Live Blog: Democrat Presidential Primary Debate #5 in Houston

The fifth Democrat Presidential debate starts in one-half hour, at 8:00PM ET. I’m posting this well before time, since when you are reading this, I may (or may not) still be traveling, and so my presence may (or may not) be in spirit only. In either case, I’m sure comments will be lively!

Here is what NBC has to say about the event and the venue:

The debate is being held at Texas Southern University on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET and will be co-hosted by ABC and Univision. Viewers should stock up on provisions — it’s slated to run for three hours.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, network correspondent Linsey Davis and Univision’s Jorge Ramos will be the moderators.

(I think I know what NBC means by “provisions,” but unfortunately there are no decent drinking games for this debate at the time of this writing. Perhaps that meme has finally exhausted itself.) More:

Unlike the prior debates, this one will feature all the highest-polling candidates — including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — on stage at the same time.

The “all on one stage” story is one ubiquitous story line. Media bias is another. Still NBC:

The candidates with the highest polling averages — Biden and Warren — will be center stage. The overall order from left to right is Klobuchar, Booker, Buttigieg, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Harris, Yang, O’Rourke and Castro

So, there are two “leaders” at the center, Biden and Warren, but if you read carefully, you will see that there are three candidates at the center: Sanders, Biden, and Warren. It’s almost like a mysterious force erased one of the candidates, isn’t it? (And if you’ve been following dk’s aggregations, which have no “secret sauce” and use a consistent set of polls aggregated at set times, you will have seen that the trendlines have had and have Sanders with a consistent lead over Warren if you look at trendlines, despite a vociferous PR campaign by liberal Democrat media assets in Warren’s favor.)

Another story line is “Warren v. Biden is the main event.” Here is a splendid example from the Houston Chronicle:

These 10 have never shared the stage before. Biden and Elixzabeth Warren will stand shoulder to shoulder for the first time and may attract much of the pre-event hype, but any number of significant friction points could emerge in a group that highlights the extraordinary diversity of the 2020 class. There will be three women on stage, four racial minorities, one gay man and an age gap that spans four decades.

Note again that Biden is standing shoulder to shoulder with Sanders, too, and yet the same mysterious force that erased Sanders at NBC erased him at the Houston Chronicle. In any case, readers will not be surprised to learn that I view a bout of liberal v. liberal as less interesting than tag team bout between two liberals v. the left (though I’m not saying that Biden and Warren will in fact form a tag team; my sense is that Warren will attack the most vulnerable opponent, which is surely Biden). Oh, and since when goes [x] Jew not count when totalling up diversity virtue points?

Now, to be fair, Warren has good reason to go after Biden:

Warren has long resented Biden’s role in passing the 2005 bankruptcy bill, which she argued was an affront to average consumers. She also views Biden as more of an incrementalist who doesn’t support the kind of far-reaching change that she believes is needed — a line that Biden has been preparing to counter.

(But Warren had equally good reason to be ticked at Clinton over bankruptcy since 2001, and she not only didn’t challenge Clinton in 2016, she coulda been Clinton’s Vice President. So who knows?)

Since the debate is in Houston, there is also the “turn Texas blue” angle:

Castro and O’Rourke will stand side by side on one end of the debate stage; former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, who has polled consistently higher than his competitors, will be center stage, sandwiched between U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The lineup and setting of Thursday’s debate couldn’t be more symbolic of the case Democrats will make as they argue for how they can flip Texas — which President Donald Trump won by 9 percentage points in 2016 — next year. Doing so will rely, in part, on energizing a growing coalition of young people, people living in suburban areas and voters of color.

Oh, so this is a “growing coalition.” The same so-called coalition used to be called “the Obama Coalition,” but what good is a coalition that falls apart after two (miserably inadequate) Presidential terms? Anyhow, just what the Democrats need; more former Republican Blue Dogs.

I will almost certainly be unable to watch, but I’d summarize one question I’d ask as “Can anybody make Biden bleed out of both eyes this time?” For example:

Q: Joe, how’s the asthma?

The reason why I’m asking is you received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War draft, the same number as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney. And in 1968, when your student status was wrapping up, you were medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma as a teenager.

