Milwaukee is about 375 miles northeast of Des Moines, Iowa (less as the crow flies), but they couldn’t have been further apart in terms of the state of the economy and America’s role in the world as articulated Tuesday night by President Trump in the former and the six Democrats who want his job in the latter.
The final half-hour of Mr. Trump’s optimistic 85-minute speech to an ebullient rally at the University of Wisconsin’s Panther Arena overlapped the start of the Democrats’ dour, relentlessly negative two-hour-plus debate at Drake University.
Aside from occurring about the same time, the two events had little in common. It was as though the president and his opponents were viewing the state of the country and the world through opposite ends of a telescope.
While Mr. Trump was exulting about a booming economy with wages and stock markets rising, and joblessness and poverty falling, his Democratic foes were despairing about how, in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s words, “So much is broken in this country.”
In the Massachusetts Democrat’s telling, “children are living in poverty and seeing their life chances shrink,” “people are being crushed by student-loan debt” and “farmers are barely holding on.”
“We have an America right now that’s working great for those at the top,” she said. “It’s just not working for anyone else.”
Not to be outdone, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont lamented that “half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck” and “half-a-million people are sleeping out on the streets tonight.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden contended that “the American public is getting clobbered,” adding: “The wealthy are the only ones doing well, period.”
The other three Democratic presidential wannabes at the debate — the final such dog-and-pony show before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 — were only slightly less down on the country and the economy. For Democrats, the glass is not only not half-full, it’s not even half-empty.
As such, their seventh debate was indistinguishable from the previous six — except in one respect. To the angst and alarm of the identity-politics left, all six of the candidates who qualified to participate based on polling and fundraising were monochromatically white. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is black, dropped out of the running on Monday, but that was a moot point because he hadn’t made the cut for the debate anyway.
That left as the only person of color taking part in the debate Abby Phillips of CNN, one of the three moderators. The absence of “diversity” and “inclusivity” among the debaters rankled the party’s racial bean counters, who are demanding changes to its system for determining who is allowed to debate.
While we seldom rise to the defense of the Democratic National Committee, it’s right in defending the rules it established. Apart from having to winnow the field somehow to keep out candidates with no real chance of winning the party’s presidential nomination — much less the general election — the rules were set in advance so everyone knew them, were applied evenhandedly and are colorblind.
It’s not the DNC’s fault that rank-and-file Democrats (even among minority voters) haven’t expressed support for candidates of color in sufficient numbers for them to qualify for the debate stage. It would be a form of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to allow minority candidates to debate despite failing to garner sufficient support to justify it, merely for the sake of “diversity.”
For what it’s worth, a pair of white candidates at least nominally still in the running — Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. John Delaney of Maryland — were also kept off the stage for failing to meet those same polling and fundraising thresholds.
The contrast between the exuberance of Mr. Trump’s Milwaukee rally and the pessimism that pervaded the Democrats’ Des Moines debate was stark to anyone who watched both. And that doesn’t bode well for Democrats in November, regardless of who they ultimately nominate.
That was summed up succinctly by no less a partisan authority than Van Jones, one of CNN’s post-debate commentators. Mr. Jones, a self-described “progressive” who served in the Obama administration, described the debate as unappetizing as “cold oatmeal.”
“[T]onight, for me, was dispiriting. Democrats got to do better than what we saw tonight,” he said. “There was nothing I saw tonight that would be able to take Donald Trump out, and I want to see a Democrat in the White House as soon as possible.”
It’s looking increasingly likely that that won’t be until January 2025 at the earliest.