The primary debate between Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee and State Representative Aaron Regunberg (D, Providence) on WPRI was… let’s say… unexpected. McKee, the incumbent, is the more-moderate, more-establishment candidate. He’s got a good deal of management experience, not only as the former mayor of Cumberland, but also from the private sector, and his candidate is among the farthest Left politicians in the state and has no real world experience whatsoever.
In short, it ought to have been an easy matter for McKee to be the cool hand — the sober, experienced candidate against the upstart trying to skip ahead in line. Yet, McKee squandered that narrative edge and actually seemed to be the erratic and insecure one. He mugged for the cameras, even throwing his pen down and appealing to the moderators to interfere when his fellow politician didn’t (gasp!) answer a yes-or-no question with “yes” or “no.”
Toward the end of the debate, he started to actually make the case for himself but then poked a hole in his own ship by responding to reporter Tim White’s favorite question — “Can you say something nice about your opponent?” — by complimenting Regunberg’s car. Answering the question first, the hard-core progressive Regunberg pulled a little bit of a jujitsu move and complemented McKee as a good family man. McKee should have responded with something genuinely complimentary, but which worked in his own favor politically; perhaps he could have complimented Regunberg’s enthusiasm, but tempered that by noting he needs more experience before tackling an executive office.
Above all, McKee’s performance may have been indicative most of all of the difficult position in which establishment Democrats find themselves against progressives. They aren’t willing to be seen as conservative, so they can’t attack the big-government premises of such things as single-payer health care, and yet, they’re too responsible to out-promise progressives on their reckless proposals. Not being willing to vocalize free-marketer’s competing solution for fixing the health care system, he had nothing beyond saying that Regunberg’s big idea wouldn’t work. Left-wing voters aren’t in the mood for that unexplained sobriety.
Similarly, McKee was reluctant throughout the debate strongly to defend his signature innovation, which was the mayoral academy charter school, Blackstone Valley Prep. That is insane.
Other moderate Democrats — and every other non-progressive — should take the lesson, even if McKee doesn’t come up short on Wednesday. The progressives are scary, with their hint of Antifa violence and willingness to go after people where they live and work, and it doesn’t help that the news media tends to celebrate them. But you still can’t let them define the race. Some people may be too far gone to accept any “slow down” message from moderates, but many are not. That does not mean, however, that they don’t need the “slow down” message to be explained, or to hear some alternative that will eventually get to the desired end.