Hype aside, Miami debates won’t wield much impact

The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif.: Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as the presidential debate season gets started tonight in Miami:

The back-to-back debates won’t determine the Democratic nomination.

Chances are, most everything said today and Thursday, and by whom, will be a faded memory long before the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3.

You can count on this: Any gaffe, or perceived gaffe, will be replayed ad nauseam on cable news for a few days and exploited by rival candidates (including the tweeter in chief).

Tune in anyway.

For most voters, the debates will be their first unfiltered look at 20 of the 23 declared Democratic candidates. Likewise, for most of the participants, it’s the first opportunity to make their case to a national audience.

To stand out from the pack, some of them may be tempted to engage in a little Trumpian bombast. Our advice: Skip the taunts and stick to substance.


Here are some questions we would like to ask:

Would you re-enter the Paris climate accord?

What about the Iran nuclear agreement?

What steps would you propose to address rising sea levels, extreme wildfires, extreme weather and other manifestations of climate change, and what would you ask Americans to give up because of climate change? Would you maintain present auto- emission standards and restore emission standards for power plants and factories that were rolled back by the Trump administration?

Should Congress approve the USMCA, the president’s trade agreement with Canada and Mexico?

Was withdrawing from the Trans- Pacific Partnership a mistake?

Would you build on Obamacare or pursue a different health plan, such as “Medicare for All” or a public option?

What are appropriate security measures on the southern border, and what would you do to discourage the flow of migrants from Central America?

Should skilled workers be given priority in the legal immigration system?

What should Congress and the Trump administration do now to ensure that foreign governments don’t try to influence the 2020 presidential election?

Should the House of Representatives open a formal impeachment inquiry?

With 10 candidates on stage each night, and only about 90 minutes for questions and answers, it will be easy for them to fall back on sound bites and platitudes unless the moderators press for context and detail.


But this week’s debates are just a starting point, the first of 12 planned by the Democratic National Committee, with the threshold for entry rising as the process continues.

Joe Biden enters as the front-runner in public opinion polls, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. But if recent elections are any guide, expect a shake-up before the debates are complete.

At this time four years ago, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson were leading the Republican pack, with Donald Trump lagging at about 1 percent in national polls.

And eight years ago, Hillary Clinton had a double-digit lead over Barack Obama.

Will it come down to Biden and Trump? Will someone emerge from the back of the pack?

One debate isn’t going to answer those questions, any more than a debate will tell us who is best suited to manage a crisis. But, for the Democrats, the race is about to begin.

(The debates will air from 9 to 11 p.m. today and Thursday, and they will be broadcast on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

Those taking part in tonight’s debate are New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Juli °n Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Thursday night’s lineup: California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, author Marianne Williamson, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.