I just finished watching the debate and CNN is on in the background as I put my thoughts together on this one. This one felt different because all the top people were on one stage for the first time. I think ten candidates is still too many for us to get really good debates. It’s just hard to get everyone involved in these issues when there are so many candidates up there.
The first part of the debate on healthcare was really strong with some good debates between the progressives (Warren/Sanders) and moderates (Biden/Klobuchar/Buttigieg). There were good sections on guns and immigration. I also liked the debate on withdrawing from Afghanistan. I’m disappointed that climate change didn’t really get primary focus, but maybe that’s because there was a recent town hall on that topic.
I’ve got a general ranking of how I think the candidates did tonight. I’ll give my specific comments on the candidates in reverse order of how I think they did. I’ll also update my Top 10 ranking post debate tomorrow or the next day. Spoiler alert, good chance that Warren is still number 1 on That list. Stay tuned to see if she was number one at this debate…
10. Andrew Yang – His big surprise was that his campaign is going to give his “Freedom Dividend” for 1 year to 10 of his supporters after the debate. Gimmick. Mayor Pete’s gobsmacked reaction right after that summed it up. He was unprepared for some of the questions and had to fall back on prepared answers rather than being able to give a specific answer to the question that he was asked. His joke that he’s asian so he knows a lot of doctors fell flat.
9. Julian Castro – I’ve been a fan of Castro for a while, so it makes me sad he’s down here. He took the risk to go after Biden directly and he botched it. His exchange where he asked Biden if he had forgotten something he said two minutes ago was not the right way to point out the age issue. Biden is well liked and he’s going to lose supporters because of that. I saw some comment on twitter that maybe he was taking one for the team to bring Biden down a notch. Nothing else he said made any waves, positive or negative. Not his best night.
8. Pete Buttigieg – I was wearing a comPETEence t-shirt tonight during the debate, but it didn’t help Mayor Pete. He didn’t make any missteps, he just didn’t really stand out. I think he’s trying so much to play in the middle lane, he’s not really getting any attention because that lane is so crowded right now. Mayor Pete was the only candidate I heard bring up the recent semi-scandal about Air Force planes being diverted to refuel near Trump properties. He also had a strong finish with the question about personal/professional resilience in talking about his coming out after he returned from deployment.
7. Bernie Sanders – Biden, Bernie and Warren got into a good back and forth on the healthcare part of the debate. I’ve got Bernie down here because, of the top three, he was third in how effective he was. But, Bernie was Bernie on all of the questions tonight. He keeps to his theme to a fault. He got a good moment making a contrast with Biden on their votes on Iraq. He took a weakness in the question about how his brand of socialism compares to Latin American socialism and turned it into an effective defense of Democratic Socialism (although I’m sure he’s given that speech before).
6. Amy Klobuchar – The post debate commentators seem to think that Klobuchar had a good debate. I think about 6th is right. She kept on her “I’m from the Midwest and moderate” track effectively. She took part in the healthcare on the moderate side and did pretty well. Her response to Bernie that he wrote the damn bill but she read it was a good moment. Which staffer convinced her it was a good idea to use the line, “Houston, we have a problem?” She was less effective than Harris at responding to the question on her record as a prosecutor.
5. Kamala Harris – I was hoping someone would spend the night going after Trump and it was Harris. She spent her opening statement talking to Trump and was the most frequent commenter on Trump. She went so far as to say that the only reason he hasn’t been indicted is because of the DOJ memo. She was the candidate in the healthcare part of the debate who pointed out that Trump was trying to take away people’s access to health care. She also returned to Trump on the guns question. She talked about his fragile ego and gave the slam of the night. She said he’s like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, because when you pull the curtain back, it’s a small dude. She also did a good job answering the question about her record as a prosecutor – probably the best she’s done on that question.
4. Elizabeth Warren – Yeah, my leading overall candidate is down here at 4. I have her here below Biden because I thought the moderates got slightly better of the debate on healthcare. She was asked about a middle class tax rise with her Medicare for All plan and she didn’t directly answer the question. She did what she’s done in the past, which is to focus on the cost to the middle class. Focusing on the tax part leaves out how premiums and deductibles will mean a net decrease in cost to the middle class. Keeping it in a frame of taxes is how Republicans will attack her plan and she is right to reframe the question. But she didn’t do it very adeptly, so it looked like she was avoiding a tough question. Beyond that part of the debate, she did what I think she needed to do. She didn’t go after Biden and she brought every question back to the theme of her campaign.
3. Joe Biden – The post debate commentary seems to think that Biden had a really good debate. I agree he was strong in the healthcare portion. The moderates came out slightly ahead of the progressives on that subject. For this night anyway. That’s why I’ve got Biden up here. The rest of the debate for him, though, was more mixed. He faded as the three hour debate went on. Almost all of his answers tend to be rambling and it’s really off-putting once you see that he does that. Castro went after him on age, but the fade at the end is better evidence than Castro’s attack that the age question is not going away. There’s another thing I noticed here. Many of the candidates try to be the peacemaker types. Dems shouldn’t be divided. They shouldn’t attack each other. Biden pretty prominently referred to Bernie as a socialist in a derogatory way. You can say that’s how Republicans would refer to Bernie in a general election, so it’s fair. But using that term, rather than Democratic Socialist, as Bernie describes himself, is going to bother some on the progressive side. In addition, I notice that Biden seems to have gotten a pass for his divisive remark when other candidates didn’t get that same pass. Oh, and who would have thought record players would get a mention at the debate.
2. Beto O’Rourke – Beto was one of the candidates I thought might have a chance to break out and I think he succeeded (the other was Mayor Pete and I think he didn’t). He went hard on guns as I thought he should. He wasn’t afraid to say we should take all AR-15s off the streets through mandatory buyback. He gave solid answers to questions when he was asked. If you didn’t know about his focus on gun violence before, you might look into Beto a little more because many of the candidates called him out in a positive way for how he handled the shooting in El Paso.
1. Cory Booker – Booker has been the most consistent debater over all three debates. He’s stronger on the racial and criminal justice issues than any of the other candidates. He doesn’t get flustered in his answers. He was the only candidate who talked about veterans. I liked his line where he was talking about working with our allies and he mentioned that he was the only candidate on stage who thought Justin Trudeau’s hair was menacing. I liked how he used “dagnabbit” a couple of times. He came across well in all of the questions and struck the right tone throughout. Best overall performance. I suspect I’ll be moving him up in my personal rankings.