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Winners and Losers from the MSNBC's Second Democratic Debate

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 28, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 28, 2019 |


Everybody’s been saying that where it concerns Vice President Biden’s lead in the polls, “It’s early. Wait for the debates,” but honestly, debates typically do not have a significant influence on the polls. I think that’s going to change this year, and I think that after two nights of debates, we are going to see a slow but steady re-ordering of the Democratic hopefuls.

Joe Biden showed his age in more ways than one last night. It’s not just that he was slow on the uptake, or that he was debating like a 2008 candidate instead of 2019 candidate, it’s also that some of his old positions came up and bit him in the ass. Joe Biden has a long record, and that record is checkered as hell. The big moment of the night was when Kamala Harris challenged him not just on the intellectual debate he had with segregationists back in the ’70s, but his decision to vote against busing. Biden fell back to what is essentially a Republican talking point — leave it to the local communities — and it did not sit well. That exchange is also going to call attention to the fact that Joe Biden also sponsored a bill back then that tried to keep black students and white students in separate classes in the ’70s.

It’s not just that Biden supported positions that are positively antiquated compared to today’s more progressive Democratic party — anyone with 40 years of history is going to have things they are not proud of. It’s also that he is doing a very poor job of explaining those positions. Instead of saying, “Oh hell. I was young. It was a different time. I would never support those positions today,” Biden is trying to defend those positions, and he’s doing a lousy job of it. He is quickly frittering away his lead.

I don’t know if Biden is done, but last night may have been the beginning of the end. His lead in the polls is based on name recognition and the belief that he is in the best position to beat Trump, but if his more friendly Democratic competition can reduce him to what he was last night, I wouldn’t want to trust him against the President.

Meanwhile, Bernie didn’t make much of a splash last night, either. Much of the Democratic party has adopted his positions, and many of them are able to elucidate those positions better than Bernie and with some flexibility. Bernie just old-man-yelled-at-clouds for two hours, and while that might have had some appeal when there was a lot of contrast between only one other Democratic candidate, it’s hard to imagine — given the number of candidates who share his vision — that voters wouldn’t want the same engine in a very different car, one that doesn’t honk at the passersby and scare them.

I thought that Gillibrand had some good answers, particularly where it concerned reproductive rights (although, Julian Castro was even better on that issue the night before), but I don’t think she broke through. Mayor Pete didn’t hurt himself, but he didn’t really help himself that much, either. I appreciated his candor where it concerned the police shooting in South Bend, but all the candor in the world doesn’t absolve him of bad decision-making. If one police shooting in a town of 100,000 is going to knock the Mayor off this game, how is he going to be prepared for a shooting like that every day in America? That said, I really did love Mayor Pete’s discussion of religious hypocrisy among Republicans, which keeps the Mayor as a viable VP pick if only for the match-up against Pence.

Eric Swalwell probably didn’t gain any support last night, but he did throw several hand grenades at other candidates (including Biden and Mayor Pete), so he was good for the debate. He’s positioning himself well to become an important voice in a Democratic administration on gun control laws. I like Andrew Yang! He’s smart and well-intentioned, and I actually like his ideas, but he’s not a factor (hell, he only got 3 minutes of speaking time last night).

Bennett and Hickenlooper? Pass. Honestly, I don’t remember a word either of them said. I remember every word that Marianne Williamson said, however, and I want to live in her mind for a weekend. She’s a lousy Democratic candidate, but she’d make a really great character in a Grey Gardens sequel. Please invite her to the next debate. It’s nice to have some comic relief.

And then there was Kamala Harris. Damn. She blew it up. Not only did she dress down Joe Biden, but she gave some of the most impassioned and engaging answers of the night. She’s goddamn electric. She’s got the kind of fire that is going to attract a very large and passionate following — she’s got that Obama factor. In fact, by the end of the debate, I’d ordered a Kamala shirt to go along with my Warren shirt, and I feel like not only are we in good hands with either candidate, but it may be the rare primary where we have to pick between two amazing candidates. I’m back where I was six months ago, completely undecided between Warren and Harris but also stoked to have to make that decision.

I don’t know what the polls are going to look like come Monday morning, but after two debates, I feel like Harris and Warren are going to be competing to the end for the right to choose Castro as their running mate. Everyone else should just go home.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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