February Democratic Presidential Debate Review

February Democratic Presidential Debate Review

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While we all tried to figure out what actually happened in Iowa, we also got to see all of the candidates debate one last time before the upcoming New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. (For those who don’t know, it’s currently a virtual tie between Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, but the voting process was a complete mess.) The urgency of New Hampshire made this debate much less boring than I had anticipated, and may have swayed some voters’ minds. Here’s how I think each of the candidates did in the last debate before New Hampshire, including Michael Bloomberg, who was talked about plenty but not at the debate himself:

 Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar absolutely killed it in this debate. I’ve been pretty pro-Amy for a while now, despite her low chances of actually becoming the nominee. It’s clear to me that debates are Klobuchar’s strong suit, and have allowed her to survive a tough field of challengers. Her fifth place finish in Iowa was closer to Joe Biden’s fourth than anyone expected, and she kept the momentum going during the debate. I loved Klobuchar’s constant reminders of her winning record as a senator and her concrete effort to address racial disparities in voting. Another key moment was her declaration that the debate over Medicare for All was “not real” because the support in Congress was nowhere close to existing. Moderates throughout the debates have been portrayed as the boring ones. Michael Bennet, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, and even Joe Biden have presented a moderate approach as dull and, well… old, and Amy Klobuchar continued to buck that notion. I guess 59 is the new 38!

Bernie Sanders

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Bernie Sanders is winning, and people like his style. It’s obvious I’m not a fan of Bernie’s uncompromising positions on, well, everything, but he is winning. Bernie Sanders’ appeal lies in his ability to convince progressive voters he’s the real deal, so he’s continued to insist on Medicare for All, on raising the minimum wage, and on taking down the billionaires in debate after debate. I don’t agree with an approach that scapegoats one group of people, but strategically, there’s no reason Bernie should stop doing anything that he’s doing. He also didn’t attack any other candidates, simply because he didn’t have to. Even with Pete Buttigieg tying in Iowa, Bernie Sanders knew he was the current frontrunner. I’d say that Bernie performed well in the debate in the sense that he simply provided the same approach his supporters have loved all along. 

Elizabeth Warren

In a swift change from last debate, Elizabeth Warren is back to being everyone’s friend and to being a unity candidate. She didn’t do well in Iowa, only finishing third, but didn’t do terribly either. I got the sense that Warren was coasting this debate, emphasizing her strengths as a policy wonk and a corruption fighter, but not testing the waters in a way that could change her standing. She wasn’t the frontrunner, so she wasn’t attacked, and she astutely saw that really pushing other candidates could threaten her new unity message. This strategy was also present in her evasion when asked about her capitalism. I’d call this debate neutral for Elizabeth Warren. Neutral may not get her above third place on Tuesday, but I guess we’ll see. 

Pete Buttigieg

The Iowa Caucuses were a huge win for Pete Buttigieg, but I can’t say the same for this past debate. Sure, Buttigieg had a great point about how he was shaped in his youth by other candidates’ mistakes. Mayor Pete was going strong until, inevitably, his race record came up. This has been Pete’s problem since the beginning, and countless commentary (including the comments on my own debate reviews) have touched on it. Pete Buttigieg, for all his efforts, has near zero support from black voters. You would think that after tying for the win in Iowa and knowing about this issue forever, Buttigieg would’ve been prepared for the moderators’ question criticizing his arrest record of African-Americans while mayor. Nope. Buttigieg misled voters by claiming arrests went down and was fact-checked until he gave up the point. Pete Buttigieg may be “discussing systemic racism” as he put it, but his lack of preparedness and action on the issue spelled a bad debate. Buttigieg could’ve used this debate to uplift his support with voters of color, but botched it. In New Hampshire, it may not matter, but in upcoming South Carolina, it will. 

Joe Biden

Yikes. Joe Biden had a hurdle to overcome after his low fourth place finish in Iowa, but if you’ve been reading my past debate reviews, you’d know that debates have not been his forte. Biden hasn’t had a single knockout debate performance since the beginning, and this past debate only continued his streak. Biden’s problem in the debate was that he just sounded old. He slipped over his words multiple times again in unfortunate places, arguing for mandatory prison for drug addicts instead of mandatory treatment. He argued that the past was not really that bad when he was in charge, which made me actually say “ok boomer” out loud to the screen. Even his strong point, his support with voters of color, wasn’t handled well. Biden acted as though black voters were already his by right. I think Biden’s lackluster debate performances were a clue to the eventual fizzling out of his campaign. 

Andrew Yang

Is Andrew Yang even still running for president? He’s a cool guy and all, but every time I see him just seems like I’m at a TED Talk about the Freedom Dividend, rather than a presidential debate. I think Yang knows he’s out and his trying to give his idea some more airtime, and I give him credit for that. I wonder how long Mr. 1,000 dollars-a-month will stay in the race. I figure not much longer after Tuesday. 

Tom Steyer

Ugh, this guy is like Eric Swalwell was right at the beginning: the designated attack dog. Tom Steyer has no experience, no polling support, and really no place at the debate. He just spouts proposals without anything to fall back on, and lashes out at experienced candidates. Take reparations if you want an example. Reparations can work for Steyer because he’s never had to implement a policy in his life. Steyer should work on what he’s good at: taking down Trump from outside the race. 

Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg wasn’t invited to the debate thanks to the individual donor requirement, but the moderators made sure to remind us he was still in the running. Bloomberg’s absence from the debate gave candidates the chance to each criticize him individually where he couldn’t respond.  This had a weird effect of both helping him by putting his name right in front of voters, but also left him open to any criticism, which Bernie readily offered. Now that the DNC has changed the rules to qualify for a debate, we’ll see after New Hampshire how Bloomberg does when he actually gets a chance to be on stage in-person.

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