During last night’s debate, it was hard to tell whether one was watching a friendly, down-home candidate forum at the Iowa State Fair or an actual, competitive debate for the most powerful office in the world from a key state that could determine who wins the presidency.
The answer appears to be the former, as NBC News moderators Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow lobbed one softball question after another and barely challenged the Democratic candidates’ responses on issues such as gun control, immigration, healthcare, and most importantly – what they would do differently than President Trump.
Compared to the first debate of the 2016 cycle — in which moderator Megyn Kelly went after Trump and the other Fox News moderators, well, went after everybody else — there were no real fireworks for the Democrats.
In fact, there doesn’t even appear to have been an on-the-fly fact-check desk as there have been at previous debates.
A real-time fact-check desk would have gotten in the ear of the moderators as New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio boasted, “I run the largest police force in America.”
A simple fact check would have found a New York Police Department that is at sharp odds with its mayor, to the point of demoralization. The head of the NYPD’s own union called DeBlasio’s run for president “laughable.” It also wasn’t long ago that the entire police force physically turned their backs on DeBlasio when he finally showed up at the funeral for a fallen female officer, after jetting out of the country to attend the tony G-20 summit in the wake of her cold-blooded murder as she sat at her patrol station on the Fourth of July.
A fact-check desk would have also caught DeBlasio in another lie, when he boasted that crime has gone down in New York City. While it is true that minor crimes are down eight percent, the two most important crimes — murder and rape, an issue important to women voters — have skyrocketed.
According to NYPD crime statistics, murder rates rose a stunning 55 percent in just the first half of 2019 under DeBlasio. In a report that shows “murders and rapes soaring in 2019,” CBS News reports that rapes in DeBlasio’s city were also up 24 percent.
That’s hardly a record to swoon about on-stage at a national debate.
A well-researched, well-prepared team would have been ready for his response and challenged DeBlasio on the claim; however, NBC News did not.
The NBC News team also did not push the candidates to be terribly specific on issues — unlike Fox debate moderator Bret Baier who specifically asked Republican candidates for an up-or-down vote on whether they would ultimately run as third-party candidates if they did not win the nomination. He didn’t take “no answer” for an answer.
NBC’s failure to push candidates for more specific answers included not pressing them on the Second Amendment.
Despite nearly every candidate invoking last year’s Parkland, Florida high school shooting, the moderators did not press the candidates on whether they would actually ban gun ownership outright nor a raise of the hands on whether they support the Second Amendment — instead, they allowed the candidates to dance around the edges of their proposals. (Perhaps that is because NBC News knows that any candidate who goes against the Second Amendment won’t be able to get elected in 2020.) Only Beto O’Rourke volunteered what he would specifically do on gun safety, but that was without a single prod from either of the moderators.
The moderators also did failed to ask what, specifically, each candidate would do differently than President Trump has done on a range of issues from the economy to foreign policy. After all, isn’t that what the American people will want to know when faced with the decision of whether to elect one of them over the sitting president whose approval rating sits near 50 percent? None of them offered any silver bullets that would take out Trump.
In fact, oddly, the real boogeyman of the night wasn’t even Trump — it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
There were at least three questions regarding how the candidates would circumvent McConnell on appointees if elected president, which set off a ten-minute diatribe against the evils of McConnell on everything from judicial nominees, filibusters, healthcare and guns. It read more like a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee debate than a presidential-level debate.
The most winning point of the night came from Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who urged his party to stop being the party of coastal elites and start being the party of the working class. While this point was the most salient of the night, it is a message that fell on deaf ears in the auditorium and likely at Democratic National Committee headquarters as well.
The loser of the night was Warren. Among the stable of younger, lesser-known candidates, she looked like the grouchy grandma at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving. Warren came off as tense and terse, and if possible, less likable than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 debates. She is going to have to perform better if she wants to exceed Clinton’s luck.
In the end, NBC News’ overly kind treatment of the candidates won’t serve any of them well in the end. Anyone who has been in politics and who has debate-prepped candidates (as I have) knows firsthand that tough debates in primary elections make for stronger candidates in a general election.
NBC would have been better off going after their proverbial jugulars. The kid-glove treatment will not help the eventual (and some might say, unfortunate) candidate who will go on to face off against Trump — a man greatly tested since he stepped onto his first debate stage. He has been unstoppable ever since.
Jen Kerns (@JenKernsUSA) served as spokeswoman for the California Republican Party; spokeswoman for California’s Proposition 8, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; and as a Fox News writer for the 2016 U.S. presidential debates.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.