Debatable: The Slog in South Beach Part 2

10 candidates, 5 moderators, 4 front-runners, and lots of cross talk: Night two of the Democratic debates is in the books.

Andrew Donaldson
Jun 28 · 7 min read
Photo by Marc Averette

10 candidates, 5 moderators, 4 front-runners, and lots of cross talk: Night two of the Democratic debates is in the books. Let’s talk about it…

Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Back in March, I wondered out loud about Joe Biden:

Biden’s decades of being coddled as Uncle Joe got a direct challenge from one of those progressives in the form of Kamala Harris. She took him to task on busing, comments about segregationist senators, and his record. To drive the point home, her team sent out the photo of her at the age Kamala Harris herself was being integrated out on social media. It was well planned, well executed, and the dominant moment of the night.

More on that when we discuss Senator Harris, but Joe did not have a good night. Aside from the jaw-dropping soundbite of being challenged on racial issues by a person of color with “states rights” he also had a really weird habit of declaring his time up and just stop talking. His best moment was emoting while discussing healthcare and his own families various tragedies. But where his supposed ability to empathize should have come into play, when Kamala Harris told him she was hurt, instead of deploying it to defuse he resorted to political animal Joe and got crushed by it.

If Biden tried to portray himself as the caricature Trump has been framing him, he couldn’t have done it any better. It was so glaring that David Axelrod of all people brought up the age question in CNN’s post-debate coverage. Having the architect of Barack Obama’s success go there is a very, very bad sign. How much will affect him? It will be a few days before the polls let us know, but the post-debate coverage will not be kind. At all. Deservedly so. Temper that with what the polls say in a few days before drawing a hard and fast conclusion. But Team Biden should be worried. Very Worried.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie didn’t let me down:

Bernie’s schtick just doesn’t work when he isn’t in a one-on-one where he can flesh it out more than 60 second bites. More to the point, now that he isn’t the only other option to Hillary Clinton, folks’ tolerance levels are decidedly lower for the arm-waving democratic socialist. He got the first question from Savannah Gunthrie, and — like Beto O’Rourke the night before minus the Spanish — couldn’t formulate a simple answer despite multiple attempts to elicit one. He has one speed, angry, and it’s just stale. This should be the long fade, or perhaps shorter, of Bernie Sanders Democratic Candidate for President reverting to Bernie Sanders, Independent Senator.

Kamala Harris

Clearly the dominate force of this debate. The “food fight” line was obviously planned and canned but worked. She had other moments but the one-on-one with Biden is going to get all the press. Her team had the pictures of her as a child out on social media and ads before Joe had even finished uttering “states rights.” In the middle of that exchange, Biden slid the “I was a public defender” line, eluding to her being a prosecutor, which I took to be a dressed up version of “She’s a cop” line that follows Kamala Harris around on social media. It was subtle but was there. The question here is will the visuals outweigh the fact checks on some of what she is saying. Harris is undoubtably smooth and polished, and her strategy so far has been good. The problem for Harris is not everything in her record matches up with the campaign narrative and whether the primary voters dig deeper or take her messaging at face value will determine the effectiveness of “She’s a cop”. This debate was well executed. But she has languished somewhat in the polls. She will see a rise after this, but how much, and for how long, is to be seen.

The post-debate coverage is going to be good for her so see what she does with it. My advice: Watch the next batch of South Carolina polls. Joe Biden was leading there, and more specifically dominating the field in African-American support. When Barack Obama turned the tide on Hillary Clinton in 08 there was a massive shift in that demographic when they saw him more and started to believe he could win. If Joe falters on electability and they break hard for someone like Kamala Harris, with Super Tuesday to following now including her home state of California, her path to the nomination could get much wider in a hurry. If they don’t and Biden’s support doesn’t take a hit on the hardest punch he’s taken yet, there will be a lot of talk of Biden being the nominee no matter what, and for good reason.

