Before the debate, I asked five questions. Here are the five answers:
#1 No, Biden wasn’t a deer in the headlights
He wasn’t good. He wasn’t frequently coherent. Most of his statistics were wrong. If you weren’t for Biden before the debate began, you aren’t for him now. But the looks of confusion that plagued him in the first debate and the CNN climate change event weren’t there.
It’s hard to see how he lost many votes. He aggressively challenged Sanders and Warren to explain how they’re paying for Medicare for All. Julian Castro attempted to call Biden out for not remembering what he’d said two minutes before. Not only did Castro look mean, but when they went to the postgame replay, it turns out Biden’s memory was better than Castro’s hearing.
#2 No, Warren was not ruffled
Biden was the only candidate to go after Warren, and in terms of present verbal skill, that’s like a mouse attacking an elephant. She sailed through the evening mostly unscathed. Nothing happened to harm her top tier status.
I don’t think she gained anything though. And for reasons that mystify me, she’s completely unwilling to directly answer questions about the tax impact of her health care proposals on middle class voters.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard for her to say that if a family sees their tax bill go up by $4,000, but their health care expense is reduced by $8,000, that’s a good trade.
That’s basically what Bernie says. Given the similarity of their plans, it’s hard to see how she wouldn’t need to raise similar amounts of money.
#3 No, Kamala could not level up
If there’s any reason why Harris should be in the group with Biden, Warren, and Sanders, instead of Beto, Buttigieg, Booker, et al, it wasn’t apparent during the debate.
Her canned lines mostly didn’t land. She often rambled. Taking out after Trump instead of Biden made some sense, but voters aren’t buying that she’s the most electable yet, and throwing zingers at Trump won’t change that.
#4 No, Yang could not get screen time
Three times Andrew Yang has debated. Three times he’s gotten the fewest words in.
#5 Welcome to the 2020 campaign, Beto O’Rourke
Expecting any of the lower polling candidates to get a Kamala Harris-after-Debate #1 leap is overdoing it. Partly because several sounded good.
Pete Buttigieg was solid. He was the first two times too. He didn’t gain either time. He won’t gain this time.
Cory Booker got good reviews. I didn’t think he was as good as the pundits did. I did think he was good the first two times. The polls didn’t care. The polls probably won’t care who’s right this time.
It’s possible Castro picks up some extra donors, and maybe an additional survey point once in awhile. He definitely made an impression, even if more viewers found it negative. His overall outlook was already very questionable. Think he’s completely done now, even if he gets a dead cat bounce.
Amy Klobuchar had her best debate by far. Objectively, she’s more electable than Biden. She’s even more centrist—that’s a good thing when the opponent is unpopular, wasn’t born during World War II, and would make sure the focus of the general election is on the incumbent with the 42% approval rating during a good economy.
The reality is the crowded field, and leftward tilt of party activists likely means it took her too long to start having decent debates. She’s still not all the way there. This was an 80% performance, when she needed to be at 95% two debates ago.
I’m saving the best for last. Beto has his shit together and managed to avoid saying fuck during the debate. Hell was the strongest four letter word to pass his lips.
Far more importantly, he’s found his voice, and is now resembling the guy who brought in approximately 77 trillion dollars in out-of-state donations during his senate race.
He’s got the strongest position in the field on guns, one that’s popular with the Democratic electorate, and less damaging with independents and squishy Republicans than before the last couple rounds of mass shootings.
He spoke very clearly on racial issues, in a way that strikes a good balance between what voters of color and white liberals might want to here. You know a candidate is on pitch when you hear it, and after six months flailing in the verbal wilderness, Beto got there.
If he’d sounded like this in March, the race might look very different. He’d caught up to Mayor Pete in a few polls. There’s a fairly decent chance he’s in fifth place within the next couple weeks. If not, his recovery was too late to matter.
Either way, a resurgent Beto further complicates the task of Harris or Buttigieg to consolidate the Under-70 lane, and harms Booker’s chances of making a move.
Also, three hours is too long for a debate. Way too long.