Ryan does better in second debate, but his presidential bid still wobbly

If this is the last time we see U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan on the Democratic presidential debate stage – and it almost certainly is – at least he went out swinging.

But unfortunately for him his most notable moment was when he forgot to put his hand over his heart during the national anthem.

Ryan of Howland, D-13th, later apologized saying it was an oversight, but added the matter was “blown out of proportion.”

Rather than getting bogged down in a no-win interaction with another lower-tier candidate – as he did with U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii during the first debate on June 26 – Ryan went at it Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the party’s presidential frontrunners.

These things are largely out of Ryan’s hands, but he had the good fortune of getting called to respond to two of Sanders’ statements.

The first exchange included a memorable line from the Vermont senator. It was so memorable that Sanders’ campaign raised money off of it.

In response to Ryan’s legitimate statement that Sanders didn’t know a government-run Medicare for All plan would be better than the health coverage that some workers get now, the senator dismissed him with: “I do know that. I wrote the damn bill!”

However, Ryan got in a good line during the second discussion on Sanders wanting to eliminate gas-powered car sales by 2040.

Ryan wasn’t disagreeing with Sanders, who speaks at only one volume: loud.

Ryan said, “I didn’t say we couldn’t get there until 2040. Bernie, you don’t have to yell.”

There was substance, but the candidates used one-liners to attract attention during the debates that went on too long.

Of note was Ryan’s closing statement.

He said, “I hope tonight, at some level, I captured your imagination, your imagination about what this country can be like if we united, if we put together real policies that weren’t left or right, but new and better. That’s how we win the future.”

A day after the debate I talked to Ryan who doubled-down on Sanders and added U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another frontrunner, to the mix.

He told me the two of them are too extreme to beat President Donald Trump, a Republican, in next year’s election. He went so far as to say they’d both “lose 48 states and I don’t know which two they’d win.”

He added: “I think it’s hard for any nominee to win with trying to take away private health insurance. It’s not in line with where we want to be. That and decriminalization on the border and free health care for undocumented people are real problems for us. It’s not how you appeal to working-class people. You can be big and bold, but you have to be respectful of people.”

While Tuesday’s debate went better for Ryan than the June one, he won’t qualify for the third debate in Houston next month and a fourth one in October based on the thresholds for the events.

To be eligible for those debates, candidates need at least 130,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 400 different donors from at least 20 states, and at least 2 percent support in four qualifying polls from June 28 to Aug. 28.

Ryan reported he had more than 13,000 donors on his campaign finance reports, which ended June 30. Also, he hasn’t polled at 2 percent in any qualifying poll since the June 28 start date.

To think he’s going to get 117,000 or so more donors and hit 2 percent in four polls in the time he has left is unreasonable.

To date, seven candidates have qualified.

It’s a far cry from the two-day debates of 10 candidates each.

Ryan objects to the 130,000-donor minimum saying it’s “a poor indicator of whether you’ve got a successful campaign.”

There’s some validity to it as some candidates are paying firms and spending a lot of money on social media to get tiny-dollar donations to drive their numbers up in an attempt to qualify for the next round of debates.

But the reality is Ryan’s campaign has failed to capture the attention the big-name candidates have and it never will.

He’s not alone.

As Mike Morley, Ryan’s campaign manager, told me: “There are probably 15 candidates who have to make a decision for financial reasons, and Tim is one of them.”

Ryan said he’s not ready to give up even if he’s not part of any future debates. But it’s only a matter of when he withdraws.

It was a longshot candidacy from the beginning so this doesn’t come as a surprise.

He’ll be a strong Midwest surrogate for the eventual nominee as long as it’s not Sanders or Warren because he’s burned those bridges.

If the Democrat nominee somehow beats Trump, which is a tall order, there could be a place in that person’s cabinet for Ryan.