South Carolina Democratic Presidential Debate Review

South Carolina Democratic Presidential Debate Review


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With three primaries and caucuses out of the way, and so many important ones left to go, we met our candidates on the debate stage yet again. It was a messy debate last night, with no one respecting time limits and everyone devolving into argument. Because of the disarray, the debate felt very shallow. There definitely needs to be a solution to keep everyone on time and on topic in the future. Maybe use buzzers next time? 

Before I review the candidates’ performances, I’d  also like to encourage everyone to register to vote, if you haven’t done so already. It may be too late to register for the primaries depending on your state, but it’s crucial that voter turnout be high in the general election too– so get on it! With that out of the way, let’s see which candidates had good debate performances leading into Super Tuesday. Ranked from best to worst, here they are:

Elizabeth Warren: This debate was a return to the earlier strong performances expected from Elizabeth Warren. She was on top of her plans, but not boring or forgettable. Warren is a serious candidate that her occasional attacks fit in smoothly with her policy ideas, which she was the only candidate to really explore in detail. We got to hear a good description of her plan for her Secretary of Education, a depth that was missing from the debate as a whole. Warren launched into Michael Bloomberg for his behavior towards female employees, and  as a whole she appeared passionate while Bloomberg came off as dismissive. I’m not usually the biggest fan of aggressive attacks in debates, but Warren almost earned it by sticking to her policy focus. Warren needs to get more support to have a shot at the nomination, so hopefully her debating skills will carry her to a stronger showing on Super Tuesday.

Bernie Sanders: I’ll finally admit it: Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. He acted like it on the debate stage, and was able to deflect the many attacks directed at him. The thing is, most of the lines of argument against Bernie have been litigated during the debates so many times, whether it’s Medicare for All or Bernie Sanders’s progressive bent in general. The two new points against him, his divisiveness and his comments about authoritarian socialists weren’t really pushed as hard as I would have expected. Bernie has the perfect defense for his divisiveness (he’s winning and converting new voters), and nobody really pushed hard on his past support of the Cuban and Nicaraguan dictators. I think those could be issues for him in the general election, but he was able to push them aside in the debate. I won’t be voting Bernie in the primary, but I do have to commend his debating once again. 

Pete Buttigieg: I thought Pete Buttigieg did fairly well last night, partially because the focus wasn’t really on him. He cruised, and didn’t make any mistakes. Yes, Buttigieg went after Bernie Sanders, portraying him as a radical revolutionary, but like Warren, his entire performance wasn’t about attacks. He was able to bring in his military experience without pandering, and sounded competent overall. While I found Buttigieg a little boring last night, I wouldn’t say he did a bad job. 

Joe Biden: I honestly am a bit stumped by where to put Joe Biden. His debate had great moments and yet more of the same missteps we’ve all come to expect. I liked his concrete use of the Obama legacy, and his confidence about his impending victory in South Carolina. This Joe Biden was more confident, more aggressive, and demanded speaking time that he doesn’t usually get. At the same time, we had another huge factual error, and more of the tripping over the words that makes Biden seem ancient. Sorry Joe, but 150 million gun deaths would be half of the US population! I know Joe Biden has been making these slips his entire life, but mental mistakes are a bigger deal when you’re 78 and trying to look younger. I’m curious as to whether Biden will actually take South Carolina, and that may change how his debate performance appears in hindsight. 

Amy Klobuchar:  I really hate to say it: this was not the night for Amy Klobuchar.  She said a misconception about her was that she’s boring, and, well, she was kind of boring at the debate. If you’re a candidate people forget about, you have to be less forgettable. Everything that came out of Klobuchar’s mouth during the debate felt like a practiced platitude rather than an exciting speech. I know Klobuchar can do better, and she just flopped. All of her responses made me think “Yeah, yeah, we know, Amy.” Honestly, her performance reminded me a lot of the old Joe Biden debate performances where you were really hoping for energy that just didn’t happen. Part of this was an issue with speaking time, but Klobuchar had plenty of chances. I think the issue is that a unity message falls flat on a debate stage where everyone is arguing and a practicality message falls flat in a debate that doesn’t dive deep into policy. I hope Amy Klobuchar stays in the race, but I wish she had given herself a better debate showing before so many primaries. 

Michael Bloomberg: Granted, I didn’t get to see the last debate with Bloomberg’s debut, but it seems like debates are not really his thing. He had some strong attacks on Bernie Sanders, calling him ripe for Russian interference, but he seemed fairly dismissive of the more serious issues leveled against him. WIth every issue put forward to him, be it the complaints from ex-employees, his record on stop-and-frisk, or his tax returns, he had this very flippant attitude that just irritated me. As a candidate who is not participating in the primaries as a traditional candidate and as someone who is only recently a Democrat, Bloomberg’s attitude of “yeah, not a big deal” solidified my impression of him as an elitist. Bloomberg also differed from even the most moderate of the field in a few key ways. His opposition to marijuana legalization and his past donations to a pro-life candidate gave him a Tulsi Gabbard-like feel, that he was abusing the Democratic ticket for his own gain. Michael Bloomberg may be a good businessman, but he’s not a good debater.

Tom Steyer: Someone remind me, why is Tom Steyer still in the race? Nevada didn’t go well for him, and I don’t think South Carolina will either. Steyer doesn’t really have any of his own ideas, and is more of a foil for candidates like Biden or Bloomberg than anything else. Off the top of my head, the only Steyer idea I can think of at the moment is providing reparations, an idea that is a little too close to pandering to South Carolina’s black population. Even the ideas Steyer claims credit for, like climate change and impeaching Trump are fairly popular across all of the candidates. Steyer’s always a counterpunch and never anything by himself. It’s time for him to go.   

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