It was a chaotic night. There was a lot of cross-talk and that ate up time that might otherwise have let candidates highlight their positions. The winners of night two were overwhelmingly the ones that got to be on the stage on night one.
It took a lot to stand out on the stage Thursday night and those who were good at interruption stood out:
Kamala Harris. She got a good zinger in with her line about no one wanting a food fight. And she looked powerful because it appeared that when she spoke, everyone else (candidates) listened and calmed down. She also went hard against Biden and made him look like a little boy being scolded by his mother when she talked about being a little girl being bused to school in California. She definitely dominated the night.
Marianne Williamson defied expectations. I thought a self-help author would be eaten alive on that stage, but she held her own and managed to get the spotlight several times during the free-for-all.
My main method of picking winners and losers in this first debate is about expectations and interest level. If the candidate is more interesting by the end of the night, they win. If less, they lose.
Eric Swalwell is a representative from California and I had heard that his big issue was gun control. I would have liked to learn more. What I discovered in the debate is that he is one of the people giving millennials a bad name. “Pass the torch… it’s mine… I’m entitled.” Safe to say the moderate interest I had going in has been quenched. I’ll pass on Swalwell. (Just to be fair to the rest of the millennials… Hillary started this entitled BS with “it’s her turn” or whatever that slogan was four years ago.)
Andrew Yang is an entrepreneur who wants to give us all $1000 a month. That’s great! I was disappointed when he seemed surprised and confused when the moderator asked him how he was going to do that. I was thinking “direct deposit” would be a great answer, but after an unfortunate pause, Yang interpreted the question as it was probably intended and did tell us how he planned to PAY for that. The initial look on his face is no doubt going to be showing up in memes all over the internet. And he did not seem to get much attention the rest of the night. No direct questions (bad moderation) and no interruptions. (Too polite? Or is there some truth to the rumor about his microphone being turned off?) I’m still interested in Yang as a candidate, but my optimism about his chances has taken a hit.
Pete Buttigieg has had a hard week with a police shooting back in South Bend. He got beat up a little by other candidates and appeared quiet and withdrawn during the debate compared to other events I’ve seen him at. This worked good for him and bad for those who tried to beat up on him. He is in the middle of a crisis and the subdued response seems appropriate for the situation. He is dealing with it and what he says and does here will say more than all the nice words he can string together. I think that the circumstances have caused some doubts about his candidacy – more than his actual debate performance. I’d say he’s lost a little from the debate, but nothing that he can’t recover from after an appropriate period of mourning.
Michael Bennet is a Senator from Colorado and I still don’t know why he is running for president. He seems to be a champion of small steps and moderation, but does not seem to have any real goal. Maybe he just wants to compete on the “make America great again” platform – but I think someone might have beat him to it. No interest before. No interest after.
Bernie Sanders. Bernie is Bernie and I love him and appreciate how much of the conversation in this primary is built on top of his campaign four years ago. But was he there? I did not hear anything new or different from Bernie. He seemed pretty subdued compared to what I might have expected from him. I’m not sure if that works for him or against him. For me it was no change.
Joe Biden. I’ve felt like he’s been overrated since well before he announced, the media has built him up as the front runner and the only hope of beating President Trump. He failed miserably to bring any of that to the debate last night. I was not really buying the media hype and think that Biden actually performed better than expected, and especially in the confrontation with Kamala Harris. He did, undoubtedly, disappoint some old folks with landlines. My personal interest level has not changed. I still find him to have little to offer. I think I did hear one new policy early on that sounded like he was jumping on the student loan problems with some kind of lukewarm compromise.
Kamala Harris is an attack dog! Wait, I already got that vibe. So, yeah, great performance, but no real change in my interest level. She is doing well, bringing a little more to the stage each time I see her. She must have great coaches. There is still this problem about her background and stories I’ve heard about her time as a prosecutor in California that don’t match the stories she’s telling us at these events. The mistrust level is still high and I have to admit to turning to some fact checking to see if they really did busing in Berkley (they did…).
John Hickenlooper. I have the same problem with “no socialism” that Hickenlooper has with “socialism”. You can’t even SAY the word? Really? The idea that the “s-word” is going to kill our chances to beat Donald Trump is DOA. Sorry. But while I have a strong negative reaction to that, and was ready to write him off after his speech in California – he did catch my attention tonight with his list of progressive policies that he actually GOT DONE in Colorado.
Hickenlooper definitely needs a PR person if he doesn’t want to lose the progressive half of the party, but I would hate to see him wash out this soon when it looks like he has some actual experience that could benefit everyone. My interest level has notched up a little in spite of his fear of socialism. (Seriously, aren’t public libraries socialist… wasn’t that Ben Franklin’s idea… and wasn’t he one of our founding fathers? Why are people so afraid of this idea about the public good?)
Kirsten Gillibrand surprised me by giving the best answer in the lightening round on which country would you reach out to repair relations with first. The majority of the candidates cheated by saying NATO (presumably because they could not pick just one European country), and a couple said China. Kirsten was near the end of the line and she stood out when she said: Iran.
YES!! That was clearly the RIGHT answer. They cut her off as she started to try and explain about how her priority was to prevent a war, making me ask why does network TV want us to go to war so badly. Can’t they make a decent headline without killing people?
All that talk about women’s rights turns me off. I’m a woman, yes. It is a litmus test that a candidate at least pays lip service to equal rights for women, but not a priority. Going on and on about it is annoying. But here is some insight into foreign policy that just made Kirsten Gillibrand stand out as a legitimate option for president. Her stance on getting money out of politics with public funding was also notable, although I may have missed it without the answer on Iran. She has gone from ‘please just drop out now’ to ‘do you need a donation to make the next round of debates?’
Marianne Williamson is a self-help author and from the very beginning I found it hard to take the idea of her running for president seriously. (Almost exactly what I thought about Donald Trump four years ago…) She came in with very low expectations and really out-performed. She had substantial answers and managed to get more traction in the free-for-all event than Kirsten Gillibrand or Pete Buttigieg. There is something there… but it’s buried in a bunch of new-age spiritual talk that I don’t really understand. It was kind of like listening to Beto speak Spanish, except I get the impression that if I could translate the spiritual stuff into some other jargon – say sales/marketing speak – that it might actually be an important idea. I may write more on that in another post if I can work out a proper translation.
There was no big winner for the second night. I do expect Kamala Harris to get some points in the polls, mostly at the expense of Biden and Buttigieg. Of the one-percenters I expect to see Williamson, Yang, and possibly Gillibrand pick up another point or two while Bennett, Hickenlooper, and Swalwell fade out.