2020DemocraticPrimaries Debates DNC MSNBC Politics

Now THAT'S how you debate!

There’s nothing worse than a blockbuster upcoming movie that spends three months showing nonstop “teaser” ads touting the flick, and then you plunk down $12 only to realize that all of the exciting parts in the teaser ads were the best parts of the whole damn movie itself. Last night was put-up-or-shut-up time for the DNC and MSNBC after 2 months of constant hype over the opening 2020 Democratic debates, and the candidates delivered.

I thought the debate was great. The candidates were competent and passionate, the stage was well set up, having the candidates all walk out at one time avoided the embarrassing moment where Ben Carson had to wait for mommy to take his hand and walk him to the classroom door. I thought that the moderators did a good job, letting the candidates engage with each other at appropriate times, and then reining things in to stay on schedule. The candidates did a pretty good job of sticking to the 60 second time limit, and of breaking up and retreating to their own corners when ordered to do so. And surprise, surprise, there wasn’t a personal insult hurled all night.

Just a quick couple of things that I noticed generally before I do  short rundown on how some of the individual candidates performed. I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that the podiums were a little closer together for the Democratic debate than they were for the 10 candidate GOP debates of 2016. I think this was done to improve the camera angles to get more people in a shot, but it did have the practical effect of rather have the effect of “boxing everybody in” and invading everybody’s personal space at the same time. The moderators did their best to get everybody involved, but the disparity was still enough that DeBlasio and Delaney felt that interrupting was the only way to get oxygen. Tough noogies guys, poll better and you’ll get more time. Cory Booker and Beto O’Roarke suffered from a similar malady. Both of them are very active and emotional speakers, both like to prowl the stage and wave their arms, and both looked stiff and uncomfortable caged up behind the podiums for two hours last night. Now for the fun stiff.

To my mind Elizabeth Warren won the debate hands down, and she did it exactly the way I said she would a couple of days ago. Being the only top 5 candidate on stage, she ignored everything going on around her, and answered every question with a populist, progressive, detailed plan, leaving Bernie Sanders to try to reclaim the same ground 24 hours after Warren’s sound bites have dominated.

But she did something even more important. Her second question of the night was on the economy, and in her answer she pivoted like an all star center to the green economy, and how to dominate it, and in so doing, completely removed Jay Inslee from the debate by leaving him nothing to talk about.

Cory Booker did better than I thought he would, but not as well as he could have. Booker was active, well coached, and on point. He got in the fray and mixed it up, and came off looking good in doing so. The reason I thought that Booker could have done better is that Cory is a passionate guy, and while his face showed his intensity, his words were flat and monotonous. Elizabeth Warren has that skill of being able to make her voice tremble with emotion without raising it, if Cory can develop that same skill, he’ll be much more effective.

Beto O’Roarke just can’t seem to find his groove. He came well prepared, spoke well, had clear policies, but got his clock cleaned in rebuttals. O’Roarke looked woefully unprepared for the border issue, which was surprising considering the startling image that dominated the day, and he paid for it. Worst of all, at least twice last night, once with Cory Booker, and once with Julian Castro, Beto’s response to a return volley was to lower his head, and nod sadly, ceding the point. No matter how badly you’re faring, you can never cede the point like that.

To my mind, Julian Castro over performed the most last night, and likely did himself the most good among the second tier candidates. Castro came loaded for bear, with short, sharp points on most every issue, and limited his engagements to points he felt confident he could win. Julian came in last night with one clear target, and it wasn’t Elizabeth Warren, it was Beto O’Roarke. Castro wanted to stake the ground as the Texan with the best chance to flip that state blue, and it looked to me like mission accomplished.

Amy Klobuchar did what she needed to do last night, she got her “Kodak Moment” at the expense of Jay Inslee, when she put a bayonet in his overstuffed “I am the only one here” balloon by telling him that there were three women on the stage who had been down in the trenches for women’s reproductive rights too. That feisty kind of response to a male competitor was just what she needed, as was her reminder that she won districts in her state that Trump carried by 20 points. But Klobuchar has a problem. She leans on her non confrontational, down home, folksy manner, and in a world where the ultimate objective is to beat Trump, I fear that image comes off as being childs play for Trump to beat in a general election debate.

Tim Ryan was nothing more than an unadulterated pain in the ass. I hope he likes running the rest of his campaign solely on $20 donations from Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and the other rust belt states, because he flipped the bird to almost all of the other states as being the “elitist” part of the problem. I have no problem with Ryan’s scrappy fight for attention for places like Dayton, but it can’t come at the expense of everywhere else.

Jay Inslee was a fish out of water. When Elizabeth Warren pulled the green energy rug out from under him, she left him basically repeating her talking points. And while it’s expected that every candidate will promote their successes, Inslee’s “I am the only one on this stage who” shtick came off as pompous, arrogant, and condescending, and he paid a dear price for it when Klobuchar laid a rhetorical 2/4 upside his head. Inslee did get the biggest response of the night though, when he responded to the question of “What is the greatest geopolitical threat facing the United States?” wi the two simple words “Donald Trump.”

Tulsi Gabbard didn’t hurt herself last night, but she didn’t do anything to boost her prospects either. To my eye, she leans a bit too heavily on her military experience. In her opening answer, after touting her military service, it seemed to me like she paused for applause that never came in recognition, and it threw her off. Personally, I am in agreement with her basic stance on our military intervention, but she really seemed to struggle with questions and issues that she couldn’t wrap into a military intervention concept somehow.

Bill DeBlasio had the kind of night that made me wonder why New Yorkers are so dead set against him running for president, mainly because it gets him out of New York and gives them a much needed break. DeBlasio did everything in his power to be the Democratic debates version of Donald Trump, and it didn’t play very well. In the post game wrap up, Donnie Deutsch actually said that DeBlasio impressed him because he “broke through.” So does a guy sitting seven rows behind you on the bus who yells into his cell phone, but that doesn’t make you want to to vote for him, it makes you want to jam that phone up his ass, and then dial him up to see his face when the damn thing starts to vibrate. DeBlasio’s only human moment last night was when he spoke movingly about the pain of being a white father having to have “the talk” to his son about dealing with the police.

John Delaney is lucky that he’s mostly bald, because if he had hair on his head, it would have been on fire last night. Delaney was almost completely ignored, and he didn’t help his own cause. He consistently waited until the moderators were restoring order before trying to jump in, and then got pissed off when they shut him down. When he did get the rare chance to speak, his grievance with the whole thing was clear in his voice and expression. But what did he expect? When your opening answer pisses all over everybody else’s plans as being pie-in-the-sky and unrealistic, without presenting any concrete solutions yourself, don’t expect to be called on very often.

That’s everybody, in a nutshell. There was one thing that I did notice. While every candidate did have an opinion, and most some kind of plan, all of the candidates seemed to struggle mightily with the question of gun control where school shootings are concerned. They all had answers when it came to guns in general, but semed almost stumped by the subject of Parkland. With the activism of the youth vote, that is an issue I think they’re all going to have to bone up on, and come up with a better response for.