This article is slightly liberally biased.
Last night, I assigned grades to each Democratic candidate in the debate. I’ll repeat that here. I have not seen any analysis yet of the debate, so this is my pure, unfiltered opinion. The debate tonight was a bit of a shitshow in terms of time management and moderation, so the first set of moderators get a C from me, while Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd get a B+.
Moving on to the candidates, in descending order:
Kirsten Gillibrand: A+
Gillibrand hasn’t been doing well so far in the polls, and I think today was a breakout moment for her. She was truly assertive, and pushed women’s health and issues as hard as they really need to be pushed. She brought up Pre-K, childcare, abortion, and more and really highlighted it. That’s important to me, and she did it without heavy pandering. She also highlighted her concrete plan on corruption, and I like how she stuck to her 2 key issues. I thought she came across as extremely well-prepared and comprehensive, focusing on the issues that matter to me. Go Kirsten!
Kamala Harris: A+
Harris also asserted herself, calling up specific actions she took in California. She confronted Biden on his past, and forced him to deal with the fact that he’s one of the less progressive candidates (which was going to happen at some point, honestly). Her record on immigration is impeccable, and she has unique experience as a prosecutor, Attorney General of California, and a senator. I thought Harris was very powerful tonight, didn’t cede ground, and didn’t jump off the left wing. I disagree with her on free college, and her gun policies, but she performed admirably. Harris stays up as a top pick.
Pete Buttigieg: A-
Buttigieg to me also held his own. He was the most reasonable moderate-type up there tonight, and he refused to be cowed by Eric Swalwell. Buttigieg has the ability to support progressive policies while also making moderates feel at home, and that’s rare. He’s also a veteran, something he alluded to while not going overboard. Buttigieg didn’t do anything outstanding tonight, which is why he’s not A or A+, but he did hold his own, and he did advocate for climate change action, for healthcare reform (while keeping a private option—- more moderate), and for, and this is a big one for me, pushing alternatives to college instead of just free college. Buttigieg remains high for me.
Joe Biden: B+
Joe Biden didn’t sink tonight, but he did appear to be playing defense. Yes, he has an outstanding record. Yes, he’s a cool dude, but tonight it felt like he was constantly defending against other candidates’ attacks and falling on his record more than being original. While I love his plan of free community college, and believe he and Obama did do a lot for healthcare and for the climate, Biden didn’t emerge as the champion of moving forward, but almost as a defender of the Obama years. I also think Harris’ call-out was fair, and he didn’t defend it well. For him to refuse to admit he was wrong all those years ago on civil rights is… not good. However, he did handle Swalwell’s “pass the torch” nonsense acceptably. I’d vote for Biden, but tonight wasn’t his best.
Bernie Sanders: B
Sanders didn’t talk as much as I’d have hoped tonight. He stuck to his guns, and kept his brand of the uncompromising socialist, and I liked that he pushed that many of the modern progressive ideas were his ideas. However, he demonized the rich, didn’t provide concrete funding for his plans, and faded into the background. I think he let the other big time candidates speak more and push more ideas, while he struggled to get to his points. I also think he was cowed by Swalwell and force to move left on guns. I disagree with that approach, and do not think a candidate like Swalwell should be influencing a prospective nominee. Biden and Buttigieg handled Swalwell far better than Bernie. I was never a Bernie fan, and unlike Warren, he didn’t convert me. Not a bad day, though.
—and our bottom 5—
John Hickenlooper: B-/C+
I think Hickenlooper would do well in the general election, and I like that he’s a scientist. Colorado also has done a lot to combat climate change, and was the first to legalize weed. However, he didn’t talk a lot, came across as forgettable, and just blended in in a way. I don’t think he’ll get much more support from this. He also demonized socialism repeatedly. While I’m no socialist, and tend to be a solid liberal rather than a leftist, I don’t think it’s productive to be going after fellow Democrats in that way.
Michael Bennet: C-
I honestly found this dude to be a discount Hickenlooper and forgettable. If someone could enlighten me on Bennet, I’d appreciate that, because I don’t remember what he said. He didn’t say anything I found offensive, so he gets a passing grade, but just barely.
Andrew Yang: D+
Argh, Andrew Yang. He has no experience, and it showed. For one, he barely talked. Second of all, his Universal Basic Income plan is his first priority, which overlooks so many issues. He also struggled to sell it, since he’d have to raise taxes to give Americans money. Yang has cool ideas, but he didn’t belong on that stage.
Marianne Williamson: F
Speaking of people who didn’t belong on that stage…. we get to Williamson. Leaving aside her failure to interrupt and speak like Gillibrand or Harris, Williamson believes some really objectionable things. Her comments on big pharma and chronic disease were indicative of a broader distrust of modern medicine, and an anti-intellectual attitude. She’s described as “lukewarm on vaccines” (10 Wild Facts About Marianne Williamson), and I guessed that as soon as I heard her talking about Big Pharma making us sick. She also believes in reparations for Black Americans, an idea so ridiculous I don’t even want to give it space here. This is not because I don’t believe in racism, institutional or personal, but because it’s logistically impossible. It shows she hasn’t at all thought the logistics of any of her plans, and is a litmus test for her inexperience. Ugh.
Eric Swalwell: F
And we get to the worst candidate of the night. Swalwell to me actively took away from the debate. He took stupid potshots at Biden for his age, Buttigieg for his inaction in a case that hasn’t been decided, and Sanders for his (very progressive) gun stance. Swalwell spent the majority of his time taking low blows at the popular Democrats, and it came across as immature and obnoxious. There are less rude ways to knock Biden for his age, Buttigieg can’t “fire the chief” during an ongoing investigation, and Bernie’s done plenty on gun control. The guy is a Milo-style provocateur, and he derails dialogue. His gun plan is also infuriatingly naive. He wants a mandatory buyback of all assault weapons. Leaving aside the varying definition of assault weapon, a mandatory buyback is exactly the ammunition the 2nd Amendment nuts need to go on about “bad gubmint takin’ muh gunz” (pun intended). You don’t get to force people to give up their property. That’s crappy. No, no, no. Swalwell’s gotta go.