Who Won the October 2019 Democratic Debate?
Though I am ideologically opposed to nearly everything the Democratic Party currently stands for, I am very interested in this particular primary because the dynamics that drive the politics in this election cycle are different from what they have been in my lifetime. Though I have disagreements with these candidates, I will be looking at their performance within the context of how well I think it will benefit them in the Democratic primary going forward.
This was a record-setting debate, with 12 candidates taking the stage and vying for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in the general election. This debate had more fireworks than the other 2020 Democratic debates so far. A few new issues have surfaced since the last debate, such as new revelations about Hunter Biden's role in a Ukrainian gas company and Donald Trump's impeachment.
In this debate, there were more attacks on one another than in previous debates. This dynamic is typical in a political cycle. In the first few debates, most candidates choose to play it safe, but as the cycle goes on, those who poll lower start looking to stand out, and front runners become frequent targets. In this article, we will be looking at the winners and losers of this debate. There was one loser in particular whose campaign was effectively ended with this debate, and he will be discussed last.
Warren fumbled the question on how she would pay for all of her plans, but despite all of the attacks from at least seven of the candidates on stage, she was able to deliver a very strong performance and rarely became frazzled. The issue of how to pay for large government programs is rarely a concern for the far left, anyway. She is running a positive and issue-oriented campaign, and this is helping her.
Despite fumbling the question of how her plans would be paid for, she came across as passionate, compassionate, and engaged throughout the rest of the debate, and she effectively deflected attacks from her rivals. When the issue of age came up, the moderators mentioned Elizabeth Warren is 70 years old. Let's be honest, she looks nowhere near 70 years old. This is a testament to her vibrancy. Despite the one large misstep, she did very well for the rest of the night. Her performance tonight was befitting of a front-runner.
This was certainly his strongest performance. He is a legitimate alternative to Biden, and in terms of charisma, he is a stronger candidate than Biden. His biggest problem concerning electability is that he is gay (whether people like to admit it or not). He might have effectively ruined Beto O'Rourke's campaign when he zinged him on gun control (Beto's strongest issue for starting a Democratic movement under his campaign). His line, "I don't need lessons on courage from you," which was directed at Beto O'Rourke, was the line of the night. When Biden inevitably falls, Buttigieg may become the moderate alternative.
Sanders gave a very strong and fiery performance, which is particularly impressive considering that he recently had a heart attack (and that he is currently 78 years old). He was passionate in his delivery, and with him recently having a heart attack, even an average performance would be considered a win. This debate would have helped Bernie Sanders more if Warren did not have such a strong performance.
He did not answer the question about his health except for with something along the lines of, "I'm fine." He started talking about upcoming events for his campaign and reiterating his message. Some younger candidates also stood up for the older candidates on stage when the issue of health was brought up by highlighting the age and health of Donald Trump. Consider this bullet dodged.
Tulsi Gabbard has struggled to gain traction due to lack of exposure. She is a very likable candidate, and because of this, any exposure she can get is a win. She and Buttigieg had a very interesting exchange concerning military involvement in Syria (which I think she lost). When she was permitted to speak, she spoke eloquently and it is evident that she is an intelligent woman. Though Buttigieg got the better of her in one exchange, she acquitted herself very well in other exchanges.
Yang is a candidate that is ahead of his time. He understands the issues that automation will cause, and last night's debate shows that his unlikely candidacy has brought attention to the issue of automation in the Democratic Party.
When Joe Biden announced his candidacy, I told everyone that he had no chance of beating Donald Trump and he only had a slim chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Why? Because he is uninspiring and he is boring. Every time he has ran for President (this is the third time), his poll numbers have gone in only one direction—down.
He dodged the question that everyone knew he would be asked, "Why did you allow your son, Hunter Biden, to sit on the board of a foreign company while you were Vice President?" Biden's response was, "My son's statement speaks for itself," and "I'm proud of my son's decision," despite the fact that his son said that his choosing to sit on the board of a foreign company was a mistake. In essence, Biden's sentiment toward the issue contradicted his son's statement concerning his sitting on the board.
When age came up, he said that age gives him wisdom so he views it as an asset. This would be a satisfactory answer if Biden did not make a habit of putting his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. The rest of his debate performance was solid, but it was lackluster. Donald Trump calls Joe Biden "Creepy Joe," but the name, "Boring Joe Biden" would probably be better suited for him (and it rolls off the tongue better).
They say that first impressions matter. When you do not start out as the front-runner, consistency is key. One only need look at Elizabeth Warren as an example. Kamala Harris had a very strong moment in the first debate. Unfortunately, when you set the first impression by zinging the front runner, you set a very high bar for the rest of the election cycle.
