A Ranking of the Realistic Democratic Presidential Candidate’s CNN Town Halls

Abe Beame provides a sprawling document of the wild race for 2020.
By    June 3, 2019

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Abe Beame wonders what happened to Kanye entering the presidential race.

Last year, on the verge of the midterm elections, Beto-mania was sweeping the country in his race for a Senate seat in Texas. My friends. who think we need to run a white male, any white male, to beat Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election, loved him. Many of my friends on social media and their normie uncles and aunts, despite never having even visited the state of Texas in their lives, loved him. It was the perfect narrative: This young, good looking, left-leaning punk rock representative from a red state suddenly found himself in a squeaker with the human embodiment of evil — albeit the least threatening, plastic bag filled with Jello pudding shaped human embodiment of evil, Ted Cruz. While other gubernatorial candidates like Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum were running similar paradigm shattering campaigns in one-time out of reach states like Georgia and Florida, it was Beto that took up much of the bandwidth and commanded the national small donor class. He was the new emblem of hope that we could use to distract ourselves from abject horror.

So one night I decided to take a look at this promised prince. From what I’d been lead to believe on the internet, Beto had faced off against a prized Harvard debate team virgin who was supposedly great in this persnickety, rules-oriented, Oral Roberts style of debate, and washed him. So I watched the whole thing on my computer the next morning. I was surprised by the results. Ted Cruz was predictable: a cynical, odious troll spewing hate speech.

But what really shocked me was Beto. He was creaky. He had all these weird tics and stilted mannerisms that made me never want to hang out with him. You can tell he stares into his reflection while fucking like Carcetti in season 3. His politics were “better” so a casual observer could reasonably think Beto won the exchange, but it was painful, and I came away not wanting to vote for either.

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to see any of the wide field of Democratic primary candidates running for president in 2020 speak in person. But what’s troubling is few of us will ever bother spending any real prolonged time with our candidate of choice in this upcoming primary season. One of the weirdest things about politics are the people who decide to get involved in them. Wanting to be president is a weird impulse. Attempting to get people to vote for you for president of the United States is a weird challenge to take on. That’s why for all the political miracles he represented, to me Obama’s greatest feat was conveying himself as a relatively chill, thoughtful, down to earth guy who stayed that way throughout his two terms.

Because there is such a plethora of overwhelming choice, and because we’re generally lazy people who can dedicate a week to prepping our bladders for a three hour comic book movie but don’t deem choosing the proper presidential candidate as a worthwhile pursuit, many of us have already made up our minds who we’re voting for based on an arbitrary blend of personal beliefs and biases. But shouldn’t we strive for some passing familiarity with the field? Don’t you want to know what this person who you’re supporting to potentially run the world is like on a human level? With the lack of oxygen available at what will be insanely crowded debates, my fear is the person who will eventually emerge will simply be the candidate who can pitch the best sound bites. That’s what happened in 2016 anyways.

This cycle, CNN is offering us an opportunity as an electorate. They have taped a slate of town halls where most of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls stood to discuss their platforms, opinions and personal beliefs with rooms filled with allegedly impressionable potential voters. I decided to watch each one and rank them based specifically on their performances in their town halls. The town hall is an interesting medium. It isn’t the crucible of a prime time debate. For one, there are far less eyeballs on the proceedings nationally, but it’s more a soliloquy than a shorthand dialogue between combatants. You could look at this as batting off a tee, but to my thinking it’s offering a lot of rope to hang yourself with for the wrong candidate, and probably the best prolonged opportunity we get to watch the politician being themselves in action.

What I will attempt to do (probably unsuccessfully) is remove my biases and evaluate these town halls, not based on how closely these politicians’ politics match my own, but on performance, how good they are in a room, their talent at selling me on their message and agenda, how genuinely they come across, how much I like them or believe the things they say. In my estimation this quality, this skill is what makes a person a good or bad politician. This is not to be confused with wholesale endorsing one candidate over another, these specials were generally an hour long and obviously couldn’t address every single unfortunate take, damaging article of personal history or shitty vote the candidate in question has ever made. I tried to limit my scope to the text of these specific debates so please don’t @ me.

My interest was focusing on the candidates through the lens of performance because if we’ve learned anything from Trump, it’s no amount of qualification or intellect is as interesting to our electorate today as your political talent. In Trump v. Clinton we had a brilliant and capable individual who was also a shitty politician losing to a psychotic rape monster who is incredibly compelling at one specific thing that has nothing to do with leadership.

A few caveats: CNN did a pretty remarkable thing with their ambitious town hall offerings: they filmed 19 of them so far. I’m not watching every one. Only one from this large field is going to win the nomination. I try to stay fairly informed but I couldn’t even afford to be a news junkie if I wanted to be, which I don’t and won’t pretend to be. Politico is on my RSS feed, I read the Times every weekend in printform, I watch Meet the Press every Sunday morning out of some grim, sick sense of duty and tradition and I subscribe to the Patreon of a hard progressive socialist podcast called Chapo Trap House (I’ve also read Rick Perlstein’s trilogy on the rise of modern conservatism, which I only mention because you should too) so if the first time I’ve ever heard of any of these candidates were as I scrolled through CNN’s list of town halls, they weren’t included here. (*I was salivating at the prospect of hate watching Howard Schultz, but he’s apparently shut down his campaign.)

Also, since April 22nd, Joe Biden has announced his intention to run for president. He’s the big white creepy uncle looming over these proceedings. The very sort of cynical “electible” institutional lib vote that I live in fear of. He hasn’t filmed a Town Hall yet and frankly I’m glad I don’t have to spend an hour with him to write this.

And finally, the two first-term politicians I would most like to vote for as president currently are not in this race. One isn’t old enough and one simply isn’t running. So to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, I look forward to voting for one of you in five years assuming Trump doesn’t alter the constitution to award himself a third term after winning this inevitable second and rendering this entire exercise moot. May God save the United States America.

