It was obvious within mere minutes of the Wednesday night Democratic debate in Detroit, Michigan.
Former Vice President Joe Biden tried hard, in his opening lines, to speak forcefully and with focus about his hopes for the November 2020 election.
After all, he had vowed recently that after the drubbing he took last time around from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), he would be tougher this time, that he wouldn’t be as nice.
It didn’t work that way.
Almost immediately, beginning with a verbal tiff he got into with Harris on health care policy details, the others on stage also went after him for one issue or another — and that pattern continued for the duration of the Wednesday night event.
He was a convenient target. He flubbed some words and couldn’t always get his thoughts out smoothly.
At times, the CNN-hosted debate was uncomfortable, though fascinating, to watch.
Biden even — in his closing statement — told people who wanted to make donations to his campaign, “Go to Joe 30330 and help me in this fight.” (He presumably meant to say, “Text JOIN to 30330.”) That flub “lit up” social media.
Social media lit up, and one of Biden's competitors for the Democratic nomination took advantage. https://t.co/OIY2wwhqjj
— 12 News (@12News) August 1, 2019
Early in the evening, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — who needed a strong showing on Wednesday — lashed into Biden on everything from health care issues to immigration to criminal justice reform, as did the others.
At one point, Booker called out Biden for dodging questions about specific advice the former vice president might have given on deportation and illegal immigration issues to former President Barack Obama.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Booker to Biden. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”
That drew cheers from the audience.
Sen. Cory Booker to Joe Biden: "Mr. Vice President, you can't have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not." #DemDebate2 https://t.co/qnEv0LbT21 pic.twitter.com/A0FfSC0086
— The Hill (@thehill) August 1, 2019
Early on, a moderator asked Harris about Biden’s criticism that her idea of giving all Americans health care was a “have-it-every-which-way approach.”
How could she defend that? she was asked.
She came back hard at the Biden campaign: “Well, they’re probably confused because they’ve not read it.” She then declared it was a “plan that was responsive to the needs of the American people.”
Biden said people should be skeptical of a plan that claims to achieve something far down the road, in “10 years” — long after anyone on the stage would be out of the White House should they be successful in November 2020. He said costs weren’t explained in the Harris plan, and neither was the fact that people would lose employer-based coverage under her plan.
“You can’t beat President Trump with double-talk” on this issue, he said to Harris, trying to land a punch.
But shortly after that exchange, the others — one by one by one — stayed on Biden.
“Surrounded by candidates demanding that illegal border crossings be decriminalized, Biden struggled to push back,” as Fox News pointed out about the struggle. “Booker dinged him for saying he wanted to “cherry-pick” the best and brightest immigrants, saying that was pitting one set of immigrants against another. Uncensored, Booker elaborated to suggest it demeans some as being from “s***hole countries,” in a reference” to a comment Trump allegedly once made in a meeting.
The New York Post called Biden “floundering” and “frazzled.”
A USA Today analysis of the debate noted that “the common and critical thread was the portrayal of the Democratic frontrunner as a candidate from another era, beloved but outdated, and with a decidedly mixed record that gave him both experience and baggage.”
Booker ripped Biden on criminal justice reform, noting his past support for the 1994 crime bill that he said incarcerated too many African-Americans. Biden responded by citing Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, saying he did nothing in eight years to combat the “corrupt” police department. But Booker looked jubilant — he hit back hard.
“There’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” he quipped. That brought big applause. “Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created,” he added.
Look how The Wall Street Journal, in the tweet below, represented what went on during the debate:
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 1, 2019
Other attacks on Biden included a comment from Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State — who said Biden’s climate change plan was not bold enough (Inslee also went after Trump, of course).
Jay Inslee is detestable. How courageous to attack Trump instead of answer a question.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 1, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio also went after Biden several times about whether he opposed the deportations that were conducted when he was vice president under Barack Obama. “Did you say those deportations were a good idea — or did you go to the president and say, ‘This was a mistake, let’s not do it’?” he asked Biden directly.
Biden retreated to the corner, looking straight ahead and saying he would not discuss private conversations or advice he shared with Obama. He said that Obama “fundamentally changed the [immigration] system.”
“I still don’t hear an answer,” de Blasio insisted.
Then there was this from former Housing Secretary Julián Castro: He ripped Biden on immigration prosecutions and attacked his statement that “if you’ve crossed the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.”
“It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t,” Castro said — and with those last words, he leaned pointedly in Biden’s direction.
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