In your autobiography, you described your active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. You also lied (note: Biden lies are usually called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. Was all that hard with asthma? Were you diagnosed for asthma in 1968 by a podiatrist? Your vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no.

Let me read you a quote, Joe. “You have somebody who thinks it’s all right to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Your fellow presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that about President “Bone Spurs” Trump. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq, called Trump a “coward.” Do you agree with those comments?

Granted, from the American Conservative. And not likely to change the mind of any voters with Obama’s portrait framed, hanging on their living room wall, and lit up at night. But Biden’s had it pretty easy so far, I would say.

Meanwhile, there’s Sanders. I would say his strategy would be determined by not by the press, or by the Beltway, or by the polls, but on what his internal polling is telling him (polling which has to measure conversions from non-voters to likely voters). But that information is closely held. If Sanders adopts at “steady as she goes” posture, I’d speculate his internal polling is going ok. Because if so, why change?

Enjoy, and as always, be excellent to each other!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Don Utter

    Simple minded language of right vs left has screwed up politics for years.

    As I write I am listening to talking heads on CBS and it is hurting my heads.

    “2 front runners”

    Bernie erased

    1. Joey

      And he was first introductory speech not to get claps in middle. George didn’t have to tell me DNC got most of the seats

  2. Dita

    Kamala addressing trump directly, I think she’s trying to get him to rage tweet at her, ensuring lots of free publicity. Ugh.

    1. DonCoyote

      Kamla doing the the same thing.

      “Choice” for heathcare–same justiification used for charter schools.

      Bad Trump trying to get rid of the ACA, every time Trump is mentioned in a primary debate candidate should lose :20 sec

  3. nippersmom

    Kamala is kissing Obama’s ring as much as Biden. It’s sickening.

    And now she’s invoking “the late, great John McCain “.

  4. DonCoyote

    Bernie, say govnt pays >50% of the healthcare cost now!

    Joe says cancer is personal, Bernie shouldn’t have said cancer.

    1. nippersmom

      Biden should have a bucket of ice water dumped on him every time he trades on his dead son, whether overtly or by implication.

        1. nippersmom

          No, Biden did say people who lost their insurance could “buy in”. We wondered how the unemployed would be able to afford to “buy in”.

  5. nippersmom

    Castro seems to grasp that the purpose of the primary is to draw distinctions between the candidates so voters can make a choice. It strikes me the candidates who are pushing back are those who don’t hold up well to comparisons.

  6. ChiGal in Carolina

    Kamala sounds like a Valley Girl, Biden looks like death warmed over, and Bernie seems apoplectic. Warren is the beneficiary of this. Bernie’s my guy but apologies to Lambert, I fear a lot of people will indeed see a disheveled, cranky old man up on the stage.

    1. nippersmom

      It doesn’t help that he’s already hoarse and having to work to speak. Really emphasizes the “shouting ” perception.

    2. Lee

      I think you are underrating the appeal of disheveled, cranky old men. Not that being one myself makes me biased.

    3. JohnnyGL

      I winced when I heard his scratchy throat. But then again, he’s weakest with the 60+ crowd. They might not mind it.

      Kamala’s campaign is over….she just doesn’t know it, yet.

  7. IowanX

    I notice the candidates that don’t want to talk about their own program pivot immediately to Trump attacks. Kamela has done it, I think I missed a couple of others.

  8. Carlito

    It’s almost inconceivable that Beto is still in the game; also inconceivable that any voter would name Klobuchar as a first choice.

  9. DonCoyote

    Kamala hit for waffling and record by the questioner, ouch.

    Giving prisoners job–you mean fighting fires at $1/hour,

  10. Carlito

    Fifty minutes of this confirms Michael Hudson’s observations from this morning’s NC post: “Thursday’s debate on Walt Disney’s ABC channel is shaping up as yet another shameless charade. The pretense is that we are to select who the Democratic presidential candidate will be.”

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      Yes, I only watch so as not to be dependent on MSM spin but I don’t think I can take any more.