10. Andrew Yang

Pull Quote: “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”

The Policies:

Universal Basic Income
Pro Medicare for All, Public Option
Pro a Public School System with more resources to help kids with special needs
Pro Federal Background checks for gun ownership
Against unfettered free speech?
Soft Isolationist
Pro D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood


There’s at least a chance Andrew Yang isn’t a real person but instead a piece of stunt viral marketing created by Mike Judge. I think halfway through the first debate he’s going to say “Hey democracy, the jokes on you! Season Six of Silicon Valley is coming in 2020!” And will promptly jetpack out of the auditorium like Hank Scorpio. The special opens with the moderator asking him about his proposal to start campaigning via hologram, and shows him on stage with a Tupac hologram rapping alongside him. That isn’t like a cheeky throw away asshole joke. It actually happened.  

Yang is really a single issue candidate and that issue is UBI, or Universal Basic Income (which he calls “The Freedom Dividend”). He probably correctly theorizes that at some point in the near future nearly every human job will be eradicated by automation so we need to find a way to keep human beings as viable contributing members of society that doesn’t involve strapping the poor and middle class into giant grids connected to a virtual reality simulator to distract them while their bodies are being harvested as batteries for our robot overlords. His solution to this is to give everyone a thousand dollars a month.

Yang has a comfortable douche aspect I suspect was honed over years pitching his shitty ideas to Angel Investors for seed money. He’s had a weird, checkered career in tech, running what sounds like largely unsuccessful companies that combine elements of philanthropy for the super wealthy, some healthcare tech thing, GMAT test prep, something like Teach for America if instead of teachers Teach for America was looking to mentor a new generation of fuck boys and girls, basically all these vaguely non profit tech adjacent “businesses” that might sound nice as a write off in a room full of rich assholes. It’s all over the place.

He’s an advocate of the “Trickle Up Economy”, which sounds like a bit of sloganeering. I have absolutely no idea how the economy works but the kernel of it seems to be at the heart of economic liberalism, reducing the wealth gap and energizing the economy by giving  everyone enough money to afford a few porn streaming service subscriptions and maybe one Target shopping spree a month. He compares it to Alaska, which has had this same level of UBI for 40 years but also has less people living in the entire state than Brooklyn. He wants to to use how oil profits are distributed in Alaska as a model for how to distribute tech money to the entire country, which sounds like  something Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, Ronald Reagan and the Night King came up with on an ayahuasca trip.

He’s not “bad” in front of a crowd and a camera. He has a particularly effective and somewhat touching position on how to help the public school system with resources to aid special needs children as the father of a son on the autism spectrum. But at least personally he freaks me out. Maybe it’s my failing to not like being spoken to like an eventual irrelevance that will merely need to be watered and kept in the sun, or his vision of a Utopian future which he seemingly cribbed from the second half of Wall-E, but I just found myself completely grossed out and uninspired. You want to talk about candidates’ unlikeability? His are off the charts.

His weird connection to the white nationalist online nihilist demo that got behind Donald Trump early in 2016 certainly doesn’t do anything to dissuade that impression. He has this quality I can’t quite articulate that reminds me of the Trump dog whistle, where it sounds like his policies are being sold as these common sense humanist initiatives but the ramifications are much darker and he’s sending coded messages to these frightening death eating incels that he’s very online and will be their voice. I’m not sure how much of that is text and how much is my projection but the opiate stance is a prime example.

Halfway through the town hall they got into his position on opiates and I almost fell off the couch and everything clicked into place with his rabid 4chan following. He wants to give people people free money and access to their drugs of choice (INCLUDING FUCKING HEROIN!!!!!!). I referenced it as a joke earlier, but he is seriously basically advocating The Matrix, encouraging people to become pods living off their monthly stipend and shooting their leisure time into their arms or stuffing them up their noses and if they happen to overindulge, meh, one less stress on UBI. He of course packages it as compassion but he’s very clearly courting the fucking addict vote and social Darwinism to those who can read between the lines, and honestly in this fucking country it’s not a bad bet. The guy loves math and he probably got this platform out of a simulator that told him this would help him win the opiate ravaged Midwest.

President Andrew Yang would truly be the darkest timeline, potentially including another four years of Trump if he’s actually genuine about these policy initiatives. Also at the very end of the town hall I held up Roddy Rowdy Piper’s glasses in front of my phone and took a picture of the screen and this is the picture:  

9. Amy Klobuchar

Pull Quote: “I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.”

The Policies:

Against Impeachment?
Against Free Tuition but in favor of some forms of debt forgiveness she kind of outlines half heartedly.
Pro Public Option
Against Medicare for All
Pro International Climate Change Agreement
Pro 1 Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Investment


Woof. Where do they plug her in at night? I’ve heard these nightmare stories about Klobuchar’s behavior towards her subordinates behind closed doors and I could kind of believe them after watching her speak for an hour. She has the affectless quality of a sociopath. She doesn’t have mechanical robot voice or anything but there’s an eerie quality to how she launches directly into answers that sounds overly rehearsed to the point of automation.

I think the most disturbing example of this is when she attempts humor in the middle of her responses. Her delivery has a breathless, it comes right on top of the sentence before it, then she pauses for a laughline that doesn’t come. It literally feels like she’s in an empty auditorium imagining how this is supposed to go rather than in a room full of people she has the opportunity to read and play off.

She does something I’ve never seen before where she uses that time honored anecdote of the person she’s met on the campaign trail and their sad/inspiring story mined to make a point, only she doesn’t use their names or anything. She’ll say “There’s this guy I met who had their premiums raised” and launch into the story without saying where he/she is from or how they met or their name or anything, like a know it all drunk trying to win an unconvincing argument at a bar before the advent of smartphones.

