Like a Peter Jackson movie, there were too many characters and it took too long. But the second half of the first round of Democratic debates is in the books.
Overall, the candidates picked up on the advantages of butting into other conversations from last night (thanks, Bill De Blasio) and it really reminded me of the 2016 Republican debates. If those were like Wrestlemania, this was like watching 10 people fight over the last pair of Hamilton tickets. It was painful at times to watch — a lot of people seemed eager to repeat some widely circulated meme talking point for an easy applause break from an audience angry at Trump and eager to cheer against him. That said, I think it was helpful if only in making it easier to make the first round of cuts. In a previous generation this might have been done by party officials with some level of common sense, but we wanted more democracy and by god we got more democracy.
Kamala Harris was the biggest winner. The memorable exchange of the night was her taking on Joe Biden, who inexplicably defended local control over school bussing in the 70s — when local control was what kept segregation alive in the south. It’s also a juicy thing to talk about that will get her name at the front of news discussion in the coming days. It also highlights that Biden was working 50 years ago making laws — and she was a child affected by it, playing into generational dynamics without explicitly saying it. At a time when our housing laws are still creating segregation under the banner of local control, though, I also welcome attention to how that can provide cover for terrible policies.
Joe Biden had that terrible exchange and decision, and also in general didn’t seem super sharp. He looks good for his age, and had energy, but had a moment when he couldn’t hear the moderator and at times seemed unfocused. I wouldn’t overemphasize it — debates only affect so much, and this is coming the day after a two hour one — but he at best clung on, and didn’t look like the inevitable front runner he’d like to.
Bernie Sanders gonna Bernie Sanders, y’all. He turned other questions into a discussion of income inequality and emphasized that to make his plans reality he needed a political revolution of tens of millions of people. This was a far stretch last time when he couldn’t win the Democratic primary, and it’s a further stretch when he may be in third place. I don’t think he’ll move much as a result of this; Warren feels like a newer Bernie Sanders this time around.
Pete Buttigieg was who Beto was supposed to be. He was very articulate, thoughtful, and emphatic — including when presented with the very difficult question of his handling of a police shooting in his city recently. He is someone I would like to see debating Trump, because he is just extremely smart, calm, and confident in the pocket. He justified the excitement over him and I think may get a bump from Beto’s supporters. He also got it in that he was the youngest person onstage, though in contrast to Eric Smallwell trying to beat that drum with a pair of cymbals, it came across inoffensive.
Eric Swalwell is basically trying to run on being the second youngest person running in the Democratic primary. Have young people been desperate for a charisma-free 38 year old to rally behind? He acts like he wants to be student council vice president too much, and it’s painful. He is also running on a national gun buyback which is unworkable and terrible idea (people have literally used “come and take them” and “you can have them when you pry them out of my cold dead hands” for decades).
Marianne Williamson was ordered here from a Goop catalogue. I’m not sure if she was there to sell vagina eggs or a psychic hotline, but she came across like she had a glass of chardonnay under the podium and a joint waiting for her afterwards. Her big closing line was that love would beat fear, because apparently she did not see how that slogan worked for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (when she was, I’m guessing, Jill Stein’s nutritionist).
Andrew Yang didn’t interrupt, but spoke directly to his dividend, base and my guess is he may have actually benefitted from not getting more speaking time; it will fire up his base, and he said enough to be interesting for people who will be interested without saying enough to get the economics of it really cross-examined.
John Hickenlooper was unnecessary. I guess I should like him as a scientist and business-minded Democrat, but he just feels so unnecessary.
Michael Bennett was also there. He’s also from Colorado, like Hickenlooper, and the only thing I remember about him is that he isn’t a scientist. He may have been hired as an extra because someone didn’t show up. Do they have seat fillers at these things? I should check on Central Casting.
EDIT: I forgot about Kristen Gillibrand. These last three people feel like part of the group in a horror movie you know ain’t gonna make it to Act II. She was fine. I think she is easily a front runner against Eric Swalwell for Student Council VP; I hope voting “against Trump” on routine votes on matters of state was worth it for her to be able to say in this single debate that she opposed him more than anyone else. But no matter what happens, she can still talk about this at dinner parties for years afterwards.
Anyway, hopefully next time around everyone fits on one stage — it won’t be until November, so fortunately they probably will.