The nation is in the third year of one of the strangest presidencies in its history, with a capricious chief executive who has demolished both the old guardrails around the office and many of the basic presumptions of American policy. His administration has been so abnormal that it has drawn the largest field of presidential hopefuls in modern history from the opposition party.
But you wouldn’t have known that from watching the first debate among those Democratic candidates last night.
The debate in Miami, featuring 10 Democrats, seemed to take place in an alternative political universe. In the real world, Donald Trump infiltrates every aspect of American political life, and most aspects of nonpolitical life. On the debate stage, he was barely mentioned. When he was, the candidates mostly offered the pro forma condemnations that opposition-party candidates always use about incumbent presidents they hope to unseat.
Julián Castro promised to reverse a Trump executive order on immigration and, as one of several candidates overeager to show off his schoolboy Spanish, promised to “say adios” to Trump. Amy Klobuchar said the president was insensitive to the economic travails of ordinary Americans. Several candidates said Trump had been hasty in withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran. Tim Ryan said Trump had broken campaign promises to keep jobs in Northeast Ohio. Beto O’Rourke charged that “President Trump has alienated our allies and our friends and alliances,” mustering all the rhetorical excitement, and nearly the precise wording, of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign against Barack Obama.