It’s equally chilling when she takes these momentary rehearsed breaks in delivery to search for a word she clearly knows and has at hand because she’s trying to emulate the natural patter of conversation. To be fair, this was the worst possible forum for Klobuchar and I’m surprised her camp agreed to it. It’s a room full of frightened, angry, intelligent young college students. Her shtick is clearly intended to ease the fears of moderate old libs who think Bernie is hiding in their closets at night waiting for them to fall asleep so he can take their pensions. As a result, the room was completely dead and she fucking bombed like a noob at an open mic (The biggest applause of the event was a question a young man asked about a frozen pizza scandal Klobuchar was caught up in at the beginning of the decade. She completely, hilarious shits the bed and you have to see it to believe it).

Something we’ll be discussing a lot is how seamlessly candidates are able to field questions they don’t want to answer candidly. It’s a difficult issue to navigate. Every politician has them and how deft you are at sidestepping them without sounding like a liar, a hypocrite or a coward is important. Klobuchar is an example of a candidate whose actually pretty great at it, but so good that it veers into the Clintonian quality of basically being able to speak uninterrupted for minutes at a time without ever really saying anything, long enough for the audience to lose the thread. She’ll get done with another spiel and I’ll find myself having to go back and review because I forgot what the actual question she’s responding to is and what position she took on it. Not exactly an inspirational asset.

Klobuchar is clearly positioning herself as the tough love, hard truths candidate. She doesn’t aspire to deliver the rousing, sweeping reforms delivered by candidates like Senator Sanders or Senator Warren. She is in love with the elevator music of incremental change. She’s an old, experienced hand who is well acquainted with the lay of the land in Washington and will reach across the aisle to achieve hard fought reforms with her colleagues, bringing common sense and centrism back to a radical and polarized government. This of course doesn’t allow for the fact that Mitch Mcconnell had an actual dinner party at his house mined as inspiration for the end of Hereditary.

While Klobuchar is selling you a steely eyed pragmatist, her vision of reform is in fact more surreal and improbable than the idea of a revolutionary reform candidate being swept in with a mandate and using the full power of the bully pulpit to affect change. That is closer to what is actually possible in this dystopian present than any of the antiquated “let’s find our commonalities and work together to find solutions” horseshit she’s shoveling.

8. Kirsten Gillibrand

Pull Quote: “I recognized that some of my views did need to change.”

The Policies:

I guess she’s pro Immigration Reform now?

Nationwide sexual assault survey and more on campus and in precinct resources for victims of sexual assault.

The Family Act- National paid leave for families in crisis.

In favor of Medicare for All

Restoration of felons rights to vote, decriminalization of marijuana, banning cash bail, banning predatory lending? She got asked about felons voting rights and went on this insane rant against systemic racism, offering up a lot of issues that were mostly opinion without hard policy behind them that weren’t even necessarily racially motivated and said more about how she views the class/race divide than the actual class race divide? It was empty signifying and super squirmy

In favor of Green New Deal and Carbon Pricing


I have a little history with Gillibrand as a lifelong resident of New York State. She’s been our Senator, in Hillary Clinton’s old slot, (along with Guy Perpetually Waiting In Line For Soup at Ben’s Deli, Chuck Schumer) since Hillary abdicated to be Obama’s Secretary of State in 2008. Gillibrand who onced repped New York’s 20th District, which overlaps with Albany for people who don’t have New York’s Congressional map memorized off hand. This matter because I can tell you from experience, that while New York is generally a staunchly Democratic voting state, the further North you go, the closer you get to the center, in terms of New York State Geography and the dark heart of humanity as well as the wide spectrum of political ideology. Gillibrand’s Dad probably kept her home from school the first day of hunting season. She was once a textbook Blue Dog. Keep that in mind.

The town hall opens with the moderator asking Gillibrand to introduce herself in “Chinese”, which, you know, not a language! But she “does” (I’d guess Mandarin? The moderator even doubles down and tells Gillibrand that her Chinese accent is really good) coming off as an obnoxious show and tell exhibitionist before going into a spiel about her fun immersion Summer with Connie Britton in China. So cool and relatable right off the bat, then she gets completely fucking owned by the first questioner and the moderator for her awful past positions on immigration. Highlights include attempting to make English the official language of the country and denying benefits to illegal immigrants.

Now, of course, she’s come to toe the party line, standing against Trump and supporting, you know, basic human rights for people who come to this country, but the gymnastics of logic she performs here are unbelievable. The pull quote comes from the opening of her mea culpa. She says that before, her abysmal voting on immigration was the product of being the representative for the small district she’s from, but now that she reps the entire state of New York her views needed to evolve because “They weren’t thoughtful enough, and they didn’t care enough about the people outside the original upstate New York district I represented.”

So basically she throws her home district under the bus for being the callous, xenophobic monsters they are and completely disowns them because she was basically just following orders (No Eichman). Weird flex bro! Especially because if this town hall had a hook, it would be “Trump is a coward, this country needs a brave leader with vision.” She falls back on this alot, labeling her naked pandering and opportunism as this kind of religious conversion when she went from a district representative to a state representative like she’s a fucking born again Democrat. You couldn’t even stand up to the schmucks in your district and you’re taking on the system?

This is a bit of a tangent but something I’ve started to notice pop up as politicians make their case for why they should be president is they point to past vote totals and margins. Like suddenly everyone wants to be John King to prove they had what it took to win like, a congressional district in some historic blowout. It’s the equivalent of including a nursery school finger painting in your application to Harvard and isn’t even remotely convincing to me as a potential voter. Did you run against some joke candidate essentially unopposed because you’re in a state or district that leans heavy in one direction? Are we supposed to believe even if you made your case in some post industrial opiate hole in rural Pennsylvania it’s going to translate to a national stage? Who decided this was a good laurel to rest on? Sorry for the rant. Gillibrand pulled this out when explaining why she can beat Trump in spite of her shit record. Because she won big as a Dem in fucking New York.

