I think this was a really good debate. I was worried in advance that 12 people on the stage was going to adversely affect how the debate would work. It worked out pretty well in the end. The candidates who matter got most of the speaking time, but everyone had a chance to speak on a lot of the topics. The choice of topics was pretty good. They got to the predictable topics, but also touched on long forgotten issues, like opiods, abortion and the Supreme Court.
In general, the debate played out with some of the moderates – Buttigieg and Klobuchar, primarily, going after Elizabeth Warren. Biden did pretty well and Bernie looked healthy and was engaged. Even though impeachment started off the debate, the bigger fireworks were in healthcare and on Syria.
It was also nice to get to watch the first hour with the MadDoc and the MadBee. MadDoc usually watches part of the debates with me in bed. Tonight, MadBee joined us for the first hour or so. She asked questions (what is an entrepreneur) and was pretty engaged for a ten year old girl. This is pretty satisfying for me on another level. I’m MadBee’s Stepdad. It’s a very contentious relationship with her dad and his mom, so that she’s put in the middle of things a lot. MadDoc worries about MadBee being put in the middle, so she doesn’t try make any more conflict for the girl than she has to have. This results in MadBee taking on the beliefs of her dad’s side of the family without question a lot of the time. Trump is a good example of this. She will say she likes Trump. Her reason is always something about jobs because that’s what she’s heard from her dad. She knows we think he’s the worst president ever, but generally sticks with her dad on this issue. Still, when I can get her to watch a political debate for an hour, I have hope that she can eventually see through the right wing propaganda she normally hears about the clown in the White House and see him for who he really is. It was good for her to listen to the Democrats talk about Trump in terms that aren’t the usual Fox News praise and adulation.
Here’s my ranking of how I think the candidates did in tonight’s debate. As always, this doesn’t equate to my overall ranking of the candidates.
- Buttigieg – Most of the pundits seem to be focusing on the moderates who went after Senator Warren. Mayor Pete was one of the two main moderates who went after Warren on healthcare. Specifically the fact that she’s unwilling to say taxes will go up in her plan. It’s an effective attack and where she looks weakest in these debates. Aside from that, though, Mayor Pete had a great moment on Syria taking down Representative Gabbard and her ridiculous repetition of “regime-change war.” He’s just right on that issue and speaks with authority on foreign policy. Pete also had a pretty good exchange with Beto on guns that I think was a draw, although the pundits think he got the better of it. I think he was being disingenuous a little when he tried to say that Beto pushing for mandatory buybacks somehow meant that he didn’t also care about other gun control reforms, like universal background checks. For me, Mayor Pete had a good debate, but I also have some issues with his arguments. If anyone is going to get traction out of this debate and see some positive movement in the polls, it’s most likely to be Pete and that’s why I’ve got him #1 in this ranking. It’s probably because I’m a strong supporter of Warren, but his attacks on Warren are probably going to affect my overall ranking of him in my Top Ten.
- Klobuchar – Senator Klobuchar is the other moderate who was very aggressive in taking on Warren. Pete did a better job of it than Klobuchar, so that’s why he’s above her in the ranking. She and Pete are also fighting hard for the representative of “the heartland” or the Midwest. She also once referenced the Midwest as flyover territory in the derogatory way that Republicans do. Still, she had a good debate and got some attention.
- Warren – Senator Warren got the frontrunner treatment. The moderates came at her. O’Rourke came at her. Gabbard tried to ask her questions directly. The questions from the moderators were focused on her. Considering all of that, I think she did a good job. Her weakness is clearly the healthcare issue. She has a plan for everything, but, as Mayor Pete pointed out, she doesn’t have a plan for her version of Medicare for All. The questions always come in the context of “will you admit that your plan would require tax hikes.” She’s consistent in refusing to say anything about taxes, referring to it in terms of costs. It’s a clear strategy not to have tape where the Republicans can put her in commercials next year saying she’ll raise taxes. But I’m sympathetic to her focus, which is on getting everyone covered. At the end of the day, even the most modest Democratic plan for expanding healthcare is going to be a real slog getting it through Congress. I think Warren’s focus is aspirational and she is helping herself down the line to take these arrows now and just keep coming back to her core idea of how the insurance companies make profit off of saying no to their customers. She had two good lines for me. On the wealth tax, she said the question shouldn’t be why are she and Bernie for it, but rather why everyone else isn’t. Also, when talking about breaking up Amazon, she said you can be the umpire or one of the teams, but you can’t be both.
- Booker – Senator Booker had a pretty good debate, but nothing too flashy. He does the kumbaya, why can’t we all get along stuff better than Mayor Pete. Where Pete had some topics that were in his wheelhouse, Cory didn’t really have those moments. Still, when he gets the chance, he does a good job. Cory is a good debater and the format with 12 people on stage probably didn’t help him.
- Sanders – Bernie won the debate by being up there and looking good and engaged, considering his recent heart attack. He chimed in to support Warren a little when everyone was attacking her on healthcare. He made the most news with the word of some endorsements by Squad members, but didn’t do much to stand out in the debate.
- Biden – Joe benefitted by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t the focus of the attacks. He rambled some on the obvious question that they posed about Hunter Biden. Not a great answer. He was pretty strong in the foreign policy section, but had a weaker moment in his back and forth with Senator Warren on the electability. He said he was the only one who had done stuff, forgetting about Warren’s part in creating the CFPB. It was awkward and potentially a negative for him if women voters saw it.
- Yang – Andrew was strong on tech questions and has clearly gotten better in the debates. Had some good exchanges with Warren that weren’t as antagonistic as some of the other attacks on the frontrunner.
- Harris – Senator Harris with another mediocre performance. She had a couple of nice moments in defense of women’s reproductive rights. Otherwise a forgettable night.
- O’Rourke – Beto got a question on his signature issue – gun violence – and did pretty well. He’s for mandatory buybacks of AR15s and that got him some attention. He held his own with Mayor Pete on the issue, but otherwise was a non-factor tonight.
- Steyer – For his first debate, Steyer did a pretty decent job. He’s going to have to lean into the “I’m the billionaire to take on Trump” stuff even more next month (he’s already qualified for the next debate).
- Castro – Julian had a decent moment opposing mandatory buybacks by referencing the terrible shooting by the police officer of the woman in her own apartment in Texas. He got a good response from the crowd for that. His responses were actually pretty decent when he got called on. Reminded me of the time I had him higher in my candidates Top Ten. Still, his debate performance didn’t pop and is unlikely to do much to keep him in the race.
- Gabbard – Her repetition of the phrase “regime change war” had echoes of what you might expect from someone who is accused of being an Assad apologist. And bad move to bring up the “smears” she said she got from the New York Times. Made me want to go google them right then and I probably wasn’t the only one. She tried to ask Warren questions as a way to hijack the debate and it just didn’t work. I am ready for her to drop out.