This article is slightly liberally biased.
The second Democratic debate is officially over, and I have to say that last night was a huge surprise, but also a huge disappointment. Candidates that last time failed to deliver were some of the leaders, and some of the expected frontrunners stumbled, and nearly fell. Here’s an analysis of the second Democratic debate.
Tulsi Gabbard: A-
Gabbard, in my opinion was one of the best of the night, but she triumphed over a field that was, honestly, not so impressive. As the debate devolved into attacks on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Gabbard took her shot at Harris, then stepped back and promoted her own unique qualities. She appeared concerned and motivated, but not mean. While I’m certainly not 100 percent in agreement with her, Gabbard was really the only lower-tier candidate able to successfully use this debate as a way to strengthen her identity, rather than fading into the crowd.
Cory Booker: B+
Compared to the last debate, Booker was definitely most improved. He took aim at Joe Biden for his stance on crime, and past support of crime bills, while carving out his own niche as one of the top candidates on criminal justice. I’m not sure if Booker’s performance last night can completely overcome his abysmal performance in the previous debate, though, as first impressions are important. Booker may end up being seen as merely a foil to Biden instead of a strong candidate in his own right, keeping him out of the A range. He also failed to adequately put down criticisms of his own record, and in my opinion, fell into the trap of criticizing others (Trump and Biden) more than he should have.
Jay Inslee: B+
Jay Inslee remains one of my favorite candidates because of his positions on my key issues, but while he defended those issues well, he remains a one-note candidate. It almost feels as though Jay Inslee is running for president to raise awareness about the environment, rather than to govern. He’s more versatile than someone like Yang by far, and overall put on a good showing at the debate, but misses the A range by continuing to be marginalized as a lower-tier one issue candidate. Inslee had a solid performance, and has distinguished himself as unique, but for the non-greenies out there, remains a lukewarm choice.
Bill DeBlasio: B
DeBlasio was more substantive this time, and successfully undermined Joe Biden as America’s favorite. He did make remarks meant to showcase his record, but still has at least one major scandal to grapple with: the death of Eric Garner. This is quite obviously troubling, as even as a low-tier candidate, DeBlasio was called out on his record. So, while he did fine last night, if he rises in favor as a potential nominee, he’ll need to learn to handle personal criticisms on his record in New York, as well or better than he did DeBlasio has been all offense, all the time. This is working for him, but he can only rise so far before he’s forced to play defense too, as we saw last night.
Michael Bennet: B-
Another day, another Western moderate. Michael Bennet is eerily similar to John Hickenlooper, and to an extent, Steve Bullock, and last night didn’t really change that perception. While he served as a good foil to Medicare for All, and certainly handled the immigration questions the best of all the moderates, Bennet’s substance is forgettable. With this many candidates in the race, it’s absolutely critical for low-tier candidates to be unique and convince voters why to vote for them specifically, rather than just why not to vote for Sanders or Biden. Bennet didn’t make any mistakes, but I feel like all I know is what he doesn’t believe in, not what he does.
Andrew Yang: B-
Of the unqualified candidates in the race, Yang is by far the strongest and the smartest. However, he can never really rise above the “slightly above average” level of B-. Why not? Well, what if that “1,000 dollars for every American” doesn’t get through Congress? Without universal basic income (UBI), who is Andrew Yang? Every time he spoke, every question, it could be solved by “1,000 dollars for every American.” Don’t think UBI is the dream deal? There goes Yang. A candidate needs to be more than one policy, particularly when that candidate has no experience of implementing said policy anywhere but in his mind. I like Yang. I think he’s smart, and could absolutely have a future in politics, just not as president, and certainly not with only one idea. I wanted him off the stage last time, and I still do.
Kamala Harris: C+
Oof. Kamala Harris, I had such high hopes for you. Harris didn’t do extremely badly, per se, but compared to her last debate, she bombed hard. When asked to pay for her plans (something the moderators should really ask about more), or severely criticized on her record, she dodged the questions. Tulsi Gabbard aggressively rebuked Harris for her zeal as a prosecutor, which Harris only answered in regards to the death penalty, not in regards to incarceration. This goes against the entire image Harris has tried to paint for herself as a candidate, and so she now is in danger of falling into the trap of being hypocritical and simply a passionate mouthpiece rather than a serious candidate. Harris certainly has made good plans, and she is still as assertive as ever, but without the substance to back her up, she risks being seen as all talk and no substance. We’ll have to see in the next debate how Harris handles attacks, because the attacks will keep coming.
Kirsten Gillibrand: C
Gillibrand also falls into the unfortunate “snoozefest” category that has crippled so many of the lower-tier candidates. If Gillibrand had the support of, say, Harris or Pete Buttigieg, she would have done fine. Sadly, she doesn’t. I don’t think there’s anything that Kirsten Gillibrand said last night that was any different from what she said in June. There’s no reason to support her now that there wasn’t then.
Julian Castro: C
Castro was like Gillibrand, solidly average. In a traditional grading system, C is reserved for students that meet the requirements of the assignment and stop there. Like Gillibrand, in today’s grade inflated classrooms, he’d get an A, but in a field of 20, he does not. His revolutionary idea to decriminalize immigration? Oops, everyone else jumped on that idea already. He got shut out of most of the major discussions, and allowed candidates like Harris to steal his thunder. If Castro wants to stay in, he’s got an uphill battle.
Joe Biden: D+
Last but not least, we have our dear Uncle Joe. Outside of the debate arena, Biden is pretty cool. Inside, he got creamed. Biden’s biggest talking point has been that he is the continuation of President Barack Obama. If we liked something about Obama, we’ll like it about Biden. That approach has taken him far, but as we all knew would happen, put him to the fire when Obama was criticized. When Biden was criticized for Obama’s deportations, he punted, insisting it wasn’t his call. Cory Booker then correctly pointed out that Biden has tried to have it both ways with Obama, a big hit that has the potential to sink Joe Biden. He appeared last night, as a relic of the past: someone who clings onto unpopular positions not because he believes in them, but because his whole campaign depends on his connection to Obama. Add on Biden’s age, and he appears as too old and out of touch. Biden was unprepared to be grilled by DeBlasio on his support for “tough on crime” policy, another area where he’s almost forced into silence or hypocrisy. Uncle Joe may be leading, but another bad debate like this could really put him under.