Her best quality as a speaker is anger. When she gets a head of steam behind her it’s kind of like Harden off a high screen at half court, undeniable with momentum. She loses the notes and really puts some bass in her voice and starts throwing haymakers, even as she’s paradoxically not remotely believable based on her very checkered history. It kind of has this fervor that makes me think she missed her calling as a minister or something but it works for her. There’s a righteous fury behind it that plays like gospel and she’s never more convincing.

This was potentially the most interesting Town Hall I watched just in terms of how it was paced and set up because it was a mix of juicy lobs that let her go off on her policy platforms and just some devastating eviscerations. At one point in response to the healthcare and pharma money question she goes off on how independent she is of big money and how we need to get Super PACs out of elections and the moderator punches back by asking why she allowed a Pfizer Vice President to host a fundraiser for her. (Response: “Cause she’s my friend and I’ve known her for lots of years!”) They really went for the jugular on immigration, gun control (she went from an “A” to “F” rating with the NRA) and healthcare with people intimately familiar with her voting history and it was alternately a circle jerk and a bloodbath.

There are some people who just shouldn’t run for president in 2019 because they’ve done too many gross and embarrassing things in their lives to merit the trust of a polarized, continental electorate but then again, I get the shoot your shot mentality because we have a leader of the free world who was caught on mic acknowledging a penitent for sexual assault and right now as I’m typing this I just had that same shock of recognition that happens several times a week when I remember Donald Trump is one of 45 people who have ever been president of the United States of America and 50 million people voted for him and I suffered temporary brain death and went into a coma and finished this sentence eight days after I started it.

I’m going to go back to The Wire for a moment, which in my opinion is a legitimate masterwork of political science. In it, Carcetti has a colleague named Anthony Gray, running against him for mayor, who is, with all due respect, a slap dick. There’s a great scene at some point in the third season, I don’t think he even knows Carcetti is running yet, when he comes up to Tommy, the light of hope bright in his eyes, and like he just invented electricity tells Carcetti “I’m going to be the education mayor!” This naked angling, a work of pure unfiltered self delusion that is so pathetic, sweaty and depressing in its manipulative falsehood, came to mind several times when I watched Gillibrand try and sell her rebrand. I’ll close with the words of another great anti-politician, Dave Chappelle, who once said this about both his and Kirsten Gillibrand’s integrity as human beings who ostensibly mean what they say:


7. Julián Castro

Pull Quote: “I believe we should choose compassion”

The Policies:

Decriminalizing border crossing
Creating a path to citizenship
In favor of Medicare for all
Believes in a requirement to release tax returns for individuals running for president
Pro reparations
Assault Weapons Bans


Castro is a compelling speaker. I get the Obama parallels I’ve heard others draw. He has a seriousness, a sense of purpose and idealistic poetry in his well composed rhetoric but he’s able to pull it off and still appear relatively naturalistic and human. Two things immediately jump out at you, his direct, confrontational disdain for Trump, and his radical compassion, particularly on the subject of immigration. Castro doesn’t settle for thinly veiled barbs or little quick hitter dad jokes about Trump, he really goes for the jugular and articulates why he’s not just stupid and incompetent, but how his policies embody shameful American callousness and cruelty.

The Obama reference is explicit in Castro’s packaging and delivery, and at times it could be a turn off. But one of the most encouraging moments came with a question asking Castro what he learned from his experience working under Obama. Castro answered he wanted to be bolder in achieving the policies in his platform than Obama was. Not relying on antiquated West Wing decorum and standing on tradition but actually taking a page from Trump and being aggressive in pursuing his agenda using the power of the executive. It was nice to hear a candidate acknowledge the world has changed rather than spit the same old bullshit about reaching across the aisle and working together to affect a fair compromise for everyone.

However, there is something about Castro and his soaring Sorkinisms that leaves me cold. At one point he actually said reparations make sense because even though we personally didn’t partake in antebellum slavery, all Americans enjoy the benefits of the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the respect foreigners all have for us as a result of those sacrifices. Like he really believes the world is in awe of Americans because of our history of courage and acceptance, as opposed to the world viewing us as brain dead, masturbating hate speech machines.

Perhaps it’s something in his wholesomeness, he completely and utterly lacks a sense of humor, at least in the moment on stage. His platform is pretty standard lib establishment karaoke with an emphasis on immigration. He just doesn’t have much particularly interesting or innovative to say, though it was all well said and he looked good saying it. It actually makes me wonder how Obama would fair as a candidate in 2020. Perhaps the day of the crisp, quaffed man in a suit explaining our predicament to us is a thing of the past, even when he happens to have an accent over a vowel in his name. Do we value urgency, passion, honesty and novelty in our politicians over what was once the competent reassurance of sturdy professionalism?

6. Tulsi Gabbard

Pull Quote: “What I’m saying is what she was trying to bring up was something that was a deeper issue, and I don’t believe her intent was to cause any offense to anyone.”

The Policies:

Not sold on Assad as a war criminal?
Pro Medicare for All
Pro Military Justice Improvement Act
Pro Legalizing Marijuana


In a sane, rational world Tulsi Gabbard would be the sleeping giant in this race. She’s the same age as Mayor Pete with potentially a stronger bio, also a veteran, shes’s an eloquent, engaging and intelligent speaker. She’s earned her anti-war, anti-intervention pacifism stance through service and would easily ward off any low-T attacks from the Right. If you’re reading this, she can probably kick your ass. She’s in her second term as a U.S. Senator, at this point you may be thinking, “What am I missing?”

Welp, a couple things. For one, the demagoguery of Anti-Semitism as a black mark for questioning Israel as a wanton violence wielding hegemonic superpower of the Middle East. The third question in the town hall is basically baited dynamite, addressing Ilhan Omar’s overblown comments in which she said, shockingly, that special interest money funds our continued unilateral support of Israel. As an American Jew who has read The Israel Lobby, it seems like a relatively common sense statement to me and I wish we as a nation responded as militantly to oppression and war crimes as we did to a first year representative quoting Puff Daddy but I guess none of us get to choose the world we live in.

