Other things happened, but Kamala Harris’ evisceration of Joe Biden will get 90% of the replays over the next 24-48 hours. She’ll move up the most in polls. He’ll get the most questions about his viability. This makes for a quicker than usual recap, as the lower tier candidates were buried in the fallout.
Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Nobody votes for over six months. Marco Rubio had very good debates too. He took Jeb Bush apart pretty well on at least one occasion. Some will say she was too calculated. Too contrived. That she bullied poor Uncle Joe.
But Kamala Harris owned the evening and showed why she was considered a top level candidate by the pros, even when she was fading in the polls. She took an important step in getting more African American voters to consider her as a strong alternative to Biden. Democrats of all ethnicities are more excited thinking about her facing off against Trump in 15 months.
This won’t launch her in to the lead by itself, but she exceeded expectations and established herself as a force to reckon with.
Meanwhile, though overshadowed by Harris, Mayor Pete had a solid evening. He dealt with his controversy at home in a forthright and straightforward manner. For those who didn’t know much about him, his delivery in the debate was unchanged from the many interviews he’s done. Many more experienced candidates struggle in their first debate appearance.
He may not get much of a poll bounce. A few candidates from the first day may pick up points, and Harris will grab more than her share. Even if he stays where he was, that will leave him fifth in a field of 24. Eric Swalwell would trade places in a second.
Joe Biden, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Kirsten Gillibrand
In November 1962, ABC aired a television special called The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon. He would go on to win the presidency twice.
Biden had a rough night. He’s at least temporarily misplaced his fastball. Harris boxed him in to the point where he was arguing in favor of States’ rights in a Democratic primary he’s hoping to win with the votes of Southern African Americans who were alive during the Civil Rights Movement. He spent 10x as much time talking about the past as the future.
It was legit ugly. It’s also too soon to declare his candidacy and career dead. As bad as this was, it’s normal for an experienced candidate to suffer in his first debate after a long layoff. When 73-year-old Ronald Reagan faced Walter Mondale in 1984, his first debate was a wreck.
Lest you think these moments only happen to seniors, George W. Bush v. John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney in 2012 were embarrassing for the rusty incumbents. All three of the above rebounded in their second try.
A solid round of interviews and talk shows, maybe a CNN town hall, followed by a re-appearance of the Uncle Joe everyone remembers in the next debate and this almost never happened.
Except for the part where he said “my time is up.” That’s an attack ad waiting to happen.
Andrew Yang didn’t speak. Much. Also when he mentioned his universal basic income plan, the audience (who otherwise cheered for every free thing under the sun) guffawed. I thought he’d have a real opportunity to make an impression. The window was smaller than I figured. And he shut it on himself.
Swalwell kept talking about the need to pass the torch to a new generation. All the while, Mayor Pete was making it clear it has more place in his hands. And Harris grabbed it in transit.
Neither Coloradan got any traction. Bennet struggled to get his words out. Hickenlooper is a great Bill Clinton Democrat. He really does have a strong record to run on. Under different conditions he’d get way more consideration. Too understated for now. And the party simply isn’t going to select a white male who isn’t Bernie, Biden, or Buttigieg.
Gillibrand is another casualty of circumstance. She didn’t have a bad evening. Harris just blocked her out. A full candidate eclipse. Polling at under one percent, she needed a Julian Castro-type jump. Don’t think she got it.
Stayed in Place: Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson
As a friend of mine texted about Williamson, “the lady on the end with the good weed had me cracking up.” Nothing happened to make the least conventional of the candidates a contender, but her existing appeal, that which did get her 65,000+ individual contributors, wasn’t dented. She’s likely going to qualify for the next debate and get to do her thing again.
Counting the 2016 cycle, Bernie has done a good amount of debates now. They’re all sort of the same. I don’t think he wins that many people over. I don’t think he loses very many either. Maybe it’s bad for him that Harris is going to move up. It’s not good for him that Warren did well yesterday. But Biden will likely lose a few points. So on balance, it’s a wash for now.
First Tier: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg
Second Tier: None
Third Tier: Kirsten Gillibrand
Fourth Tier: Andrew Yang (down from Tier 3), John Hickenlooper (down from Tier 3), Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson