Democrats look for that old debate magical- but can anyone defeat Trump?

Twenty presidential competitors go head-to-head in the opening test of 2020, and the president will loom large

As he sensed the crowd flagging, Donald Trump switched gears to the all-important question of his re-election slogan. Should the rebel turned incumbent stick with ” Make America great again “( Maga ), which he characterised as” probably and maybe the greatest theme in the history of politics “? Or should he switch to “Keep America great”?

It was the latter that that turned the stadium into a cauldron of noise.

” Ah, I’m sorry, Maga Country, but that wasn’t too close ,” the president said on Tuesday night.” I thought you had it won, and then I hear this cheer. My eardrums will never been the same. Keep America great .”

This week it will be the Democrats’ turn to search for a magic sentence. Twenty candidates, each vying to stimulate Trump the first one-term president since George HW Bush, will line up over two nights for the party’s first primary debatesin Miami. All will be keen to avoid a campaign-ending gaffe; all will be keen to deliver a “zinger” that runs viral and can contender the potency of” Make America great again “.

Among the oldest candidates in the field is Joe Biden, 76, whose pitching has been described by sceptics as” Make America 2016 again”- a restoration of the Obama presidency, when Biden served as deputy. But the youngest contender, Pete Buttigieg , the 37 -year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has stressed the need to look forwardly, saying pointedly:” There is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word ‘again ‘.”

Neil Sroka, a spokesperson for the progressive group Democracy for America, said: “‘ Make America great again’ was clear and very much in line with the bigotry that underlay both the Trump campaign and administration. The slogan did something Trump is unable to to do: keep the loud portion quiet and keep the quiet part loud. With’ Keep America great’ the important point is silent: it means maintain America great for straight white men.

” The key for Democrats is to articulate a bold, inclusive people’s vision of the country that is easy for people to understand and is as effective as’ Make America great again’ in that is says something softly – that is, it’s for all of us. We’re going to need everyone to beat the kind of hate-filled campaign Trump is going to run .”

The first Democrat to enter the race was former congressman John Delaney, nearly two years ago. Other candidates have been campaigning and fundraising for months. But for millions of Americans, this week’s debates will fire the starting gun in earnest. The line-up is historically diverse , including six females, six people of colour and a homosexual man.

Democratic voters are wrestling with myriad push and pull factors. Is Trump such a uniquely awful singularity that the party should play safe and stay in the centre? Can they contemplate nominating yet another ageing white male? Is this election about turning out the base or reaching out to independents and disaffected Republicans? Or has Trump changed everything?

The candidates’ rostrum postures will reflect their stands in polls as of 12 June. Elizabeth Warren and former congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas will be centre stage on the first night, giving Warren, who has been surging, a real chance to shine. On night two, Biden and Bernie Sanders will be in the middle, flanked by challengers including Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.

It will be a particular test for Biden, whose runnings for president in 1988 and 2008 crashed and burned and who has been described as a” gaffe machine “. Last week, for example, he recalled the ” civility” of racial segregationists he worked with in the Senate.” He never called me’ boy ,’ he always called me’ son ‘,” he said of one of them, citing a racist word and earning a sharp rebuke from other candidates.

Kamala
Kamala Harris will debate with Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg on night two. Photograph: Sean Rayford/ Getty Images

James Clyburn , who is African American and the majority lash in the House of Representatives, said on Friday:” It was an unforced error that hopefully he won’t make too many of. But like in any tennis match, one unforced fault, even two unforced faults, would not inevitably lose the match . Biden was just talking about his ability to go outside of his convenience zone and maybe get a little bit too comfortable saying that .”

Clyburn has been described as the “kingmaker” in South Carolina, the first southern country to vote.” Merely from the reports I’m getting, people are telling me that Biden is performing exceptionally well ,” he said.” He has a tremendous reservoir of goodwill here in the country .” But Biden has to be” at the top of his game” in the debates, he added.

Indeed, Biden will be the primary target for his fellow debaters. Henry Olsen , a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinktank in Washington, said:” He’s a 76 -year-old taking incoming from his left, right and centre for two hours under hot television lightings. He’s not had that for 20 years. All it takes is one tired moment at 10.35 pm and that’s the story. There’a s high possibility of it happening .”

A recent CBS News poll found that the ability to beat Trump is the most important consideration for Democratic voters( 78% ), ahead of new policy notions( 40%) and changing Washington( 31% ). During the debates, Trump will loom large.

Olsen said:” The ideal Democrat will have the personality where Trump’s assaults would seem crazy or merely bounce off. Biden’s isn’t that. Amy Klobuchar would be that sort of person. Cory Booker could be.

” The Democratic base can only get you so far. To win, you have to do well among disaffected suburban Republicans and blue-collar former Democrat. Ideally, you would not want a strongly progressive platform because that dedicates Trump something to run against. You want something like the 2018 midterms campaign: House Democrat operated on bland, vanilla issues and won. But I don’t know if the progressive wing is willing to let them do that .”