The pull quote is Gabbard trying to inject this numbing, idiotic conversation with some nuance rather than just dog piling on her colleague like many others did because it was labeled as hate speech and seen as toxic by most of her peers in the race. It was the right call and she should be commended for it but also probably earned her a stink of radicalism it will be difficult to shake off. Gabbard generally is an interesting political mix. She’s a near independent, and the inverse of most moderate dems because she’s fiscally liberal but socially conservative.

She’s really strong when it comes to Obama beat poetry and dynamic in debate. The moderator went for several pin downs you could see as set ups for Washington Post red meat but Gabbard wiggled out, and not in a meek or non-committal way, more of an intelligent rebuke saying, “This is a stupid question that doesn’t mean anything and I’m not going to hurt myself or be disingenuous in my response. Next” There were times she wanted to straight up avoid some answers, and was graceful in that context as well.

She’s a devout Hindu and talks about it perhaps a bit too openly as a religion and philosophy that has influenced her political ideology. I think it’d be a tough hurdle in debate against a guy who’s going to lean into mocking it. She doesn’t have much in the way of a sense of humor to parry. She kind of has this serene, slightly stoned, enlightened vibe that is Castro-like in her toothless, pleasant demeanor.

Oh, also, her Dad was a Catholic homophobic hate monger. A lot of her questions seemed to be pushing her on Identity politics. I can’t know what’s in her heart but the line of questioning made me slightly uncomfortable. Gabbard has some pretty ugly homophobic speech tied to her as a 22 year old state representative who came out pretty forcefully against gay marriage.

My point is two fold. In 2004 I was 20 and in favor of gay marriage but had a number of opinions and behaviors that would probably get me canceled if not beheaded by the internet. And the second is I fear this is where our politics are headed. I think the hypocrisy of a Gillibrand or Cory Booker is open season when we’re trying to get a sense of who you are and what you care about as a person and politician. The record does matter. But there’s a difference between that and evaluating your middle school Tweets to decide if you’ll be fit for office in 2040.

5. Pete Buttigieg

South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is seen during a live CNN Town Hall moderated by Anderson Cooper at Saint Anselm College on Monday, April 22, 2019, in Manchester, N.H. Elijah Nouvelage for CNN

Pull Quote: “Our city was built for 130,000 people. We only have 100,000.”

The Policies:

Against Citizens United and the influence of money in government,

In favor of immigration reform and a path to citizenship,

In favor of trade agreements like NAFTA but offsetting those agreements with social programs that sound like Universal Basic Income, creating jobs by innovating in tech? It’s kind of unclear.

Increasing aid to college students in the form of grants, and shifting more responsibility to the universities to take the pressure of debt off students. Another difficult one to parse. It sounds like focusing on state solutions rather than federal. He was cagey when it came to endorsing Elizabeth Warren’s debt relief plan.

Against felons voting while incarcerated

Dealing with homophobic nations by leading by example with how members of the LBGTQ community are treated in America, basically being tolerant of their intolerance and hoping our tolerance bleeds in via osmosis

Pro Impeachment


Mayor Pete has been the emergent candidate of this early primary cycle for good reason. He’s gifted, one of the most natural, polished and likeable politicians I’ve encountered since Obama. Whether speaking to his remarkable biography or communicating his beliefs and hopes for America, he always comes off as charming, thoughtful and genuine.

Because of that, he’s able to speak out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to certain policy positions he knows won’t play well to a given audience, which you can see when he deftly sidesteps the trade issue as well as college debt, and I mean that as a compliment because it’s an essential skill in a general election. He’s much better at the art of saying nothing than say, a Hillary Clinton.

Where it gets tough for Buttigieg is track record. The experience question isn’t much of a hurdle for him in a post Trump world. He eloquently communicates why being a mayor was such valuable and transferable experience, and I think for the right mayor it could be. But there are some major, and in my estimation fatal slips of tongue when he tries to defend the actual troubling issues he tackled as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Specifically, issues that affected the lower class and people of color. He gets beat up on two of them over the course of the town hall.

His program to fight urban blight in impoverished areas of South Bend by raising buildings and in some cases entire blocks deemed not up to code via often hurried inspections, 1,000 buildings in 1,000 days as the policy was sold, was a naked and aggressive act of gentrification that pushed lower income residents out of their homes and cost others properties they owned but couldn’t afford to renovate because “An abandoned house can be used as a headquarters for drug operations or other things that make you less safe”.

That’s a direct quote from Buttigieg’s town hall and the exact type of assumption paired with “unbiased” statistical analysis that has been the bedrock of discriminatory policing and housing policies in this country for over a generation. When Buttigieg discusses the issue he doesn’t refer to it as a perfect system, but the flaws were of process, not philosophy. He sounds like Billy Beane evaluating a failed prospect’s plate approach rather than a potential president discussing a neighborhood and the human beings who live there. There’s no personal apologies for how the policy was discriminatory and punitive for poor homeowners in low income areas.

Then there’s the real smoking gun. In 2012, Buttigieg was faced with a scandal in which an African-American police chief had recorded his fellow senior white officers using racist language. The tapes were suppressed and the chief was demoted, replaced with a white man (then subsequently, another white man). The best moment in the entire town hall is when a young woman of color who is a student at Harvard asks Buttigieg point blank what is on the tapes. Buttigieg alleges he doesn’t know because it would be illegal for him to listen to them, which is complete and total bullshit. The answer and his apologist follow up is his least convincing and sincere moment of the entire hour. Today, in South Bend, which is 37% black and latino, the police force is 5% black and 5% latino.