Kamala Harris is a strong debater, and she has had consistency good debate performances. The problem is, one moment in the first debate was such a strong and perfect moment that people were likely disappointed that she has been unable to deliver that moment again. The moment where she zinged Biden was one of those moments where the "stars aligned." This isn't necessarily Harris' fault, but politics is a game where you must be consistent in your performance, and sometimes, a very good moment at the beginning of a campaign can make all of the other good moments you have come off as lackluster and make you look like a one-trick pony. This is what happened to Harris.
Corey Booker was apparently told to focus on Donald Trump and to be a voice of unification in the party. When a candidate starts decrying that they are arguing with one another during an event that is about arguing, you know that the candidate is not long for the election.
Corey Booker candidly sent an email out to supporters saying he needed to raise $1.7 million dollars within a week in order to stay in the campaign. Frankly, I would be surprised to see him in the next debate. The "let's unify and attack the enemy instead of contrasting our messages" approach never, ever, gets anyone elected. While such a debate strategy gets you applause, it has been shown time and again that the applause does not translate into votes. Booker delivered his remarks with a cheerful and optimistic disposition, but his performance was not near what was needed for that night.
Even though she had a good debate performance, and even though she made some good points when she went on the attack against Elizabeth Warren, if you ask anyone what Klobuchar's message is, most will not be able to tell you. Solid debate performances are not enough to get you to stand out in a crowded field. Unlike Tulsi Gabbard, who is well-rounded in delivering her message on a variety of issues, Klobuchar's strong delivery is limited to the issue of health care.
Castro is well-spoken, but he wasn't a prominent presence in the debate. This is not necessarily his fault since the moderators did not call on him very much. The line between respecting moderators and trying to get screen time is a delicate line to walk. Even so, when your poll numbers are as low as Castro's, you do not want to be standing in the background.
There was only one point where Tom Steyer's message was clear, "Let a real billionaire run against Donald Trump and show how much of a phony he is." This isn't a great message for him to run on. First, Steyer's net worth is an impressive $1.6 billion dollars, but Donald Trump's net worth is a more impressive $3.1 billion dollars. Steyer built his business by himself whereas Trump had help, but Trump's net worth has dropped since he became president. It would be easy for Trump to highlight this as a sacrifice he made for love of country.
Steyer also agreed with Sanders concerning the immorality of health inequality. Steyer didn't really stand out among the other candidates, and he did not get much screen time. His debate performance was not particularly strong (though he had one strong moment when he agreed with Bernie Sanders). This debate made one thing clear: Tom Steyer is a long-shot candidate. This was Steyer's first debate, and he didn't get started off on the right foot, but at the same time, he did not put his foot in his mouth either. He is in a good position to stay in the race until the next debate so all is not lost, yet.
The Biggest Loser
And now, we are left with the biggest loser, Beto O'Rourke. Beto O'Rourke rose to prominence when he ran a competitive race against Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. Through this race, he became a darling of the Democratic Party. If he had left it at that or aimed at lower offices, he could have had a very good start to a long-term political career. Instead, he decided to run for President.
Throughout his campaign, he did a number of bizarre things such as filming his dentist appointment while they were cleaning his teeth and apologizing for nearly everything he could think of. One might wonder why people didn't start calling him "Beta O'Rourke."
He found a little bit of traction in his campaign when he dropped an expletive over the El Paso shooting. He dropped the F-bomb when talking about how ridiculous these shootings are. It's true enough that these shootings are ridiculous and action must be taken. It is also clear that O'Rourke was encouraged by the positive response he received for dropping the F-bomb and saying, "Hell yes we are taking your guns." Since then he has been engaging in uttering hyperbolic platitudes. The latest example of this is when he suggested that churches that don't support LGBTQ rights should have their tax-exempt status taken away. This received pushback from candidates such as Pete Buttigieg (who is homosexual) and Elizabeth Warren (who gave a surprisingly strong rebuke).
This seemed to be working when it came to getting him attention, but yesterday, any sense of legitimacy regarding Beto O'Rourke's potential prospects for presidency, which was already a long-shot prospect, was dismantled by Pete Buttigieg. Beto O'Rourke clearly was bested in an exchange with Pete Buttigieg concerning Beto's number one issue: gun control.
Not only did he lose the exchange (particularly when he wouldn't say whether or not law enforcement would come to people's houses to take guns), he was manhandled by Buttigieg when Buttigieg, who is an Afghan U.S. Navy War Veteran, rebuked O'Rourke by saying, "I don't need lessons from you on courage—political or personal." Through the exchange with Buttigieg, O'Rourke's lack of planning concerning how assault weapons would be removed from the streets was effectively exposed.
At this point, the only thing that will keep O'Rourke in the race is the large amount of money he raised at the beginning of his candidacy. It will not last long, however, because O'Rourke's campaign has been spending money faster than they have been raising it. Beto may have a political career in a lower political office, but it is clear that he is not ready for the West Wing.