  11. Wombat

    Does Biden have a Freaking Werther’s Original in his mouth? Wasnt that intended to hand out to congressman daughters?

  12. ChiGal in Carolina

    this is just sad and there is such an air of defeat surrounding the people on the stage. Whatever happened to the league of women voters?

  13. Carlito

    Bromance between Beto and Joe? Biden seems duller and more befuddled, going into hour 2, than he did in the first hour; but all in all more coherent than previous outings.

  14. nippersmom

    Biden’s biggest applause line of the night was a statement praising O’Rourke’s response to the El Paso shooting. ( hint, hint Joe: that isn’t a good sign for you.)

  15. nippersmom

    I have to give props to O’Rourke for not backing down on his automatic and semiautomatic weapon stance.

  16. DonCoyote

    Robert O;Rourke channeling him inner Marianne W., going to get rid of guns with his passion.

    More people have probably died from lack of healthcare, definitely more deaths of despair.

  17. Robert McGregor

    With all the yelling, shrieking, and desperation from the others —the calmness of Booker’s “Happy Warrior” persona is quite appealing.

  18. Robert McGregor

    Biden just said, “I’m the Vice President Of the United States.” No one has the heart to call him on it.

  19. nippersmom

    Sorry, Liz, but Trump did not create the immigration crisis. The most recent waves can be directly attributed to the Obama administration and his “most qualified” Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

  20. Summer

    I turned it on just in time to hear people referred to as “human capital” by Yang…and the line got applause.
    Turned it off.

    1. JohnnyGL

      Of course….he’d love to ensure he’s got plenty of resumes in his inbox for candidates that have that little extra edge of desperation about them.

      That’s why he’s only giving out $1000 a month….gotta make sure the workforce stays hungry! :)

    2. Wombat

      Yea he’s the silicon valley technocrat plant in this race. Labor arbitrage, automation, open borders… let them eat $1,000 freedom dividend cake!

    3. John

      He is for you and l getting $1000 a month “free” income while his endless stream of “talented” foreigners get the $100,000 – $250,000 a year jobs.

  21. Fiery Hunt

    So much identity politics. …criminal reform, immigration, racism poll…not a damn question yet on class issues.


    Health care debate section was the only thing that matters to WI, MI, PA, OH….

    …and damn, tired of the response question going to Liz and not Bernie.

    1. Wombat

      Indeed. But criminal reform? Ending private, for-profit prisons? I would take that out of the identity politics bin.

  22. Robert McGregor

    Interesting that so far—the first three asked—Yang, Buttigieg, Klobuchar said they would not immediately stop the tariffs. But none of them recommended tariffs before Trump . . I guess Trump is an innovator concerning Tariffs.

    1. John k

      Every pres makes an impact. Trump raised the China issue that previously was unmentionable bc our biggest corps profit by shifting production there, plus the huge market.
      Trump has also not so far started a war, unlike other recent pres, and looks to be shifting away from Iran with Bolton sacking. And he might veto the generals and get us out of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
      Granted a mixed bag given atrocious domestic.

  23. Robert McGregor

    Harris is focusing on insulting Trump again. If the Pres and VP were Biden/Harris, we would never get any questions answered.

  24. Donna

    Does it seem like they are freezing Bernie out of this debate? He never got to speak on justice reform or immigration? Going to the second tier candidates first allows them to freeze Bernie out and allows Joe a reprieve from having to speak at all. Does anyone else see it this way?

    1. Donna

      Finally, Bernie getting to talk again. He’s been silenced pretty much since health care. Good points too on the military budget that the Dems just caved on in the recent vote.

  25. deplorado

    Can anyone see a Biden-Warren ticket? That was my first thought when I heard this debate billed as their first, or whatever, encounter. If not, why not (Im no pundit, this is just a glancing thought)? She’s already accepted being a VP once. She would be a VP ready to take over if something healthwise should happen to him. Isn’t it obvious? Woman, check. “Left wing” covered and appeased, check.

    I think that would be the best of all worlds for DNC and would safely contain Bernie and the masses seeking representation through him. For a time anyway, just enough for the election probably.