The real disappointing aspect of Buttigieg for me is that he doesn’t even seem to be aware of how troubling this language and his history comes off and how offensive this sort of thinking and decision making can be to any progressive voter with a history with these issues. He’s too bright and polished to continually make these faux pas, it comes off more as well meaning general ignorance, which in many ways is more frightening than insincerity. I opened with the pull quote above because it shines a light on how sheltered he’s been as a political animal who was wading in shallow waters, the mayor to 100,000 people. To win over half the country, particularly this half, he will have to do better, repenting for his sins by at least recognizing he committed them.

4. Cory Booker

Pull Quote: “”He is now pitching optimism as the best way to defeat President Donald Trump.”

The Policies:

Expunging marijuana convictions
Pro reparations
Pro Medicare for All
Pro Rosario Dawson
Universal background checks
Pro Green New Deal, rejoining Paris Climate Accords
Pro reforming Electoral College
Pro Rolling Back the Trump Tax Cuts
Pro Debt free college, Free Community College, Debt forgiveness for teachers


For residents of the Tri-State area, considering Cory Booker as a presidential

Nominee feels like a given if not overdue. At just 50, Booker has been running a shadow presidential campaign half his life. He’s been on council boards since he was in his 20s, ran for Mayor unsuccessfully for the first time in Newark in 2002, and has held some form of office since 2006. But this is his first actual shot at the oval office. Booker reminds me of that classic scene from The Social Network when the Winklevii lose a brutally close crew race down the Thames. There’s a world in which he became our first black president, now it’s doubtful he’ll ever be one at all.

The pull quote actually belongs to Don Lemon, not Booker, but the opening salvo focuses in on it. The questioner zeroes in on Booker’s optimistic approach he’s made his corner for this campaign and I had never heard of before starting this video. It’s just regurgitating Obama 2008 shlock. When Booker is pushing the optimist shit he falls into the Castro model of a clone who lacks that spark of lively intellect and combative debate. Booker sounds like someone who has been frozen in ice since 2010 and never found out what happened in those first midterms.

To be fair, he gets better. Booker is preaching to a choir here. His was probably the most vocal and responsive Town Hall I saw. But the stats were somewhat juked. The town hall was set up with two HBCs as the audience. Booker leaned into this “Hey y’all” angle pretty hard and the pandering got to be a bit grating but I imagine it was effective in the room.

Booker is the most passionate, convincing, and knowledgeable on the subject of race, the policies he’d implement to combat systemic racism and the racial roots of economic inequality, a subject even Bernie can sound awkward or less thoughtful on. These are the moments when his experiences in Newark are particularly valuable. An  early question tried to pry how he would differ from Obama in his treatment of the African American community, he is also pressed on reparations and he aced both.

He had a great MC’s feel for where the applause lines were and knew when to pull up and fire this particular night. He has that beer quality, as in he’d probably be fun to get a drink with. He reminds me of Harris somewhat, they have the same restless, intense, aggressive quality she commands at her prosecutorial best, which we’ll discuss shortly. It boils down to a lawyer’s pacing and cadence. But sometimes it can go too far and he sounds like a monorail salesman. This is at its ugliest when he has to account for a pretty gruesome history in bed with special interests.  

For instance, now he’s saying he’s campaigning independent and big money needs to be kept out of our politics, but doesn’t have any great answers for why he took huge sums of big pharma money.  He has the same slippery quality as Gillibrand, and Hillary before her, someone who was blindsided by Bernie and the Populist Revolution’s movement away from Big money and special interest. Booker is an old school retail politician who took too long to figure out that the game changed and the checks he used to take, his lame antiquated stances he wants to sweep under the rug because they no longer poll well, aren’t going to just go away this primary season.

He condemns Betsy DeVos in the Town Hall but worked closely with her organization American Federation for Children, a ghoulish charter/private school advocacy group that supports policies like school choice, and once injected the Newark public school system with a Shock Doctrine sounding agenda, courting the aid of big tech companies (most notably 100 million from Mark Zuckerberg) and Wall Street funding with little scholastic success to show for his gamble. At one point in the town hall, Booker came out on the urgency of climate change and the necessity for the Green New Deal then got smoked when Lemon asked him, if he holds true to those convictions why he voted “Present” when the vote came to the Senate floor? You’ll never believe this but he was wildly unconvincing in rebuttal.

He fails to recognize that more than a slick pitch, a nice smile, a Shepard Fairey poster and an interesting bio, what really made Obama stand apart was his stance in opposition to the Iraq War from the outset. It was a moment of integrity, a moment of courage, a moment that communicated independence, truth and authenticity. It’s a moment you can’t get back. It happens, it leaves its mark on you, and you either succeed or fail in communicating the content of your character. Politicians like Booker and Gillibrand are now desperate for re-brands as they pledge born again ideological purity. I suspect as the primaries heat up those appeals will fall on deaf ears.

Also, to quote the great Amber Frost, Cory Booker is “A wall eyed motherfucker” and it can be really distracting.

3. Kamala Harris

Pull Quote: “I support that we study it. We should study it and see.”

The Policies:

Pro gun control, universal background checks and an assault weapon ban.
Supports debt-free college, refinancing student loan debt to be on par with federal lending rates, income based repayment plans, simplifying financial aid.
Supports Medicare for all
Supports Green New Deal
Supports legalizing sex work
Supports Equal Rights Ammendment
May support increasing Federal minimum wage?
Would like to withdraw from Saudi led intervention in Yemen
Doesn’t see the point of impeachment


Harris is a commanding presence. As a former prosecutor, you can see why she would be effective in front of a jury because when you watch her, be it at the town hall or in committee, she applies a relentless, meticulous lawyer’s logic to whatever argument she’s constructing. She’s rigorous and intellectually combative in the best possible way, believable in her commitment to her positions and willing to fight for them with credible conviction. I would absolutely love to watch her in a debate with Trump because, while it’s always a risky proposition underestimating him, in all likelihood she’d paint the stage with his blood and leave his decapitated head on a lectern.

