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Winners and Losers from the First Democratic Debate

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 27, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 27, 2019 |


Dan did a superb job of running the liveblog on the first Democratic debate, and I hope you all will join him again when he returns tonight. I was a little wary about how the debate would go, and the first 15 minutes — in which most of the candidates delivered prepared introductions rather than answer questions — were kind of dull, but for most of the rest of the debate, it was surprisingly engaging. It was a nice change of pace to hear candidates talk about issues, answer the questions they were asked (or at least in the ballpark), and not deliver stream-of-consciousness word-salad rants. In fact, by the time Trump made his sole contribution to the debate —

— all I could think was, “Well, it probably is to Trump, whose brain rejects substance, and — even two and a half years into his Presidency — still has no idea how to talk about policy.”

Elizabeth Warren was very good, particularly in the first hour, where the talk was of the economy and healthcare, which is her wheelhouse. She faded some, however, in the back half when the conversation turned to immigration and foreign policy, although she came out of the debate just as she went in: As the clear frontrunner among these 10 Democrats. In fact, after the debate, there were a few fun Twitter threads about Warren that went something like this:

A lot of folks have been comparing her to Hermione Grainger, and I hope she leans into that. We could use a Hermione running this country.

Beto and Booker dominated the debate, time-wise, but that’s because both delivered long-winded answers. Neither one left much of an impression, except one of embarrassing themselves with their Spanish. Ooof.

That look that Booker is giving Beto there is not, as it turns out, a “What are you doing, man!” look, it was a, “You stole my gimmick, man!” Julian Castro was the only one who didn’t embarrass himself by speaking Spanish. In fact, Castro may have been the only candidate to have a break-out sort of night. Even with the time constraints and the fact that there were nine other people on the stage, Castro managed to separate himself some, and he probably had the best night of any of the candidates, the sort of night that — at least for the day — makes him everyone’s favorite Vice Presidential contender. We’ll see if he can parlay that into consideration for the top of the ticket, but I think there are a lot of us thinking that a Warren/Castro ticket looks really good right about now.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar — who delivered one great zinger — nevertheless tried to be the moderate voice on stage, even as she declined opportunities to openly disagree with Warren (as Warren did with Klobuchar on healthcare). I think that more people know who Klobuchar is now, but I’m not sure that it will translate to any additional support.

As for all the white guys? I like Inslee. Inslee sounds like the perfect guy to run EPA, but that’s all I can really say for him, which is more than I can say for Delaney, Ryan, and De Blasio. Delaney looked like an Andy Griffith character up there (go back to Mayberry, John); Tim Ryan was out of his depth, which he illustrated by getting into a protracted fight with Tulsi Gabbard, which he somehow managed to lose; and De Blasio was like the obnoxious guy walking around a cocktail party and interjecting himself into other people’s conversations. No one takes that guy seriously. He doesn’t even take his own campaign seriously. For a lot of these white dudes, the debate was just about raising their profile and getting some national exposure and maybe highlighting some important issues. Inslee is succeeding, to some degree, in making climate change a priority. Tim Ryan looked like a yokel, but he mentioned his Congressional district enough to ensure he can hold onto that seat of his for another 20 years. I still couldn’t tell you where John Delaney is from, and De Blasio just brought shame on New York City, where things are headed in the AOC and Tiffany Caban direction.

At the end of the night, though, it appears as though Castro is on the rise, Beto is done, Warren maintains her frontrunner status, and everyone else left as they came in. I will say this, however: Warren may have helped or hurt herself with her answer about completely eliminating private insurance. I support it. A lot of progressive support it. But that’s going to be a tough sell to moderates and even some progressives, who like the security of their sh*tty, high-deductible private insurance plans. It’s the devil they know.

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