Collins, flying solo

Ms. Collins has the place to herself, which is probably just as well since it’s “Date Night With the Democrats.”  She says we should get ready to settle down Saturday night with Martin, Bernie and Hillary.  Here she is:

This weekend’s Democratic debate is going to be a tough sell. Two hours on a Saturday night, and not a single candidate who appears to be certifiably deranged.

There are only three Democrats left in the contest, and none of them has compared the competition to a child molester. None seems to have an unusually creative theory on why the pyramids were built. Yawn. CBS News, which is airing the debate, has promised to focus on the economy, so there probably won’t even be a pop quiz about which woman the candidates would like to see on the 10-dollar bill. Although I suspect they’d all have a better answer than Jeb Bush’s “Margaret Thatcher.”

Maybe there will be music. Requests from the audience? Martin O’Malley plays in a band. And Bernie Sanders actually once made an album. In fact, if you’re going to watch this event, an excellent way to prepare would be by listening to Sanders talk his way through “This Land Is Your Land.”

The debate is being held in Des Moines, where the Democratic trio is battling for the heart of Iowa. Both the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns will tell you that their man is running “the old-school retail way,” which basically means attempting to have at least one meal with every single person in the state.

Iowans expect that kind of behavior — ask average voters why they prefer Candidate X, and they’ll quote something he told them at brunch last Sunday. But they’re impossible to satisfy. In 2008, then-Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd got less than 1 percent of the vote even after he moved his family to Iowa and enrolled his daughter in kindergarten there.

Another great tradition of Iowa presidential campaigns is megapandering to farming interests, and perhaps we will get a debate question about the federal government’s expensive ethanol program, which does zip for the environment but uses a hell of a lot of corn in the process. Both Sanders and O’Malley seem generally pro-ethanol. As a senator from New York, Hillary Clinton was a staunch critic, but since she’s moved on to the presidential arena she has evolved and now promises to … um, make it better.

There will also be debate on tax issues, and bank regulation — no better way to spend a weekend night than cuddling up by the fire and listening to people argue about the Glass-Steagall Act. But even when everyone onstage is issue-oriented to an extreme, there’s still always the possibility something exciting and cheesy will happen.

Maybe somebody will ask Clinton about joining the Marines. She recently said in New Hampshire that when she was 27, she tried to enlist and was told that a woman her age would be better off checking in with the Army. The first time she recounted this tale, as first lady in 1994, it was greeted with extreme skepticism, given the fact that she was describing a point in her life when she was an accomplished Washington lawyer, soon to be married to a man who was clearly planning a political career in Arkansas.

But now she’s brought it up again, with no additional context. Maybe Clinton was just testing the Marines to see if they were sexist. Or maybe she was having second thoughts about getting married. If that’s the story I would definitely like to hear more.

There’s been a lot of debate on vetting stories candidates tell about their personal history. This kind of reporting is absolutely essential if the person in question has nothing but a personal history. It does seem less crucial for contenders whose websites have issues sections the size of an encyclopedia. You could still ask O’Malley if he was the inspiration for the crafty mayor in “The Wire,” if only to introduce a discussion of popular TV shows that are not “The Celebrity Apprentice.” But further probing into that sex-fantasy essay Sanders wrote in 1972 seems unnecessary.

Sanders is still running a principled, no-frills campaign, but he’s not doing all that well in the polls. So do you think he’ll suddenly decide that everybody does care about those damned emails? He and O’Malley will both certainly argue that while their positions are almost all longstanding, Clinton has a tendency to shift with the political winds. What do you think she’ll say if someone demands to know why her opposition to the Obama Trans-Pacific trade agreement is so … recent?

A) “Nobody told me it included New Zealand.”

B) “The opportunity to speak one-on-one with the American people during this campaign has given me a whole new appreciation of the yarn situation.”

C) “It’s a deal that was designed for China.”

Better not to use the last option because 1) It’s a quote from Donald Trump and 2) China isn’t part of the agreement.

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