Ben Smith Warren and Sanders Stand Pat, But Look Out for Marianne

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Ben Smith

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren during the first night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Rarely have you seen a Democratic presidential-primary debate where the interests of the candidates and the interests of the moderators were so at odds. CNN’s questioners wanted specific answers in a one-minute window. Most of the candidates wanted to pivot to their preferred messages — illegal immigrants are human beings too, I care about your health and insurance companies don’t, Trump is just the worst, etc. The words uttered most frequently tonight were a loud, sudden, interrupting “thank you, Senator!” from the moderators.

With 60-second time limits on answers, the responses were brief and not all that illuminating. Most veteran debaters either deliberately or reflexively insert generic phrases such as “we need a real solution” or “this is about who we are as Americans” or “we can’t get distracted, we need to focus on the American people” or some such blather. CNN (and much of the audience) wanted to see lively and spirited disagreement, and few candidates had any time to really get their arguments rolling.

CNN clearly also wanted the candidates to contrast with each other, and a handful of previously not-so-noticed, more moderate candidates came to play: Representative John Delaney, Montana governor Steve Bullock, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Representative Tim Ryan. The bad news for these guys is that they amount to about 5 percent combined right now, and it’s hard to see any one of them breaking out, just based upon tonight.

A lot of us are laughing about Marianne Williamson, but there’s some of that same dynamic that drove Trump to the nomination in 2016. She’s a figure who’s famous for being connected to the entertainment world, who isn’t interested in policy details, and who emotes in a way that generates raucous applause from the audience. She’s the political candidate for peo

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