Over 48 hours this week in Detroit, I – and all of you – got to see the 20 most viable Democrats running for president up close and personally. While a two-hour debate with 10 candidates isn’t enough time to draw lasting conclusions about the state of the race, I did have a handful of observations about where the race is and where it’s headed.
Here they are – in no particular order, other than how they occurred to me:
1. Biden was better – but not best: The former vice president was more energetic and forceful on Wednesday night than he was in the first debate. But better than terrible isn’t great. Biden struggled several times to spit out the words in his answers – and his “Go to Joe 30330” gaffe at the end of the debate will linger. He did enough this week to stay ahead in the 2020 race. But not enough to grow that lead or silence the doubters.
2. Harris struggled as the target: Remember this about Sen. Kamala Harris’ political career: She hasn’t had a tough race in almost a decade. She won her current Senate seat virtually by acclimation in 2016 and was reelected easily as California AG two years before that. Which means that being on the receiving end of a whole bunch of attacks is not a place where she has a ton of experience. It showed in this week’s debate, when Harris struggled to fend off attacks from Biden and, interestingly, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
3. Buttigieg is in play-it-safe mode: Of the half dozen (or so) candidates with a plausible path to the nomination right now, the South Bend mayor took the fewest risks in the debate. He stayed out of any and all fights – choosing instead to push the idea that his youth (he is 37) is an asset not a liability for a country whose older politicians have failed them. That strategy tells me the Buttigieg people feel very good with where he’s positioned in the race.
4. Warren showed she has more speeds than Bernie: The more I thought about Tuesday night’s debate, the more impressed I was with Warren’s performance. (My winners and losers from that debate are here.) Why? Because her Vermont colleague, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has one speed: Loud. He shouts his answers and dismisses those who disagree with him. Warren, on the other hand, showed a far defter touch in this debate. She’s quite clearly a liberal but one who wants to explain her positions and convince you as opposed to shouting down your doubts. All that said, Warren has embraced a lot of views – decriminalizing illegal immigration, abolishing private insurance – hat will make it very tough for her if she is the nominee.
5. Yang has real potential: For all the focus on Marianne Williamson’s performance in Tuesday night’s debate – and don’t get me wrong, she is interesting – I thought that Andrew Yang was the best performer out of the long-shot tier. Unlike the first debate, where Yang spoke sotto voce and barely registered, he was much more forceful and on message this time around. If you watched any of Wednesday night’s debate, you know one big thing about Yang: He favors giving every person in the United States over 18 years old $1,000 a year. (It’s known as universal basic income – much more on it and Yang here.) And Yang is only one poll away from qualifying for the next two debates in September and October.
Below, the week in 26 headlines.
- Pick to be senior general expected to address assault allegations
- Trump may bypass protocol to name acting intelligence chief
- Trump’s trip to Turnberry cost the State Department at least $233K
- Judge dodges decision for now in Trump tax case
- Trump hosts African American faith leaders at the White House
- Trump pardons, commutes sentences for 7 people
- Kelly Craft confirmed to be next US ambassador to the UN
- Ryan Zinke email use now part of Justice Department investigation
- Trump pick to be 2nd highest military officer approved by committee
- Trump appoints Spicer to US Naval Academy board of visitors
- Ben Carson stands by Trump’s depiction of Baltimore
- Mongolian President talks cashmere, horse names with Trump
- Trump admin opens door to allow drug importation from Canada
- Trump takes aim at cities run by Democrats in Cincinnati rally
- DA subpoenas Trump Org and AMI in hush money investigation
- Judge won’t dismiss Roger Stone case
- Judge blocks NY from turning over Trump’s tax info
- Trump administration extends protections for Syrians living in US
- Trump says he will go ahead with new China tariffs
- Justice Dept. won’t prosecute Comey over handling of FBI memos