Winners and Losers from the Second Democratic Debate (Night Two)
I can’t help but think the big winner of last night’s debate was probably Elizabeth Warren (and Bernie Sanders, to a lesser extent). Last night’s debate was a mess for a lot of the candidates on stage. Tuesday night, Bernie and Warren teamed up and successfully fended off attacks from a large assortment of centrist nobodies. On Wednesday night, however, several of the lower-polling candidates managed to take not only Joe Biden but Kamala Harris down a peg or two. Meanwhile, Cory Booker performed the best of any of the candidates, but probably not quite well enough to give him more than a small bounce likely to fade in a week or two.
Biden got clobbered on all sides, and he struggled to effectively fend off the attacks. He was shaky, flubbing some of his answers, misspeaking several times (at one point calling Booker “the future President”), and even in the second debate, seemed surprised and taken aback that Obama’s policies would come under attack. Make no mistake, Biden: The Democratic Party still loves Obama, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of reservations about his record. He was a transformational figure, but in 2020, we’re looking for transformational policies.
To his credit, Biden did go on the offensive a couple of times, taking aim at Kamala Harris, in particular, but even then, it was the some of the other candidates who were most effective in putting Harris on her heels. She didn’t do a particularly good job defending her healthcare plan against Biden, but Harris stunk up the joint when Tulsi Gabbard — of all people — took aim at her record as Attorney General, and Harris never could directly rebut Gabbard’s accusations about imprisoning marijuana offenders or hiding evidence that could have helped a death row inmate. I don’t know how much that will resonate, particularly coming from Gabbard — who is not a legitimate contender for very good reasons (Assad, gay conversion therapy) — but Harris is going to need to do a better job of defending both her record as Attorney General and her healthcare plan, which still doesn’t make a lot of sense, and I’m fairly well versed in these things. Harris attacks better than anyone on that stage, but she’s not figured out how to defend herself from attacks particularly well yet.
Cory Booker did well, both in his attacks on Biden and on Trump. He was also the only candidate who managed to maintain high energy. Even as he was attacking other candidates, he didn’t squabble. I hate to use the word, but yeah: He looked Presidential. He seemed comfortable on stage, and it also feels like he’s drifted to the left during the campaign, which is comforting given his associations with Big Pharma. He also tapped into his sense of humor, which was very “Dad,” but I thought it also made him a more endearing candidate. I also loved his line, wielded against Biden, “Nobody should get applause for supporting the Paris Climate Agreement—that’s kindergarten stuff.” He’s right. We’re way beyond the Paris Climate Accord (although Yang using climate change to support his universal basic income was … terrifying, saying something along the lines of, “It’s too late. The only thing left to do is move to higher ground, and $1,000 a month will help you relocate!” Thanks?)
I’m with Lindelof:
Booker was also interrupted by protestors early in the night, though they were protesting Bill de Blasio because the cop who murdered Eric Garner is inexplicably still on the streets. Booker’s social media team handled that perfectly:
Still, even with only 7 or 8 candidates remaining at the next debates, I don’t think any frontrunner has clearly emerged. Biden has like 30-33 percent, but it’s unclear if that is his ceiling — it seems to me that there’s more support (and certainly more enthusiasm) for a progressive candidate, but we just need to settle on one who can take on Biden alone. Warren has been great, and the clear frontrunner in the progressive camp, but she hasn’t been able to separate herself yet. Bernie looked good on Tuesday, so that’s not going to help. Booker rose, but at the expense of Kamala, and Mayor Pete is just kind of hovering around the 5 percent mark, though he would be the most likely candidate to benefit from a major Biden disaster. We’re five months from voting in Iowa, and honestly, we’re not that much closer to selecting a nominee.
It’s a mess. Although I don’t care what anybody says, or who the Democratic nominee is, Julian Castro should be the VP pick, not only because he’s amazing, but he’s the only guy who has a shot at turning Texas blue, which is 39 percent Hispanic and 57 percent non-white (if you’re wondering why Texan Republican Congressman are retiring right now, there’s your answer). Beto got a ton of new Democrats involved in 2018, and if another Democratic Senatorial candidate can do the same in 2020 (like, say, Beto), plus having a Texan like Castro on the VP ticket, I think the Dems can eke out a win. If that happens, Trump is toast, and so is every Republican Presidential candidate for the next 30 years.
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