The first debate (part one) is over. Two hours of tedious remarks, pandering, and Bill de Blasio shouting have come and gone.
Our first official glimpse of the Democratic primary field in action had some expected points but way more surprises than I’d anticipated – particularly from the unknowns in the field. As I mentioned earlier this evening, it was Elizabeth Warren’s and Corey Booker’s debate to lose, and I am not entirely sure they didn’t. We also had to suffer through technical issues – signal loss and hot mics from people not on stage – and interruptions in the form of candidates who didn’t get much time to say anything wanting more time to say things.
First, we need to establish a couple of rules in deciding who the winners and losers are. Obviously, those who did the best in terms of arguing are near the top. But another determining factor is how they came across. The final factor, although a minuscule one, is the strength of their ideas. Granted, as a conservative site, RedState does not officially endorse the ideas of the Democratic Party. However, the strength of these ideas can come in the form of presentation and passion – more rhetorical strength than actual policy strength.
With all that said, here are the winners and losers of the first debate (part one).
The Winners: Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Elizabeth Warren
Far and away, the best, most spirited, and the most surprising performance of the night came from Julian Castro. He played to his strengths – Latin American interests and the immigration crisis – very well and it worked more effectively than perhaps it should have, but with the crisis at the border being in the spotlight all week, it was only natural that he would have a great night.
More than that, though, Castro was deeply passionate on any subject he spoke about, and he was not afraid to beat up the other candidates in an effort to prove his passion was the best passion.
Tulsi Gabbard, I think, had a better night than she’ll be given credit for – particularly in her use of past military experience, her time spent in the Middle East serving our country, and the way she beat Tim Ryan like a rented mule over his comments on the Middle East. Her strength is obviously going to be in foreign policy as it pertains to the Middle East, the single-most troublesome region America has to deal with. By combining her military experience with her progressive ideology, she did very well in proving her worth on that stage.
Interestingly, I think Elizabeth Warren managed to keep a top spot, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Or, rather, it was despite her lack of trying. While other candidates argued and interrupted each other, she was quiet and said virtually nothing during the segment on immigration and the border crisis. She pretty obviously seems to think that keeping the powder dry for Trump is the way to go, but it made her forgettable amidst the chaos.
That’s not the route to the presidency she thinks it is. She is sharing the stage not only with nine other candidates but competing against another ten who will be on stage twenty four hours later and have an opportunity to outshine her.
If I had to pick a winner out of those three, I’d pick Julian Castro.
The Losers: Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan
The biggest loser of the night has got to be Beto O’Rourke. Bill de Blasio, Julian Castro, Corey Booker, and probably one or two others went after O’Rourke hard and frequently. He’s seen as the one of the biggest middle-tier threats (if not THE biggest), and for many guys on the middle and bottom tiers, he has to be removed from the board.
O’Rourke also didn’t help himself by going right into Spanish with no warning, introduction, or explanation in his first question of the night. Likewise, he simply could not defend himself on all the fronts he needed to in order to survive the attacks he was getting. He tried to play it off, but if anything was a surprise last night, it was that he wasn’t sweating profusely after the first barrage from the other candidates.
Bill de Blasio knew he was a loser from the get-go and did everything in his power to appear strong where he was weak. He constantly interrupted the other candidates, and even tried to interrupt a moderator, who then cut to commercial (I was very happy to see that capitalism would silence de Blasio in ways that no other Republican or Democrat has been able to). He came off as annoying, or as Claire McCaskill put it during NBC’s post-show “irritating.” You could tell he was pissed about not getting a lot of air time.
However, I will say that his strength – if he has any – was being able to look into the camera. He was addressing the viewing audience, not the moderators, the people on the stage, or the people in that crowd. He was addressing “working class people” across America. He might have resonated with a few, but not enough to climb out of the hole he kept digging himself.
Tim Ryan, who I could not identify the first three times he was asked to give a response, also lost big when he tried to take on Gabbard over Middle Eastern conflicts. Particularly by foolishly saying that the Taliban committed the acts of terror on September 11, which Gabbard schooled him over. Other than that, his performance was lackluster, filled with borrowed words and phrases from other candidates, and cobbled together to sound more coherent than he actually was.
The Also-Rans: John Delaney, Corey Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee
I’ll keep this bit short.
John Delaney, of all the candidates, displayed the best knowledge of what I think Americans are looking for most: Moderate tendencies and a desire to bridge the gap between the parties. He also seemed most likely to understand the difference between platform policy and real-world solutions. This, of course, means he doesn’t stand a chance.
Corey Booker needed to shine and didn’t. He spoke passionately enough but did not differentiate himself from the other candidates in any meaningful way. In fact, he was very obviously trying to pander when he busted out his own response to some question in Spanish. It was forced, felt unnatural, and really only served to shine a light on the hardest working member of his staff, the Rosetta Stone software for speaking Spanish.
Amy Klobuchar had one moment I really thought went underappreciated. She commented on the “Establishment Candidate,” an obvious (to me) reference to Elizabeth Warren. It was slipped in there once and flew completely below the radar, but the message seemed clear: “I know they are paving the way for you, Liz, and I won’t stand for it.” Now, will she actually not stand for it? Probably not.
Last, we have Jay Inslee, who very clearly doesn’t understand how much of a joke he is given the goofy-and-almost-creepy grin he got when Rachel Maddow told him the next question – one on climate change – was right up his alley. See, Inslee sees climate change in the same way your child sees the bogeyman. It’s everywhere and causes all the problems. If I were to produce a document saying climate change is how we got Trump, Inslee would probably hire me on the spot.
The fact of the matter is that this was just one in a two-part debate, with ten more candidates appearing on stage Thursday night. Many of these performances will be forgotten, especially with figures like Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden on stage this evening. Still, the stronger performances from Wednesday night may yet shine through. Time will tell.