In case you missed the spectacle that some are calling a “trainwreck” in Miami last night, the second night of the first Democratic primary debate was a sight to behold. At one point, so many candidates were talking over each other it was impossible to know who was speaking or what questions candidates were trying to answer.
Joe Scarborough, morning host on MSNBC, the cable news operation of debate-host NBC News, said the night was a “disaster” for the Democratic Party. “With apologies to our friends watching, last night was a disaster for the Democratic Party.”
Scarborough went on to chide the candidates for focusing all their attention on each other rather than aiming their attacks toward President Trump, their true opponent.
With that backdrop, here is some analysis on how each candidate made it through the night, starting with their order on stage.
Candidates (From left to right on stage): Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell
Marianne Williamson – Williamson was a wildcard coming into this debate. She’s not a politician, has never held office, and is best known as being the self-help guru made famous by Oprah Winfrey. Her answers were alright, and maybe she had a good memorable line pointing out that Donald Trump didn’t win with a plan, he won with a slogan of “Make America Great Again,” so, Williamson opined, all her opponents’ plans don’t mean much. All-in-all, Williamson made a showing but she’s not going much further in this race. She did, however, wind up being the most-Googled name after the debate.
John Hickenlooper – Watching Hickenlooper was almost like watching Jay Inslee on Wednesday night, especially since they’re both governors of western states. Hickenlooper’s stances were almost verbatim to Inslee in that he believes his record as governor supplants the records of other people on stage since he’s a chief executive of the state rather than a legislator. He cut a more moderate tone, specifically shooting down socialism as a platform and wants Democrats to abandon any use of the word. His example for this was in saying he supports the goal of providing health insurance for everyone but doesn’t want to eliminate private insurance which would take insurance plans away from people who are satisfied with them.
Andrew Yang – Poor Yang only wound up with three minutes of speaking time during the entire debate. He was not ready for such a turbulent debate stage, which is not a bad thing, it’s actually a testament to his reasoned demeanor. He got the chance to explain his platform somewhat, but then basically faded into oblivion the rest of the night.
Pete Buttigieg – For all the talk of Buttigieg’s big chance to shine on the national stage, he did a reasonably laudable job at it. He was careful and precise in his answers, always sounding reasonable with his views even when supporting progressive causes. His answers on most topics are solid, though his performance probably didn’t rise to a “breakout” threshold, however, he probably won attention from some new voters.
Joe Biden – There’s no easy way to say this for Biden, he had a bad night. He was attacked from multiple sides on multiple issues, his answers were sometimes rambling or generic, and his demeanor often seemed to be caught off guard as if he wasn’t prepared to be attacked so harshly, especially by Sen. Kamala Harris who went after him directly over his statements about working with segregationist senators during lengthy his career. He also took jabs for his age, which almost seemed to be legitimized by some of his poor answers and inability to fully rebut some of the attacks. Whether this harms Biden’s poll numbers will remain to be seen, but it definitely showed that as a candidate he has a lot of work to do to compete in this extremely competitive primary.
Bernie Sanders – Sanders had an interesting night. He seems to repeat a lot of the same rhetorical points, always being on message about a “rigged economy” that only benefits the wealthy, and always ready to push his new social programs. However, once Biden became the punching bag, Sanders tended to be less relevant. He was asked, at one point, whether someone who considers themselves a “socialist” can win the presidency. Bernie replied that polls show him beating Donald Trump so he didn’t believe that the label would be an issue.
Kamala Harris – Many analysts are saying this was Kamala Harris’ big breakout night, and in attacking Biden so directly, she probably scored some points. However, she’s also taking a risk by doing so, but it may be a risk that pays off. Her answers were usually very good and to the point, and she treated the other candidates on stage as if they were witnesses in her courtroom as a prosecutor. She pinned Biden repeatedly on some topics in a way that knocked him off balance for the entire evening. Keep an eye on Harris’ fundraising numbers and poll numbers over the next week to see whether she gets a bump from her performance.
Kirsten Gillibrand -Gillibrand delivered an acceptable performance, but probably not groundbreaking enough to buoy her sagging campaign. She hit her points and made an impassioned plea that she and she alone is the person that women in America need to have in the White House defending Roe v. Wade at the federal level. Given that all the Democratic candidates lineup on the same side of abortion, her argument alone probably isn’t enough to broaden her waning appeal.
Michael Bennet – Bennet was almost non-factor, speaking not much more than Yang did. He floated a more moderate tone on things, saying he agrees with Bernie Sanders on Medicare-for-all, but says it couldn’t even be sold to voters in Bernie’s home state of Vermont due to the costs involved. Overall, Bennet has probably hit his high point in this campaign since the center-left moderate lane is already being filled by Joe Biden.
Eric Swalwell – The one thing that can be said for Swalwell is that he’s not afraid to punch up and punch hard. He took Biden on over his age in a way that was somewhat effective without being too disrespectful by using Biden’s own words about “passing the torch” to a new generation against him. Swalwell isn’t going far in this campaign, but he may have gained some new supporters on Thursday night just by his forcefulness in advocating for progressive causes.
The next time the Democratic candidates meet for a debate will be July 30 and 31 in Detroit hosted on CNN. That’s just about a month in between for candidates to sharpen their skills and be more prepared next time.