This article is slightly liberally biased.
Well, we’re staying up late again to watch the next round of Democratic debates, and give all the candidates the grades they deserve. For any teachers or students out there, feel free to calculate their debate average after these two nights are over.
The first grade I’m going to give is to the networks, since I had much higher hopes for them than I received.
The Debate Hosts/Creators— Grade: C+
While the moderators did a good job of stopping candidates who went overtime (so, like, all of them) and the camera people effectively juxtaposed debaters who were directly responding to each other, the entire debate was lackluster for the simple reason that there were far too many candidates on the stage. Only Eric Swalwell officially dropped out, and he was replaced by Steve Bullock. The bar for qualification was set far too low, and it really detracted from the serious candidates’ analysis.
What about the candidates themselves? Here we go.
Elizabeth Warren: A+
I cannot overstate Elizabeth Warren’s talent as a debater. I disagree with her on several key policy points, but every time, she manages to make me think, if just for a second, that she’s there for me and my interests. She honestly has the whole package on stage: she plays up the emotions, but has real plans. I can’t remember a single question she didn’t answer with “I have a comprehensive plan for this.” This made her credible when she attacked candidates for always criticizing progressivism instead of advocating for their own plans. Warren is definitely too far left for me as I don’t support mandating government healthcare for all or free college, but every time she speaks, I listen.
Pete Buttigieg: A-
Buttigieg held his ground, and to a degree, that’s all you can ask. He remains the most
successful moderate, outside of Joe Biden, and has the remarkable ability to push the party left while not alienating people. His plan to decriminalize immigration, for example, is pretty radical, but it didn’t come across that way on the stage. I can’t think of anything Buttigieg did badly, and
he played his major weakness (his age) very well. As a young millenial myself, I really identified with Buttigieg when he spoke of growing up in the era of school shootings, to give an example.
Turning his greatest weakness into a strength gets high marks from me. On the other hand, he wasn’t all that interesting and fresh, so no A or A+ there.
John Delaney: B+ (most improved for sure!)
John Delaney really, really surprised me last night. I was not a fan of him at all in the first debate, and he came back with a vengeance in this debate. The first debate, he was a sad sack, definitely the less interesting moderate candidate. Last night, he fought for his time, and didn’t let the more progressive candidates bully him into silence. He grounded his ideas in financial responsibility, and I think cemented his status as the conservative Democratic candidate. I watched the debate with a more blue dog relative, who kept saying “I like this guy!”
These candidates were, to me the Top 4 by far. Everyone else was forgettable or infamous.
Let’s move on to our bottom 6:
Amy Klobuchar: B-
I really want to like Amy Klobuchar. She has comprehensive plans, she’s a powerful senator, she takes on Donald Trump, she should be the whole package. A few times when she spoke, I got that presidential vibe from her. Her stance and answer on the NRA was one of those. The problem is
that those times were few and far between. Klobuchar is experienced and powerful. She should, by all accounts be doing better. Yet, she wasn’t aggressive and faded into the background in the debate. I don’t see her bouncing back. She’s not bad… just nothing special in a race where you need to be.
Steve Bullock: C+
Before we start, I have to give Steve Bullock credit where credit is due: he sounds like a ski bum, and I’m kind of here for it. I could totally picture him getting off the mountain and being like “Stoked for the pow today duuuude.” He has a unique perspective as the Montana governor, and brought a fresh perspective in that sense. Despite being a newcomer, Bullock has a solid record in a very red state, and is better equipped for the gun issue at the very least than the
more progressive candidates. That said, I don’t see him overtaking the other moderates, and he’s not a fit at all for the more progressive wing. He also wasn’t confrontational, which is something that you absolutely need as a first-timer, and as one of the lower-tier candidates.
He’s not bad, and passes, but doesn’t go further.
Beto O’Rourke C+
Beto was okay. Yeah, that’s kind of it.
Alright, I’m joking, but in all seriousness, Beto didn’t push very hard last night. He has a lot to offer as a former representative from a border state, and I did like how he brought up Texas and its specific issues, but there aren’t many plans that are uniquely his. I can’t think of a single idea that was just Beto’s, that distinguishes him as a candidate. Warren, Buttigieg, Delaney, even Klobuchar, yep. I can. Beto seems right now like he deserves more political power, maybe as a VP pick or in Congress again, but not as the president.
John Hickenlooper: D+
Hickenlooper last night was like that kid that does the work grudgingly, and you pass him equally grudgingly. I was surprised he had the donors to be on stage, and he came across the debate’s Debbie Downer. He barely spoke, and when he did speak, it was to tell progressive candidates their plans wouldn’t work. He didn’t do anything egregious, but that’s hardly flying
colors. You don’t win elections on pessimism.
Unpopular opinion: Bernie absolutely bungled this debate. He had a ton of speaking time, and a ton of chances to do well, and he wasted them. Bernie came across as angry and ranting, eyes bulging out of his red face. Warren, on the other hand, had the same ideas, but was enthusiastic yet controlled. Warren has managed to steal Sanders’ plans and energy, making the choice between them seem obvious. Bernie maintains his socialist stance, while Warren takes his ideas but proudly declares herself a capitalist. Despite not being much younger than Warren, Bernie seemed old last night, a has-been rather than a to-be. If you’re progressive, and want Medicare for All, it’s unclear to me why you’d want Bernie over Elizabeth Warren. I know the pundits probably think Bernie did well last night, and maybe this is due to my disagreement with him, but I felt as though he spent far too much time taking potshots at the wealthy and far too little time distinguishing himself from Elizabeth Warren, who, frankly, is just a better debater.
Tim Ryan: D
Oh, no. Tim Ryan. I want to fail him, but I need to reserve that spot. Tim Ryan did not do well.
He nakedly appealed to unions and manufacturing, knowing full well that manufacturing is gone from the United States. He sought to cling to an old vision of America, one that Americans are just starting to heal from. Tim, you can’t bring the jobs back. Trump thought he could, and we all knew better. Instead, Trump’s tariffs hurt Americans and their businesses. Ryan didn’t seem to be in the 21st century with his ideas, and so I think it’s time for him to drop out. He’s far too conservative for a Democrat, without the charm of some of the other blue dogs in the race.
Manufacturing is not coming back, Tim. The 1980s called and they want you back.
Marianne Williamson: F
So, we’ve finally arrived at the bottom of the podium, Marianne Williamson.
Williamson’s appearance onstage at this debate is a large part of my annoyance at the hosts. She has no political experience, and isn’t a serious candidate. They minimized her speaking time, sure, but
the time she did have was unadulterated idealism and inexperience. The phrase “dark psychic force” is fit for a fantasy novel, not a presidential debate. On immigration, she wanted to talk about chemicals and the pharmaceutical industry. Williamson stinks of pseudoscience, and it’s plain to see. She also is the only candidate who insists on discussing reparations, planning to give $500 billion to black Americans. How will she pay for this? Will struggling non-black taxpayers be content to just fork over their hard-earned money because of their ancestors’ (or other people’s ancestors’) misdeeds? Won’t other oppressed groups deserve money, too? I get Williamson’s heart is in the right place on this, but only a candidate with no political experience
could think this is workable. Only a candidate who thinks policy plans are “wonkiness” could think so. Williamson needs to be done.