    1. WJ

      That is an interesting thought. On the one hand, Warren knows Biden is ridiculous and agreeing to run with him would give the lie to whatever principles she still possesses. On the other hand, she has *really* bad political instincts and can probably be persuaded that VPing with Joe puts her next in line.

      It would be the most ideal pairing for delegitimizing recalcitrant Bernie or Busters.

      It would be an electoral disaster lol.

      1. JohnnyGL

        She’s an idiot if she believes Biden….Clinton already lied to her.

        I hope she has learned a lesson about slimy centrists.

      1. petal

        When I saw him at the town hall, his teeth were incredibly white. Blinding white. I couldn’t figure it out, like if they were veneers or what.

  26. DonCoyote

    Kamala you didn’t prosecute P G & E.

    Mayo Pete thinks he has until 2050.

    “People-powered money, $100???”

  27. DonCoyote

    Should have cut Kamala’s mike, did she go over an extra minute, including dramatic pauses?

    Bernie gives a concrete number for teacher pay. Concrete material benefits…including student loan debt forgiveness.

    1. meeps

      It was smart of Sanders to forewarn viewers that they’ll be subjected to anti-Medicare ads during commercial breaks. I still think a stronger objection needs to be raised when candidates promote the idea that a public option, in competition with private insurance, is being proposed in the name of protecting your freedom to choose between them. We’ve been here before. The idea protects the profits of the private insurance industry because they’ll dump the sickest and poorest into the public plan. That’s how a small number of not-for-profit plans on ACA exchanges were eliminated from “competition” under Obamacare.

      Sanders eventually was able to explain how people will spend less (no deductibles, no co-pays, $200 annual prescription) than they do in the current system (if one can call it that). He somehow needs to clarify his standard response about every other advanced country in the world providing it, because it seems to escape comprehension that it will cost less to provision when the straws of the greedy have been removed from the milkshake that is our healthcare budget.

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        Taibbi nailed it with “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

  28. DonCoyote

    Too late at night for Uncle Joe–although he recognizes that people are abusing the clock.

    “I know Maduro, and you sir are no Maduro…”

  29. John

    If corporations, the rich, everyone else what to contribute to elections they should be able to.

    Condition: It all goes into one big pot. And then is evenly distributed out to all the candidates.

  30. nippersmom

    Biden, you really shouldn’t bring up that $700B. Someone might talk about what those funds were actually used for.

  31. Robert McGregor

    Biden first recommended that parents play the TV at night, and then corrected himself to say, “play the record player” so young children hear more words. I think he’s about four decades behind as far as the prevailing audio technologies.

    1. Detroit Dan

      Yes, I was wondering about his “record player” comment. Hilarious! And the whole premise that children need more electronic audio in their lives is weird.

      1. Yves Smith

        You are not up on parenting fads. Playing Mozart to babies and toddlers was first touted as in IQ increaser nearly 20 years ago. You can find Mozart for brain development tracks on YouTube uploaded in 2018, so it still has a following. But it’s been debunked, see this story as one of many examples: The idea that Mozart makes your baby smarter is one of parenting’s most persistent myths. There are ones dating back to at least 2007, BTW. So another indicator of lovable Joe being behind the times, just less obvious that the record player part.


  32. chuckw

    Dang Nabbit! Who says that? Booker adopts the patois of Walter Brennan as he lies about his education record and his innocence in the lead crisis.

  33. Kurt Sperry

    Those protesters that just interrupted Biden were shouting over each other as a group so chaotically, I couldn’t understand a thing they were yelling. They obviously had no plan at all.

    1. tegnost

      fake protesters are a real thing, if there was no message then maybe the message was the yelling, the disruption of a sacred event thing. In my early years I did some protesting and there were usually some yelling strangers and we were always wondering where they came from, back in the ’80’s there were a lot of organizing actions, training sessions where the organizers emphasized that non violent and peaceful was the only way to go, but yet the yellers would show up. Now i did not watch, but that aoc commercial gets a “wow.”

    1. DonCoyote

      Had to open another bottle…dang “shot every time Biden mentions his dead son” rule.

      Although…I don’t see anything in the rules about drinking every time record players are mentioned…maybe next debate.

