Last Night's Democratic Forum: Like Watching Corn Grow

Last Night's Democratic Forum: Like Watching Corn Grow

Why you should care

Because nice guys (and gals) might finish last.

Huh? Wait, what. No, we weren’t sleeping. We were up, upright citizens engaged in the process of vetting our next leader — and covering the CNN-sponsored Iowa Democratic Presidential Town Hall live from Drake University in Des Moines.

By the end of last night’s forum, we suspect, many Americans were probably nodding off before their TVs. The format, which had candidates take the stage one at a time, was partly to blame, but so were the personalities: The Democrats can’t compare to Donald Trump’s flailing arms and scathing insults or Ted Cruz’s slick retorts or, for that matter, John Kasich’s righteous indignation. And despite the week’s momentous events — Hillary Clinton captured the endorsement of The Des Moines Register, and Bernie Sanders surged — the Dems were mostly a snoozefest.

Without the crucible of tough competition, will the candidacies be strong enough come November?

“The other side is not talking issues. They’re talking insults,” Clinton boasted, distinguishing her party’s civility from the GOP’s rancor. In truth, though, the Dems don’t much disagree on the key issues — from immigration reform to college affordability, they’re in remarkable accord — which made the forum feel less like a contest of ideas and more like a beauty pageant. (Especially once O’Malley ripped off his jacket and showed off that hot-dad bod, to Twitter fanfare.)

Yes, voters watched Sanders’s call for socialist revolution, and Clinton reminded Iowans of how hard she fights. They may have wondered what O’Malley’s still doing in the race. “My candidacy is in your hands,” he pleaded. “Do with it what you will.”

There are advantages to not shredding one another apart, of course. Many voters prefer moonwalks to mud fights; attacks can turn voters off. And as Clinton well remembers from her husband’s 1992 campaign, primary attacks can debilitate the eventual nominee in the general election. They can even damage the party in the long run.

But here’s what we wonder: Without the crucible of tough competition, will the candidacies be strong enough come November? Trump’s gloves have been off for decades. And Cruz’s tongue is only getting sharper.

Comment

OZY2016

The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.