And we’re off! First Democratic Debate (Part 1) Recap.

Toby Muresianu
Jun 27 · 5 min read
The one stage shot that fit every candidate in the picture.

Can’t believe it’s been four years since I started the last batch of debate recaps.

It feels like just yesterday, perhaps because the 2016 election never actually ended.

But today’s first debate was a magnificent showcase of who stood where on the issues, who took AP Spanish in high school, and whether Chuck Todd had the right audio in his earpiece.

Here’s my recap of all 10 candidates performances.

Beto O’Rourke — underwhelming, stiff, not very memorable. I think he comes off a lot more likable when he’s across from Ted Cruz, in the same way most people come across more likable when they are running against the guy who murdered all those people in Season 1 of True Detective.

Amy Klobuchar — underwhelming, stiff, seemed nervous. Was asked about some of her more “keep it real” comments on Elizabeth Warren’s plans but shied away. I was hoping for more from her candidacy but she’s been pretty underwhelming.

Elizabeth Warren —I thought she gave a good performance for her base, but there’s a contrast between her bookish, detailed-plan reputation (which I like) and half-baked populist rhetoric (which I don’t). This was evidenced in the first question, where she was asked how she’d justify sweeping overhauls of the economy when a majority of people — including Democrats — felt the economy was good. She basically doubled down on how it was only working well for oil and prison companies and that massive structural change was needed. I think some of her things are in the right direction (the economy does need to work better for the working class, we need universal health care) but the existence of her plans doesn’t mean they are good ways to get there. This was highlighted by John Delaney calling out her health plan for replacing private insurance with medicare at existing reimbursement rates, which would cause hospitals to go bankrupt. I think in a general election her Bernie-esque policy prescriptions could turn off the suburban voters who were key to the 2018 wave and want a return to normalcy along with commonsense economic reforms rather than a wholesale reassembly. That said, she is a good speaker with a great brand and compelling anecdotes (about how, for example, cheap college made her life possible) and justified her spot in the top tier of candidates.

Jay Inslee — Surprisingly good, kept hammering climate change, standing out from the pack. Makes a reasonable point that we should be matching our behavior on the environment with our rhetoric and that it should be the most important priority (though with a glaring humanitarian crisis on our border it overshadows this a little). Not going to move up in the polls much, but made a case for why he should stick around longer than other people at 1%.

Bill De Blasio —Hated how he kept shoving himself into the conversation (much like the race overall). Actually got a good crowd response but felt insincere — like he’d read a bunch of progressive tweets an hour before the debate and spoon fed those takes to the audience. It’s amazing how he hates corporations so much as the mayor of *New York City,* which to hear him say it is now a worker’s paradise (despite having the biggest inequality in the country). Did have a few genuinely good moments, like his personal testimonial about his father coming back from World War 2 with PTSD. Still, I will channel my inner New York Jew and say I just hate this schmuck.

Tulsi Gabbard — Mediocre. A lot of people probably didn’t know her. She has a cult following and has superficial appeal as a female veteran who’s vocally anti-war and pro-pot, but is bizarre under the surface: she voted for restrictions on refugees, took an Assad-sponsored propaganda trip to Syria, believes the Mueller report exonerated Trump, etc. On the debate stage she completely ignored a question to give her bio and stumbled a bit. Had one good moment where she pushed back on Tim Ryan’s argument that we should leave forces in Afghanistan, but also asserted that things were no different than when we first went to Afghanistan, ignoring the whole “killing Bin Laden” thing (among others). People online are making hay that she got googled more than anyone else during the debate, but I’d guess the “being beautiful” thing might explain a portion of those searches.

Tim Ryan — random politician from Ohio who did fine, emphasizing the forgotten manufacturing workers (who it actually seems like we have been remembering very actively for years, if not decades). He did decently well but with Joe Biden in the race, why would you want “Joe Biden, but without name recognition, experience, money, or a network”?

Julian Castro — I saw the second half of the debate first and found him pretty forgettable. Then watched the first half of the debate; he naturally drew attention and found the spotlight on immigration and challenging other debaters to make crossing the border a civil infraction, but I felt like he was reaching when he tried to “nail” people who were obviously aligned with him on a technical matter. He also said some clunky pander-y stuff, mixing up trans men and women and misleading on the wage gap. He will get some attention as a result of this debate (and arguably has deserved more in general) but wasn’t amazing.

John Delaney — Surprisingly good for someone whose main claim to fame is looking like the guy from the Princess Bride. He had a voice-of-reason angle, making commonsense points about why the Christmas-list promises others were making didn’t pass muster while convincingly backing priorities like universal health care. Like Ryan, he had a blue-collar, bipartisan, we’re-all-in-this-together vibe — and also begged the question of whether he was just another Biden-lite.

Cory Booker — had good energy, emphasized his background living in Newark and experiencing issues of inequality, gun violence, etc. firsthand. Dodged some questions and had to psych himself up to spit out some high-school level Spanish like he was giving a class presentation, but I think the debate format will help people get him more as a presence. It’s weird people call Beto a “White Obama” when Booker seems much more like ’08 Obama in charisma and background (as well as being, you know, not white).

It’s also interesting to think what wasn’t talked about: Joe Biden never came up, the Green New Deal wasn’t mentioned, Russia only a couple times, and Trump maybe not as much as you’d think. It’ll be interesting to see which of those change in the next debate.

Feelings subject to change. Same time tomorrow?

Toby Muresianu

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Comedian, writer, moderate.

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