‘None of them has the star power of Trump’

Ever since John F Kennedy outshone a clammy and unshaven Richard Nixon, whose pale suit fared poorly on black and white television in 1960 , election campaign debates have also been about charisma and predominating the small screen- a place where Trump feels at home.

Aaron Kall , director of debate at the University of Michigan, said:” Spectators do think about that: who could hold their own on a debate stage with President Trump? Biden, dedicated his stature, gravitas and experience as vice-president, would be able to hold it, but he definitely doesn’t have the star quality. If there’s anyone with that’ it factor’ quality, I would say it’s Buttigieg .”

But he added:” None of them has the star power of Trump or is going to get 20,000 people at a rally .”

That is what the president pulled off last week in Orlando, Florida. Democrats will also struggle to match the sheer razzamatazz of a Trump rally, a now familiar blend of rock concert, athletics fixture, political pantomime and, in the view of critics, a bath in in rancid nostalgia.

Just as the” Make America great again” motto is widely seen as harking back to the 1950 s- a nation of idyllic suburbia for white people and Jim crow laws for African Americans- so the soundtrack of Trump rallies is full of booming golden oldies with resonant lines. On Tuesday there was the Rolling Stones, Luciano Pavarotti( Nessun dorma, or” None shall sleep “), Frank Sinatra( My Way ), the musical Cats( Memory) and Queen, whose song We are the Champions contained in the Trumpian lyric:” No time for losers .”

Equally fitting, the rally was held in a sports stadium and served up a matchday mix of fun, menace and tribalism: fans wearing squad colourings, performing the Mexican wave, cheering their team and booing the opponent. When the crowd called ” Lock her up !”~ ATAGEND about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 opponent, “its like” the muscle memory of football fans chanting about a long retired player.” Build that wall !” is an evergreen favourite too.

Joe
Joe Biden, the frontrunner, seems set be the primary target for his fellow debaters. Photograph: Logan Cyrus/ AFP/ Getty Images

And Trump himself peddled nostalgia , not only for an America that never was, but for the alleged glories of 2016. His rambling speech of nearly an hour and half recycled the same old populist themes , tropes and falsehoods, from Clinton-bashing to fearmongering about immigration, and offered few policy proposals.

When Trump remained on script and touted his accomplishments( economic growth, low unemployment, conservative judges ), he seemed a little flat and the crowd felt it, but when he aired grievances (” We went through the biggest witch hunt in political history “) and went on the attack against the media (” That is a lot of fake news back there “), he became fired up, an ageing rocker playing his greatest hits.

Democrats are” a radical leftwing mob”, Trump said.” A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of revolutionary socialism, and the demolition of the American dream … This election is not merely a verdict on the amazing progress we’ve hit. It’s a verdict on the un-American conduct of those who try to undermine our great republic and undermine you .”

His base, which was overwhelmingly white, lapped it up as they wore T-shirts that includes the legends” Make liberals cry again” and” Fuck your feelings “.

Bill Galston , a former consultant to President Bill Clinton, said:” Trump’s not all that comfortable with good news. He is much happier on the attack with a clearly identified foe at the tip-off of his lance. That is his default mode. He defines himself against adversaries and gets strength from an oppositional posture. The core of his support are for him because he shares their distastes. He’s the only leader in their lifetime who has given full, unabashed voice to those distastes .”

Asked how a Democrat can combat the upcoming tidal wave of hate and mendacity, Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said:” Mr Trump’s principal weakness is himself. The issue in 2020 is going to be at least as much his character and conduct as chairwoman as it will be about substantive differences .”

Democrats’ central topic, he suggested, could be an echo of George W Bush’s pledge to ” restore honor and dignity “ after the scandals of the Clinton years.

Nasty, brutish and long

There is no doubt Trump faces an uphill struggle . He is the only president in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50% acceptance. Yet he made buffoons of the pundits and pollsters last time, in the electoral college at least, and last week’s rally was a formidable present of strength from his base. Trump raised $24.8 m in less than 24 hours- far more than any Democrat.

Tom Tancredo , a former Republican congressman from Colorado, predicted:” I believe he will win and he will win somewhat handily. Proportion of the Democratic base can only be satisfied by the most radical brand. They’re all leftwing loonies but some are more loony than others. Biden is probably the least loony but, because of that, I think he’ll have almost no chance of building it .”

The Orlando rally made clear that Trump will redouble his efforts to mobilise core support and attain little effort to claim to govern for all Americans. All the signs point to 2020 being a repeat of 2016 but even more nasty, brutish and long, less “Keep America great” than ” Hello darkness, my old friend “.

Democrats are anxious to go high and find a candidate who, like Bill Clinton or Obama, whips up huge exuberance. The debates will offer a glimpse of alternative futures.

Sroka said:” You’ll find people ask not just for an alternative to Trump but what kind of country do we want to live in after Trump? Do we want to live in a country that retains the policies that contributed to the rise of Trump or one that deals with the prerequisite that allowed it to happen ?”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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