As a personality she’s not exactly warm or personable but she’s not frigid, still “likeable”. She’s confident and professional, dare I say presidential. But she has this stagey habit of being wildly demonstrative, talking with her hands like Jordan Belfort giving a motivational speech to a room full of asshole traders or my late great uncle Aaron at a Passover seder. It’s sort of distracting and makes her diatribes come off as more performance than conversation.

I’ve heard some talk, more on the street and in bars than on the internet, that her background as a prosecutor will condemn her as a non-starter to run for the Democratic nomination, but based on her performance I don’t buy it. She’s too intelligent and knows how to craft arguments around why she made the policy decisions she made as a DA. Her handling of a question during the town hall pertaining to her California Truancy Initiative is particularly iron clad and masterful. Her angling of the issue as supporting young men of color and community uplift shows an ability to navigate a thorny conflict and an understanding of the compassion her constituency wants to hear from her on questions pertaining to justice and her past.

Because she’s often so powerful and authoritative, Harris is not as graceful as a Mayor Pete when it comes to moving off questions she doesn’t want to answer. When asked if she’d support Elizabeth Warren’s loan forgiveness plan she responded “I support anything that reduces the debt of student loans and I think that’s an important conversation to have.” Which is the cliched empty political verbiage of athlete speak, essentially saying “Both sides played hard”. Harris does this a lot and the contrast between her firm and soft answers is glaring every time. Ironically, there’s a question late in the town hall where they ask Harris to address a comment she made dismissing the importance of appealing to the Midwest voter and what that really means. It’s a canny question about taking firm stances and not playing to the middle with bland platitudes. She responded with a bland platitude.

The pull quote is Harris’ response to one of several yes or no questions the moderator posed to her, this one asking if she’d favor financial reparations from slavery. Her non response is a Rodham Clintonian impulse and Harris’ worst as a politician. Too often her response is she is open to “thinking about” questions and “having debates” to avoid concrete answers. She doesn’t have the rank stink of hypocrisy Booker and Gillibrand carry but this is almost as bad, at least they’re committed to their new stances.

If I were advising her, I’d tell her to simply commit on the issues and damn the consequences. This cycle will be one for courage and definitive positions, above all trust. The old way of playing both sides of the fence is dead and a feral animal like Trump will jump all over anyone who doesn’t share his bullheaded certitude. You don’t have to be a frothing fucking moron like Trump is, but you need to match his conviction. Limp wrist can kicking won’t accomplish that.

2. Bernie Sanders

Pull Quote: “The right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people.”

The Policies:

Supports Medicare for all
Supports felons rights to vote
Against reparations
Supports Fair Trade, not Free Trade
Aggressive graduated income tax plan
Against armed guards in public schools
Supports Free College


I think one of the sadder things about the noise around Bernie, how much context  there is at this point and how we have to get into Socialism and Hillary and the idea of  his fanbase and his actual fanbase and electability and whatever shit random members  of the electorate may be currently holding against him for whatever arbitrary reason today, is it obscures what a truly gifted and miraculous politician he is. His style is so unique it really defies all precedence. For starters his “likeability”, his endearing quality, is his abrasive lack of charm and packaging. It’s antithetical to, at the very least, my entire life casually observing American politics and politicians and why and how people rise or fall.

Bernie spends a lot of time with his hands folded awkwardly in front of him. When he uses them to make a point, he looks like Dumbledore casting a spell. He has a plainspoken, off the cuff quality punctuated with a sharp sense of casual Jewish humor. It’s remarkable that he’s repeated his talking points thousands of times but they still come off as conversational and not at all robotic. At this point I could do Bernie’s riff on health care like Drake’s verses on “Sicko Mode” and yet I never tire of “Sicko Mode” either. He’s just a brilliant, once in a generation communicator.

There’s a great question asked towards the middle of the town hall in which Bernie is asked “What have you changed your mind about recently?” You can tell the question kind of catches him off guard and it would provoke the sort of “My main weakness is I care too much” job interview type of response from most candidates. He then jumps right into foreign policy, acknowledging that the critique from the last primary that it wasn’t a strength for him was fair. It’s this humility that makes Bernie such a credible human being first and candidate second. As a person, he comes second to his message and his mission, any success he’s experienced he accredits to his righteous cause. This is how you build trust and convert skeptics.

When his voice quivers with anger at the injustice of Wall Street’s largesse, our corporate overlords and tax breaks for gigantic companies you can tell, or at least believe this is genuinely felt and not performance. Part of his ability to sell this is in his appearance. Even if his suit is new it looks like he’s worn it thousands of times. His hair is famously unkempt and his glasses look like Lenscrafters knock offs. It conveys the man of the proletariat, the Willie Loman schlemiel who just wants a fair shake for himself and everyone like him. All this being said, a lot of anti-Bernie types I’ve encountered this primary season make hay out of his age, but he looks and sounds incredibly crisp for a guy closing in on 80, particularly in contrast with his similarly aged potential competition.

Another knock on Bernie is his inability to connect with minorities (again more of a Hilariest idea attached to Bernie because she washed him in city centers during the 2016 primaries but I think you could chalk that up to Clinton-brand familiarity) which I think is bullshit, but. Bernie fumbles a direct question on reparations. If you know this is a perceived weakness, would it be so bad to make an allowance in your platform that could allay the potential fears of tone deafness to a crucial demo?

And what’s worse is Bernie’s defense, that he wants what amounts to reparations that break down along class lines rather than race. This is the exact type of language that ignores the history of racism and its crushing impact on the African American community and why reparations are necessary in the first place. Bernie’s stance comes from a good place but it’s naive and doesn’t play as very convincing. But as we’re about to discuss, his appeal and his potential downfall are intertwined. It’s his inability to play politics, as, you know, a politician. He’s going to support his unfiltered beliefs without qualification and damn the consequences to radical extremes.

