It’s quite amusing to watch Democratic presidential contenders respond to attacks on their record regarding crime. They have no defense to assert that would not hurt them with their Party’s base. Thus, they respond by attacking the record of the candidate who has attacked them.
There is, of course, an excellent good answer to the question of why Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg have all been relatively tough on crime at points in the past. Each was entrusted with the public safety — Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg as elected state or local officials, and Biden as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Each wanted to fulfill that obligation.
For all but Harris, this is a complete defense. Parts of Harris’s record as a prosecutor were overzealous even by the standards of someone as anti-criminal as I am.
Consider Cory Booker. The Washington Post notes that when he was elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey, the city ranked among the most dangerous in America. Naturally, that reputation scared away potential residents and businesses.
Booker would have done a huge disservice to Newark, both from a public safety and an economic development standpoint, if he had not adopted strong measures to combat crime. So Booker took those measures. He hired a new police director who had been an architect of the policing policies that helped substantially reduce violence in New York City, and he instituted those policies in Newark.
Ever the showman, Booker often rode in police squad cars as the city’s cops patrolled the mean streets. Once, he personally chased a knife-wielding thug. When the man was tackled by one of Booker’s security guards, the mayor declared “not in my city.”
Booker was proud of his tough-on-crime measures then, and should be proud of them now. However, he can’t express such pride, or even defend what he did, without alienating large numbers of Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers.
So too with Biden, Harris, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Thus, they bob and weave, and attack the records of others.
There is at least one candidate, though, who I think can go on the offensive on crime without risking serious blowback. That’s Elizabeth Warren.
Warren has yet to appear on the stage with Biden or Harris, and thus hasn’t had the opportunity to attack a fellow top tier candidate on crime. But because she’s never governed anything, and because she came to the Senate long after it had passed the anti-crime legislation that helped dramatically lower the incidence of crime, she’s in a good position to blast Biden and Harris in the next debate.
Bernie Sanders isn’t. As a member of the U.S. House, he voted for the 1994 anti-crime bill that Democrats now deplore. He even voted for an amendment allocating more money for prison funding — an excellent idea, but one liberals now deem unacceptable.
Sanders was on-stage with Biden and Harris in the first round of the first debates, but crime wasn’t debated in that pageant. In the second debates, he was paired with Warren, and thus missed out on the food fight over crime.
In the next debate, there will be only one round. Thus, if criminal justice is debated, as it very likely will be, Sanders will be vulnerable.
If he comes under attack, it will be advantage Warren. The Massachusetts Senator, therefore, is well-positioned to pull ahead (or is it further ahead?) of Sanders and possibly to peel off support from both Biden and Harris.