Klobuchar could shred Trump in a one-on-one debate (opinion)

It is unlikely that the debate moved the needle, but if debate performance were the determining factor, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar would win in the Granite State. She has been the most consistent debate performer from the start, with an effective, powerful and persuasive message. And this was her best debate to date.

She will not win next week’s New Hampshire primary for a number of reasons, from concerns about whether a woman can take on Trump and win (it’s called sexism) to the reality that other candidates have proven better at rousing a passionate following. That’s particularly true of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who both did a good job in Friday night’s debate.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was also eloquent, genuine and smart, but at this early stage she faces two tall obstacles. She’s a progressive in a field where Sanders dominates the progressive vote, and she, like Klobuchar, faces the headwinds of campaigning while female.

Klobuchar helped bring the core strategic choice before Democratic primary voters into sharp relief. Can they win just by rousing the base and boosting Democratic turnout in November, or do they need independents and Trump-exhausted Republicans? For the latter, she argued, they need a more pragmatic message.

Sanders wants to pull the party to the left and rely on huge turnout. Klobuchar, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and Buttigieg, want to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans.

After a dismal showing in Iowa, Biden came to the stage with a new fight in him, but he opened by lowering expectations. “I took a hit in Iowa, and I’ll probably take a hit here,” he predicted.

Still, he landed a few punches against his rivals, showed the depth of his foreign policy experience — although at times he had trouble articulating it clearly — and his humanity came through. He said Trump shouldn’t have given the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, which he did at his State of the Union, but to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, just fired from his job at the National Security Council in likely retaliation for impeachment testimony. He asked the audience to rise and give Vindman a show of support. They did.

Here’s the deal, though. Biden is not as good a debater as his rivals.

Biden went after Sanders over the multi-trillion dollar costs of his proposed Medicare for All idea, and the now-familiar back-and-forth ensued. Klobuchar broke in and popped Sanders’ bubble. “It’s not real, Bernie,” she said, “because two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate,” oppose the bill.
Klobuchar demolished Buttigieg on his boast that he’s untainted by Washington. People say that, she offered, because they think “it makes you seem like a cool newcomer.” But this is not the time for an inexperienced president. “We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us.”

Again, she talked about her extensive experience crafting and passing legislation, and her undefeated electoral record, not only winning elections in Republican-majority areas but using her coattails to help switch the majority in the Minnesota legislature.

Inexperienced or not, Buttigieg gave a sharp, polished performance. His answers were consistently thoughtful — although he struggled on the issue of race — and when he was asked about Trump’s killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, he gave an impressive response. Some commentators have already mischaracterized it as a claim that he would not have done it, but that’s not what he said. Buttigieg said, “Taking out a bad guy is not a good idea if you do not know what you are doing.” If it were his choice, he explained, he would look at all the information. “This is not an episode of ’24’.” As president, he would “read the intelligence … consult with our allies and keep US politics out of it.”

Watching these debates, we try to picture each one of the candidates on stage with a bombastic, aggressive Trump, who will do everything in his power to belittle and intimidate them. The debate may not change the outcome in New Hampshire next week, but it put in my mind an image of Klobuchar potentially on stage, one-on-one, with Trump this fall.

And, on Friday night, I could for once picture the Minnesota senator shredding Trump on that stage.

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