Chris Coons had the best question for GOP opponent Christine O’Donnell in Wednesday night’s Delaware Senate debate: “what is she talking about?”
But if Coons, the Democratic nominee, was frustrated or baffled at O’Connell’s uninformed answers, or just non-answers, one can only imagine how it must feel for the serious minds in O’Donnell’s own party.
We know the GOP can do better than O’Donnell, whose personal financial mishaps and reference--joking or not--to having “dabbled in witchcraft” are truly insignificant compared to her shallow understanding of issues. This is the party that has produced such minds as former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Richard Lugar, and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Sununu’s a solid, intellectual conservative, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering grad and Harvard MBA who would easily have been able to tick off Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with (and probably could have quoted from the dissenting opinions). O’Donnell smiled girlishly when asked to name a recent high court decision she didn’t like, unable to name one. The moderator refused to give her a hint, which must have been irritating to a candidate who appeared to be working off of political Cliffs Notes hastily provided to her before the debate.
On economic policy, O’Donnell was similarly challenged, claiming that the stimulus bill “cost us 2.6 million jobs.” Not quite; the 2.6 million figure refers to the number of jobs lost in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, and a six-decade record. Private sector companies have added an average of 96,000 jobs a month this year, while public sector jobs (the kind many conservatives think should be cut) have dropped. True, the job growth is anemic and has not made a significant dent in the unemployment rate. But O’Donnell’s assertion is just dead wrong.
Asked where she would cut spending--and urged not to mention the usual suspects of “waste, fraud and abuse”--O’Donnell did just that, then added that she would trim discretionary spending (a term she had to struggle to articulate). Ryan has a bold plan to reform entitlement programs that comprise a huge chunk of the budget. While the details of Ryan’s plan are imperfect, he’s right--and courageous--to tell the truth about the budget-busting cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
On history and foreign policy, O’Donnell was, to put it charitably, unprepared. She failed to explain an earlier--and absurd--reference to getting classified information about China. Working with a humanitarian group on its way to China, O’Donnell said, she received “some security briefs about China’s position with some potentially hostile nations and some security threats that my clients would be facing.” That’s not classified information, which, in fact, is only given to people with the appropriate security clearance. O’Donnell also called Coons a “Marxist,” a bizarre claim that belies any high school-level understanding of world politics and basic economics. Imagine the foreign policy conversations between O’Donnell and Lugar, who has a deep understanding of international issues and a genuinely bipartisan relationship with his Democratic colleague, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry.
Coons, meanwhile, had a prime-time opportunity to showcase himself as something more than the sacrificial lamb running against the man once presumed to be the next senator from Delaware, GOP Rep. Michael Castle. And Coons performed well, showing a knowledge of the issues senators should understand. And he even discouraged the moderators from needling O’Donnell about her personal finances or past statements. But O’Donnell--apparently prepared to counter-attack on the witchcraft silliness--told him, “you’re just jealous that you weren’t on Saturday Night Live.”
NBC’s weekend comics get a break this week. They won’t have to write a sketch. They just have to run actual clips from the debate.