How Fetterman could have avoided Tuesday's debate fiasco

Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman was physically at the debate against his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

But he was not mentally there, and that sound you heard vaguely in the distance Tuesday night was the simultaneous skin-crawling of millions of people.

It was painful, embarrassing, and cruel — not the least on the part of Fetterman's campaign, such as it is.

Calling it political malpractice by his staff fits the bill nicely.  Sadly, though, it is not surprising.

The entire thrust of pretty much every Democratic campaign this cycle has been so tone-deaf — Trump, Jan. 6, Trump, fascists, handmaid's tale, Trump, stupid voters, evil voters — it boggles the mind and is so exactly off that it almost makes one wonder if it has been intentional.

Looking across the country, one sees a concerted effort to talk about anything but what the voters want to talk about. 

It is as if the DNC took a couple dozen 27-year-old human resources and "assistant to the vice president for inclusion and engagement" types from Brooklyn, D.C., and Silicon Valley; locked them in a room with one another; barred them from contact with the outside world; fed them only cruelty-free quinoa, and handed them $400 million to ignite in a climate-friendly manner.

True, the Democrats are in a message prison of their own making — crime, inflation, swamp-thinigism, woke cultural enforcement, etc.  Even so,  a cocaine-addled raccoon throwing darts at an issue board would have done better.

In general, therefore, the term "malpractice" fits.  But it is specifically political malpractice in Pennsylvania because the only thing Fetterman had to say in early August to avoid Tuesday night was the following:

"The stroke took a lot out of me, and honestly, it was pretty touch and go for a few days there, and it's going to take a while to get back to normal.  I'm committed to running the best campaign I can, but every voter has the understandable right to factor in my current health into his choice.  I'm pretty sure I would, too.  Really, I might not be back at 100 percent for a good six months or more as I recover.  But I do know that me being in the Senate at half-speed for six months would be far better for Pennsylvania than Oz at full-tilt in the Senate for six years."

The truth comes out(ish), a joke is told, a political barb is thrown, and Fetterman stays up a bit in the polls.  Oz gets some traction trouble, and the health issue becomes an "asked and answered" speck.  Doing so would not have guaranteed a Fetterman victory, but it would have cleared a much gentler path for him on that issue.

As for defending being a sketchy trust-fund baby mayor who is aggressively soft on crime and far more woke than his carefully crafted big working guy image lets on, he's on his own.

If I lived in Pennsylvania, I would not vote for him, and I hope he loses.

Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Calif. and a former newspaper reporter.  He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at

Image: Gov. Tom Wolf.

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