The pull quote is both the mad brilliance and curse of Bernie Sanders. It’s a response to a piece of bloody political bait. Does he think the Boston Marathon bomber and sexual predators are entitled to the right to vote? Of course he does. His defense is an impassioned and admirable piece of high political theater. The type every single other individual in this race would either side step or run away from at a great speed. Bernie leans in. The moderator even tries to caution him off the position, explaining this will be manipulated and lifted to say Bernie wants rapists and murderers to vote, Sanders doubles down, explaining how creating a line in the sand can be used to suppress votes based on shifting logic, and therefore the right to vote in a vibrant democracy must be absolute.

He’s 100% right, his logic is sound, noble and speaks to the core principles of the American experiment, and probably lost him between 30%-40% of the country that hasn’t made up its mind definitively with a simple answer he could’ve massaged just a bit (which he followed by at one point, accurately describing Israel as a racist right wing government!). It’s a turnoff for some, the meek lib establishment that needs to buy this bland, totally projected and insulting “electibility” trait. But as a similarly direct and abrasive Jew from New York I can’t help but recognize, love and appreciate a kindred spirit. The man says what he means. It’s why lists are so irritating. You may see an achilles heel, I say if anyone is going to stand up to a lunatic like Trump you have to match him stride for stride. Bernie is a say anything, fearless warrior who speaks directly to his base with little concern for political niceties. But his cause is human dignity and not xenophobic fear mongering.

I believe in my heart Bernie can win a general election against Trump. I can’t say whether I truly believe he can ever be allowed to escape a Democratic primary.


1. Elizabeth Warren



Pull Quote: “Can we talk about how to pay for it?”

The Policies:

95% College Loan forgiveness
Free tuition
Pro legalization of marijuana
Pro Impeachment
Supports Green New Deal


So if this exercise had any value at all for me personally, it was sitting down for an hour to really watch and listen to Elizabeth Warren. I will tip my hand and reveal I’m a Sanders supporter, and probably will remain one through primary season, but Warren is a prime example of why it’s so important to do more than read a few blurbs, catch a Daily Show interview and allow pundits to make up your mind for you.

The book on Warren as I’ve assessed it on the periphery of political groupthink is her “unlikeability” makes her a long shot as a viable presidential candidate. And I’ll admit that I’ve heard that enough times that I just kind of accepted it. The little I had heard from her and remembered in bits and pieces from 2016 when she rose to a place in my consciousness was dry and professorial. She was the cold numbers behind Bernie’s fire. A necessary intellectual backbone but better suited to being a cabinet wonk than the leader of the free world.

Now, I’m not saying that assessment was wrong, as we’ll be discussing in greater detail in a bit, but what she managed to debunk in only a few minutes is the idea of her unlikeability. Part of why she ended up at #1 for me is the low expectations that have been set for her and how far she surpassed them here, and I hope anyone who reads this will at least try checking out her town hall for a bit.

For a long time I pushed back on the idea that a lot of Hillary’s issues as a candidate could be chalked up to misogyny. I liked Hillary coming into the 2016 cycle, and as her campaign dragged on I just found her less and less palatable, not at all credible to her word, making misstep after misstep in terms of policy platform and how she ran her campaign, dragging a massive load of all the Clinton Foundation baggage. I personally don’t think this was a misogynist fueled opinion. I came into the primary of 2016 wanting to vote for her, and did vote for her, but along the way she did everything she could to dissuade me of my initial impulse.

This is all a long way of saying I think the negativity around Elizabeth Warren is absolutely the product of unfair, mindless misogyny. She is a bright, engaging, comfortable speaker. She develops an immediate rapport with her audience and the moderator. At worst she’s an innocuous but pleasant jogging grandma who can knock out the Sunday Times crossword before you get through a single quadrant and at best she’s a fucking genius whose intellect will be absolutely essential in accomplishing the sort of egalitarian reforms the economic progressives are seeking. Her pindown of Amazon and their market monopoly was ruthless and perfectly articulated. She has a real, old school, civic duty bound path into a career in politics with an unimpeachable message. After hearing her explain the sexism she faced in her first run for Senate, how you could come away thinking anything but “I want this woman to be proud of my GPA” is beyond me.

She can be didactic. She turns easy answers like approving weed legalization into an explanation of what a schedule 1 drug is. She likes anecdotes about people she’s spoken to and dragging out statistics to explain things to us we already know, and she has a tendency to run long in her responses. But as a person who probably lands to the left of the lib establishment I agree with her positions and her reasoning on basically every point discussed in this town hall.

If you’re into “electability” and are willing to at least acknowledge some of Bernie’s very real drawbacks as a politician, it’s hard not to see Warren as the cleaner, safer alternative. She’s a woman, which could hurt on a national stage but should be an advantage as a Democratic presidential hopeful in this primary with an electorate hungry for change in the type of person we have representing us, and while she doesn’t suffer from a Harris level of calculation that can be off putting when discussing issues, she’s good at the seamless redirect, more composed and measured in her thought and speech than Bernie. A nice compromise between two poles if you’ll forgive the simplification.

It’s interesting listening to Senator Warren and Senator Sanders deliver variations on the same populist message back to back (I watched them back to back). Sanders style is fire and brimstone. His anger is righteous and the hypocrisy and as he expresses injustice is communicated as a truth that should be self evident to any American with a shred of conscience.

Warren takes a different approach. She emphasizes with the wealthy scions whose wealth she is coming for. She begins by making it clear her policies are not meant to be seen as punitive, but very logically insists that their fortunes were not built, or inherited without the resources of this country, including its people, whose hard work and educations helped the rich person in question inherit their wealth. It’s a point with more nuance, thought and consideration than Bernie’s in how it’s delivered, but it has a somewhat less appealing nagging quality and isn’t necessarily riveting political theater in this sound bite driven economy of noise, particularly against an incumbent who shits them out. The style you prefer is a matter of taste and I begrudge neither, but I can’t see anyone coming away put off by her performance here. She was fantastic in this room.


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