Almost 24 hours to the moment when President Donald Trump was impeached by the House, the seven top Democratic candidates running to replace him debated one another in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
I watched the debate, tweeted and jotted down a bunch of notes. My thoughts on the best and worst from the night that was are below.
Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator benefited the most from the smaller number of candidates on stage. She got to talk a LOT more than in past debates and used that time very, very well. She started strong – outshining her competitors with her answer on how to convince the public that the impeachment was the right move. Time and time again in answer after answer, Klobuchar drove home her basic message: I’m from the Midwest. I’m a woman. I get things done. And, she effectively took it to South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg over his dismissiveness of service in the Senate. An excellent debate performance when Klobuchar really needed one.
Joe Biden: I’m not sure whether it was the smaller number of candidates on stage or a renewed confidence in his status as the front-runner in the race. But, what I am sure of is that – from beginning to end – this was the former vice president’s best debate, by a lot. His answer on the need to build consensus and work with Republicans – noting that he more than anyone else on the stage had reason not to like Republicans who have spent attacking he and his son, Hunter, for months – was his best answer in any debate. Biden’s response to questions about his age – he said age brought him much-needed experience and wisdom – was self assured and solid. Biden was simply more confident and competent Thursday night – just look at how he directly took on Sen. Bernie Sanders on “Medicare for All” – than he has been in prior debates.
Andrew Yang: There were six politicians on stage in Los Angeles on Thursday night. And one Andrew Yang. Yang’s answers on any question he was asked were miles away from how his rivals answered them. Hell, he talked about thorium! His answer on being the lone non-white candidate on the stage – he called it “an honor and a disappointment” – was eloquent. He spoke from personal experience about how best to address the challenges and opportunities of raising a special needs child. (One of Yang’s sons has autism.) And, when talking about whether politics needed more women, Yang said this: “The fact is … if you get too many men alone and leave us alone for a while, we kind of become morons.” Amen, Andrew.
Pete Buttigieg: The South Bend mayor came under more fire Thursday night than in all the previous debates combined, which made for a more bumpy ride for him. But also is all the evidence you need to understand that his rivals view Buttigieg as someone who needs to be slowed in the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts went after Buttigieg for holding private fundraisers with rich people, an attack she had been previewing for weeks on the campaign trail. And Buttigieg was ready: “This is the problem with passing purity tests you yourself cannot pass,” he told Warren, noting that she had transferred money from her Senate account that had been raised by large-dollar donors. Not a perfect performance by any means but Buttigieg showed in this debate he could take incoming and dish it out too.
Bernie Sanders: My issue with the Vermont senator in this debate is that no matter what question he was asked, he seemed to give the same answer: Millionaires and billionaires are destroying this country. Which, if you support Sanders, is plenty good for you! But, Sanders has to figure out how to expand his coalition. And I don’t think he did that in this debate. Also, his attempt at a joke in response to Barack Obama’s assessment that the country needed younger, more diverse leaders – “and I’m white too” – fell very flat. Also, he got shut down by one of the debate moderators for trying to pivot from a question about race to talk about the climate crisis.
Pete Buttigieg: Yes, he’s a winner and a loser – mostly because I was very divided about this performance. I think, in the end, the good outweighed the bad. But not by a ton. Buttigieg, at times, came across as overly rehearsed – a consistent problem for him in these debates. He seemed annoyed at attacks from Klobuchar on his limited experience as mayor and his past failure to win races he ran in. Given how much incoming Buttigieg took, his campaign will be happy he survived (relatively) unscathed. But, he did take some hits for the first time.
The first hour of the debate: This is a debate! Which means that the goal is to examine where the candidates differ – and why. The first 60 minutes of this debate featured not a single actual elucidation of where the candidates had real policy differences. Instead, the candidates simply delivered a series of short-ish policy speeches, well rehearsed from their time on the stump. It was decidedly “meh” – and, more importantly, didn’t shine a single bit of light for voters on how, where and why the candidates choose different solutions to some of the major issues facing the country.