There was one big issue on the table when the Democratic candidates met for their debate at Saint Anselm College on Friday: Was anyone on the stage capable of defeating a newly emboldened President Trump?
There was no simple answer, but Tom Steyer, the billionaire businessman, put the issue in stark terms, warning that, after the events of the past week, there is now a “very real threat” that the president will be reelected. “Who can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Trump?” he asked. “Who can take down Mr. Trump?”
The dilemma for Democratic voters is that no one candidate has yet persuaded more than a fraction of the party that they are capable of doing so. Democrats came out of Iowa splintered and demoralized, and Friday’s debate accentuated both the attributes each of the leading Democrats is offering and the limits of their appeal.
The debate plowed familiar ground, but there was an edge to it that was different from those of the recent past. Trump’s acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, fresh reports emphasizing a strong economy and a new poll showing Trump’s approval at the highest point of his presidency only underscored the Democrats’ current plight.