Andrew Yang

There were many hoping the unconventional Yang could be the entertaining breakout star of this debate. He wasn’t. Not only did he fail to entertain, he failed to say or do anything memorable. Offering free money will keep him popular on social media, but hopefully the DNC’s higher standards for the next round of debates will exclude him from the adult debate in September.

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete’s calm and collected demeanour really helped him in the swirling crazy of this format. He came off looking sober and informed for most of the debate. His opening line mentioning his husband was a bit too on-the-nose for some, but he handled the most pressing danger to him — the officer involved shooting of a black man in the city he is still mayor of — without anything damaging. His “I didn’t get it done” answer when confronted on the diversity of his city’s police force contrasted sharply with Biden’s non-apology in a way that was good for him. The video of his town hall and confrontation with protestors was the opposite of what was presented to the nation on stage tonight. Again, the polls will tell the story in a week or so, but Buttigieg did plenty enough to remain top-tier.

The love it or hate it moment for him might well be his invocation of religion. He has been talking about it on the trail and in interviews, but he made a purposeful effort to get it in tonight, so something to watch for going forward.

Kirsten Gillibrand

She is just trying. so. darn. hard. Senator Gillibrand’s campaign has been so moribund that the whispered rumors of her being unofficially blackballed by the party for her playing the Brutus to Al Franken’s Caesar certainly seem to have some validity. Did anything tonight claw her above the 2% mark she will need to not be the biggest name left out of the big kids debate in September? Probably not.

Marianne Williamson

Let’s play a game of who said it: Marianne Williamson on the debate stage, or Pat Benatar’s 1984 hit “Love is a Battlefield” lyric?

“I will meet you on that field, sir, and love will win”

“Heartache to heartache we stand”

“I’m going to harness love for political purposes”

“But I’m trapped by your love, And I’m chained to your side”

“You have harnessed fear for political purposes”

“There’s no way this will die”

“only love can cast that out”

“Love is a battlefield”

Marianne Williamson may be Coo-Coo for Coco Puffs, but she also managed to say the quiet part out loud about foreign policy failures that underline the current immigration debate and was quickly blocked and hushed by the moderates as they moved to something else. Broken clocks, something, something.

John Hickenlooper

Hickenlooper has the same problem several other candidates has: He has all the right qualifications for a Democratic party of 10 years ago. It’s a shame he couldn’t lift Amy Klobuchar’s “all foam no beer” line since the pub owner would have layers of meaning to it. As it is, other than getting in some whacks at Sanders for his socialism, if you charged him in a court of law with participating in the debate I’m not sure there would be enough evidence to convict him.

Michael Bennet

If you read the transcript, Michael Bennet did really well. His delivery though…I don’t know, something about how he talks, and overly emotes, and his speech patterns make him come off like the animatronics at Chuck-E-Cheese when the speech track doesn’t quite line up with the movements. In trying to get a homerun moment he sounded exactly like a senator giving a passionate speech in the well of the worlds greatest deliberative body. Nothing wrong with that, since he is and will continue to be a senator, as this candidacy is going nowhere.

By the way, I didn’t forget to add a video clip here, there just aren’t any. Kind of a bad sign for Senator Bennett.

Eric Swalwell

My God is he bad at this. Normally I have a rule on Twitter about making fun of personal appearances but the fact that nothing above Eric Swalwell’s nose moves when he talks is such a glaring distraction “Swalwell botox” was trending on Twitter. I mean, a 145 year old Joe Biden and his famous hair plugs look more natural in this clip than Rep Swalwell. Also, this was so contrived it was cringe-worthy, as was the logo, merchandise, and social media blitz that went out before Joe had even finished his retort.

I will not miss Eric Swalwell come September. Which is about the time the feeling in his face should be returning.

Thank God that’s settled. Onward.

Originally published at on June 28, 2019.

Andrew Donaldson

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Chronic misspeller. Mountaineer diaspora. Vet. Insufficiently partisan & inadequately credentialed; I write anyway for @ordinarytimemag @arcdigi. Ask me nicely.