  34. Robert McGregor

    Sanders: “Throughout my life I have taken on virtually every powerful private interest group.” . . . No one else up there can really say that.

  35. Cpm

    Turn on the radio! Play the record player!

    Yes indeed listening to his Master’s voice. This is what the DNC wants us to accept as our best hope.

    Sorry Hillary was more formidable than this. He will be slaughtered. They must withdraw him now. It’s humiliating.

    What’s left? They need a dark horse. Nobody on stage qualifies…

    Surprises are sure to come.

    1. John

      I firmly believe only Gabbard can debate (and run) against Trump and win.

      It always comes down to emotions. That’s what we pull the lever with.

      Tough, abusive dad will lose against wise, caring mother (wife).

      It’s the way she talks. The debate tonight again confirms for me none of these other candidates have “it”.

      Scares me for 2020 that they managed to push her out of the race.

        1. John

          Wow, the ad that just ran equating socialism with the Cambodian killing fields.

          How do you even fight that?

          newfacespac dot com

  36. SubjectivObject

    If Bernie needs any DNC support toward winning the nomination
    I predict the DNC will insist on picking the VP

    1. John k

      They would rather die than do anything to help sanders.
      In fact, if he wins they will die, or rather be replaced by a non Clinton loyal lot.
      It’s existential for dem elites.

  37. JCC

    I forgot all about it and tuned into the ABC youtube show just before the final statements.

    I felt kinda bad in missing it, until then.

    I really miss Tulsi. Other than, possibly, Sanders and Warren she is hands-down much better than all the rest of those chumps.

    On the bright side I did get to catch 3 or 4 of Biden’s references to dead relatives which gave me the excuse I needed to have a Jamison’s on the rocks while muttering, “Hudson is right, screw the DNC.”

  38. Clive

    Thank-you all for the very informative — and entertaining! — comments / summary of proceedings. This gets zero, or almost, coverage here in the U.K., as it’s drowned out by, erm, other things, all I got this morning on the news bulletin was Biden apparently contradicting himself on Medicare fees, but no overview, no Warren and certainly (clutches pearls in solidarity with the mainstream media editorial team) no Sanders.

    And commiserations on your lousy no-good politicians in general, with a notable exception or two. But ours are worse! I’ll trade you one Kamala Harris and one Mayor Pete for an Arlene Foster!

  39. The Rev Kev

    A question for other readers. Was out today so only saw a few minutes of the debate on TV. Did I hear Kamala Harris speak with a southern accent onstage? Or something approximating what is supposed to be blackspeak? Because it sure sounded like it.

    1. nycTerrierist

      I caught that too – her sassy black girl mode — she puts it on occasionally

      like Obama and his folksy use of ‘folks’


    2. jawbone

      Someone or something seemed to have told Kamala Harris to tone down the “southern” accent, or whatever it was meant to be.

      It was very awkward listening to her do that schtick. Also watching her kind of slouch while doing the accent thing. Shudder.

  40. Watt4Bob

    Accidentally tuned in toward the end, looks like they had Biden touched up by a mortician and sounded like they might have micro-dosed him to boot.

  41. Enrico Malatesta

    Thanks for supporting the MSM trope that this is something other than a staged news production.

    Please remember this “Dem Can Show” is prologue to the “Debates” that are run by a corporation consisting of the Democratic Party Corporation and the Republican Party Corporation.

    I chose to watch the movie Rollerball instead, it deals with the same memes – and James Caan looks a lot like Joe Biden, but he can make better faces.

  42. chuck roast

    Thank you all for your running commentary. It must have been a hoot!
    As (the now contrite) Brad DeLong used to say, “You watched it so I didn’t have to.”
    I will begin the day with my few remaining brain cells intact, and I look forward to wasting a few on some extremely desultory activity.

  43. Evan

    Cut off the damn mikes at the allotted time and allow ALL the candidates equal time to make their points.

    Andrew Yang was the only one that made sense to me.

  44. sierra7

    Made up my mind long time ago about the so-called “debates”.
    I would only watch if George Carlin was a moderator.
    “It’ a club. And, you ain’t in it!”

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