Wednesday, I joined my mom, Norma Jean, and my stepmom, Natasha, to watch the 5th Democratic debate. They thought I was taking notes on the candidates, but mostly it was a sneaky ethnography and I was really after their reactions.
Norma Jean is an avid Democrat. She’s never given money to a candidate, but she attends meetings of her local Democratic club and she often signs petitions. Her heart throbbed for Hillary in 2016 and she resents being robbed of the first female presidency by Putin’s corrupt, baboonish lackey. She doesn’t trust rich people, but wouldn’t mind being rich herself. She favors confiscating guns that will be used in crimes, but wamts to buy a pistol for home defense while it’s still legal. Her main source of news is MSNBC, but she supplements that with Time magazine and The Cleveland Plain Dealer to get a broad cross-section. (Readers of the Harvard media study may laugh.)
Before the debate, Norma Jean gave me a rundown of the candidates:
- “I like Mayor Pete. I also sorta like Corey Booker and I miss Julian Castro.” (What do they have in common that the other young guys, Beto and Yang, lack? Answer that and you can run campaigns.
- “I don’t get Warren. She’s too shrill and I don’t understand everything she says.”
- “Biden is honest and he knows what’s going on [he’s competent generally, not just that he knows where the bodies are buried], but he’s too old and he’s fumbled too many times.”
- “I don’t have much opinion of Harris. Just because she was a California prosecutor doesn’t mean anything for the presidency. She hasn’t come up with any good ideas [in the debates so far].”
- “I would never vote for Bernie! I didn’t vote for him the last time [Hillary girl all the way, Mom is]. He’s also too old.
- “I like Klobuchar.”
- Yang and Steyer haven’t registered with her yet.
Natasha also is an avid Democrat. She voted for Bernie in Ohio’s 2016 primary but fell in line behind Hillary when it counted. She despises Trump. Her main sources of news are PBS, NPR and CNN. She’s more doctrinaire than Janet and has distinctly communist reflexes. If the FBI ever asks, I’ll have to tell them:
- When she was in college during the Eisenhower administration, a boyfriend had her subscribe to the Daily Worker for him. He wanted to stay off awkward lists and she was just helping, she says.
- When Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls, Natasha thought his salary was obscene and all the players should make the same amount because Jordan couldn’t beat anyone 1-on-5.
- While discussing raising taxes on the rich (which Natasha favors), her daughters pointed out that their incomes were high enough to be affected. Natasha went ominously quiet, the way one does when contemplating enemies of the people.
- A survey once found that most college students thought, “from each according to his means to each according to his needs,” is in the Constitution. Natasha knew it wasn’t, but said it should be.
Natasha is cagier than Norma Jean and insists that I don’t know how she votes, despite her collection of hammer-and-sickle mugs. So, only 99% sure because she won’t confess, I say that Bernie and Warren both appeal to Natasha ideologically but she will vote for Warren in her primary because she’s younger and more energetic. In the general election, she will vote for the Democratic nominee whoever it is.
So much for the audience.
The debate started and we bathed in the warm waters of collective Trump-hatred for about 45 minutes. Then Natasha dropped out because she’d been watching impeachment hearings all day and was too tired to go on, but Norma Jean and I saw it through.
By the end, nothing significant had happened -- neither woman is paying attention to policy statements yet -- except that Norma Jean liked Harris’ feistiness. “Pence is corrupt too.” “It’s unfortunate that Tulsi’s on this stage, because she criticized Obama.” “Trump got punked by Kim.” “Candidates have taken black constituencies for granted. But they don’t show up for black women. Where ya been? What are ya gonna do?” Harris rose in her estimation and Gabbard fell off the board. Norma Jean agrees with Harris and Hillary that Tulsi’s a Russian asset just like you-know-who. But, however entertaining they are, I think Harris and Gabbard are irrelevancies.
At this point, the Democratic race is wide open. Democrats are looking for the candidate who best combines deep and sincere hatred of Trump with the ability to win a general election. Given that all the candidates hate Trump deeply and sincerely, the issue is which one has the best chance to win. Bettors see a seven-horse race with three favorites. The latest “yes” prices on PredictIt.org* to win the nomination are:
Biden 23 cents
Warren 23 cents
Buttigieg 23 cents
Sanders 15 cents
Bloomberg 11 cents
Yang 8 cents
Hillary Clinton 7 cents
Hillary as nominee is a nonsensical proposition, so I ignore her and anyone who falls below 7 cents. Poor Harris is at only 3 cents, so while she impressed my Norma Jean, she’s probably headed for disappointment. So is Yang; to be a mere penny above Clinton is embarrassing. That Bloomberg comes in at 11 cents despite starting late and not having debated represents, I think, a desperate interest in a new face. I would add the bets on Bloomberg, Yang and Clinton together and interpret the combined price of 26 cents as a bet for “none of the leaders."
I think bettors -- and probably Democratic voters -- are looking for a champion who makes them confident of victory. Whether they expect to find one on the left (a super Biden/Buttigieg) or the progressive far left (a super Warren/Sanders) confuses them and baffles me.
* As of 11 pm 11/22/2019.