidates on the trail, we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns and are running the risk of damaging the eventual nominee in the upcoming general election.
Speaking of November, my other thought last night was about the gulf between what Sanders and Clinton were sparring about and what the conversation will look like after the conventions. For example, the question about who is more progressive with their proposals to fight climate change is going to be a distant memory when the Democratic candidate squares off in a debate with a climate change denier who scoffs at the idea that it is more of a threat to our security than ISIS. The question about whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 or $15 will become a question about whether to raise it at all. We’re in a state of suspended animation right now and reality is going to break through sometime around the end of July.