Democratic Debate #2 Night 2 Review: No TKO As Joe Biden Punched By Everyone; CNN Tweaks Boxing Match Format, A Bit

For the second night in a row, hopefuls to take Donald Trump's job squared off on cable TV with the ex-VP & Cali's junior Senator center stage in every way Shutterstock

Donald Trump loves to mock the former vice president of the United States as “Sleepy Joe,” but coming off a less-than-stellar performance during the last debate, Joe Biden was aiming for full Joe Frazier mode in the Motor City tonight against his relentless rivals with some Rope-a-Dope moves too.

Unmentioned last night in the first of the second round of Democratic debates, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and eight other contenders made the 140-characters version of their pitch to replace the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host in the Oval Office, Biden was first on-stage in Detroit tonight and circled the ring promptly to successfully get his bruised campaign back off the mat, so to speak.

“Go easy on me, kid,” said one of America’s last retail politicians to rival Kamala Harris when California’s junior senator came out next to cheers.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris just shook hands before facing off tonight on stage for a #DemDebate rematch.

Having burned the front-runner over the coals for his Senate record on race in their last matchup in late June, California’s former attorney general didn’t miss a beat and shook the smiling former veep’s hand and replied, “You good?”

Well, good enough, it seems — even if Biden lacked the combative potency of Warren. Snagging the most speaking time of both debates this week, Biden also was very well prepped on the whole with some shade to finally throw of his own in his third bid for the White House.

Unlike when he told Barack Obama in 2010 that the passing of the Affordable Care Act was a “big f*cking deal,” a much more media-savvy Biden knew this time that his greeting words to Harris would be picked up on his microphone. Even later subjected to heckles of “3 million deportations” over Obama-era policies, some shaky stumbles and a confusing closing statement, that was his intention and his opening jab as polls show his lead for the nomination slipping.

Also, after getting a meager 8.7 million viewers watching the cable newser and CNN en Español for Tuesday’s debate and facing Love Island on CBS and the Jane the Virgin series finale on the CW, the Jeff Zucker-run outlet threw down with the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra of local news. In that conflict-spotlighting context, it was a scuffed-but-standing Biden followed by ever-rising star Harris who took the brunt of the blows from each other and their fellow Democrats via the referees in all but name of moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon.

Languid to the point of near comatose last night, the trio were onscreen and on-point a lot more often, hoping to streamline the sometimes freewheeling nearly three-hour and sometimes technically challenged blowout. In fact, Tapper, Bash and Lemon were on-point to the point of looking for a real rumble after Tuesday’s mainly internal ideological clash between progressives Warren and Sanders and the more moderate candidates.

Standing with fellow moderators before the contenders were introduced tonight, Tapper called this second debate a “pivotal point in the race for the presidency” in his introduction downtown in the D. However, it seems that the “reality TV show,” as tieless Alan Yang called it, was more than likely a further turn toward the trivial way American elections are conceived and covered.

Having learned somewhat from the widespread drubbing the network received after last night, CNN again came on in its introduction sizzle reel ESPN-meets-the MTV VMAs.

From the very beginning it was fatuous voice-over and graphics predicting a “critical rematch” between Biden (“aiming to reclaim his momentum”) and Harris (“not backing down”). Like Tuesday’s primetime, it didn’t get fundamentally much better going forward in what looks to be the most witless coverage of the race for leader of the free world yet – and 2016 was pretty bad, if you know what I mean.

Pulling from the glory days of boxing, the baritone Lemon’s introduction of the candidates this evening almost had you thinking George Foreman was going to come out in a personalized robe and gloved fists held high.

By the time the first question was asked of the candidates nearly 25 minutes after all 10 of them were first behind their podiums, Biden and Harris squared off over healthcare. A slightly deeper policy-detailing scenario than Tuesday with the much more engaged moderators playing to the viewers at home and openly pitting Biden and Harris against each other over their respective plans.

Still having not faced off against the razor-sharp Warren, Biden and Harris shared the stage tonight with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Connie Britton’s old college chum Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, NYC Mayor and owner Bill de Blasio, ex-HUD Secretary and once potential HRC running mate Julián Castro of Texas, uncensored Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, venture capitalist and thoughtful Yang, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and the “our house is on fire” climate-change-warning Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington.

In anticipation that the field will be well trimmed to a core of Biden, Harris, Sanders, Warren and one or two more by the time of the next debate in Houston on ABC and Univision in September, most of this crew of mainly Hail Mary hopefuls were looking for their breakout moment. Nothing was shattered by anyone, but, blunt about wanting to stay in the race, Gillibrand might have had the T-shirt quip to match Bernie Sanders’ “I wrote the damn bill” of last night:

However, like the first debate on Tuesday, the massive Fox Theatre stage, CNN producers and a trio of hecklers who hit pause on the proceedings didn’t have enough room for much more. Like everyone else but some of the senselessly prancing candidates onstage, the moderators and their bosses knew that this was all about Biden and Harris and ratings in a marketplace where Fox News Channel and MSNBC are almost always top dogs.

In that sense, after the intelligence of the American people, it was the Comic-Con-attending senator from the Garden State who was the real loser tonight as much as Warren was the winner of the week. No matter what stance he took and what punches he hoped to land castigating his fellow Dems for playing into the Republicans’ discourse or slapping Biden for his convenient use of his old boss Obama as political armor, Booker on and off the stage just couldn’t get ahold of the argument or CNN’s cameras.

Squaring off against the second interruption of the night with chants of “fire Pantaleo” from hecklers over the unindicted NYPD cop who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014, the usually eloquent and inspirational Booker had that Dan Quayle wide-eyed look.

Praised by Biden as a “future president” as the ex-VP attacked the former Newark mayor’s record in the toiling New Jersey town, Booker was a man in search of a cause that he couldn’t find. Through expected topics of healthcare, immigration, criminal justice reform, race relations, Robert Mueller and the desired impeachment of Donald Trump (who was watching and tweeting tonight), Booker looked drained. It was as if he wanted to just get out of there as the too long debate dragged on through primetime.

Certainly not wanting to be anywhere else but Detroit, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez was the hype man once again, and again the Obama administration Labor secretary tore into the current POTUS. “Anyone hear a discussion about hand size last night?” a stage-pacing Perez asked the crowd in reference to Trump’s assertion on the same stage in a 2016 GOP debate that his hands weren’t small and “there’s no problem” with the size of any other part of the hefty ex-reality TV host.

Having taken an inside baseball swing at the incumbent and promising “another spirited debate tonight,” Perez threw some Blue State meat out there too with a name-drop of his old boss and a rhetorical “Am I the only one who misses Barack Obama in this room — and his wife?”

Needless to say, in a relatively low-energy event, that got one of the biggest cheers of the night in the deeply Democratic and African-American-majority town.

Until September, see you on the fundraising circuit, where the other real debate will be played out for the top-tier Democrats by the deep-pocketed Hollywood and Wall Street donors the party and the candidates rely on.

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