OpinionWSJ

Doesn’t Anybody Want To Be President?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Socialist, Vt.) during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa.


Photo:

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Six competitors took the stage at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate at Iowa’s Drake University. But nobody wanted to compete. Given a final opportunity to challenge rivals before Democrats begin selecting the party’s nominee, the candidates looked just as bored as the television viewers who were treated to stale recitations of campaign talking points. The reasonable conclusion is that both of America’s major political parties will be relying on

Donald Trump

to drive turnout in November.

Mr. Trump sometimes refers to former Vice President

Joe Biden

as “sleepy” but that description applied to the entire stage on Tuesday. Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times calls it “arguably the most soporific” of the debates. “The debate was not an especially flashy event with a runaway winner,” Vox charitably observes.

Debate organizers might have considered offering caffeinated beverages to the participants but perhaps decided that coffee is for closers.

Former Virginia Governor and Clinton fundraiser

Terry McAuliffe

was among many Democrats left scratching their heads. According to a CNN transcript, Mr. McAuliffe said:

You know, I’m a little surprised. I thought it would be a much more aggressive debate tonight. I mean, this is the last shot you’ve got until the Iowa caucus in three weeks. The four front runners, nobody went after each other. I was really surprised at that.

You know, Joe Biden has been leading this race since he got into it, nobody touched him tonight, nobody went after him. I mean, it was just shocking to me that this is your last shot to make an impression before we go in it.

The Clinton machine may have been corrupt but nobody ever questioned Bill and Hillary’s ambition and desire. Beyond debates over policy, Democrats have to be asking themselves today whether they have anyone ready to rise to the occasion of a national presidential election.

Mr. McAuliffe’s CNN colleague, leftist Van Jones, found the event “dispiriting” and saw “nothing” in the debate to suggest a Trump loss in the fall. The network’s Chris Cuomo added, “I think the consensus… is that this was not the type of night of ambition we expected.”

Full disclosure, your humble correspondent fell asleep on the couch for about 15 minutes toward the end of the debate and then awakened in time to be subjected to the closing statements. A review of the debate transcript reveals that during the coverage gap the candidates were just as uninspiring as they were the rest of the night.

Democratic candidates keep telling us how much they want to beat Donald Trump but on Tuesday nobody seemed eager to seize the nomination.

Ronald Brownstein writes at the Atlantic:

… the debate lacked the intensity that many expected… The evening’s most anticipated moment largely fizzled, too. Sanders flatly denied that he told Warren, during a private meeting in 2018, that he believed a woman could not win the presidency, as initially reported by CNN. And when asked about Sanders’s denial, Warren chose not to challenge him—detouring instead into a forceful argument for why women can win elections.

Mr. Sanders could only manage a frown when CNN’s Abby Phillip essentially called him a liar by presuming, even after his direct denial, that the Warren claim was true. And Sen. Warren didn’t feel compelled to challenge Sen. Sanders’ rejection of her claim.

A Warren or Sanders presidency would surely do enormous damage to American prosperity and liberty. But the optimistic message from Tuesday night is that it’s not clear either one of them really wants the job. Do any of the leading Democratic candidates want the job?

***

Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web.)

***

Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “Borrowed Time,” now available from HarperBusiness.

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