Surya, Elaine, and Camille weigh in on the October 15, 2019 Democratic primary debates.
What We Liked
Surya: I can’t say this matched up to the last debate, but it was fun to have 12 candidates on stage at once. Many would have predicted this to be hectic, but it surprisingly worked out quite well. We got to hear different viewpoints with Gabbard and Steyer on stage, along with new clashes between different candidates. We also got to see more debate on some topics which often got blindsided. Overall, pretty good.
Elaine: This debate may have been less “fun” with the lack of cringe-worthy Spanish and snarky soundbites, but I enjoyed the clash and engagement on nitty-gritty policies from each candidate. I also think that CNN and NYT did a much better job of directly addressing many topics that have been neglected in past debates, such as automation, the opioid crisis, big tech and pharma companies, and abortion. Watching everyone go after Warren instead of Biden was also quite entertaining.
Camille: This was probably my favorite debate. Lots of clash. I liked that the Focus Candidate on this night was Warren. It was nice to see a different person in the spotlight; watching Biden stumble and gaffe in the previous debates made me wince. I thought that the focus on Warren made more candidates stand out, since her policies are much easier to contrast with because of their progressiveness. It was an exciting night.
What Was Not-So-Liked
Surya: Speaking time has always been an issue with these debates, but this time I took more fault with some blatant rudeness. Buttigieg and O’Rourke really went after each other, while some candidates were a bit disrespectful toward Warren. If Democrats really want to appeal to the majority of Americans, they shouldn’t be displaying such attitudes. Personally, I thought it was unproductive and disappointing.
Elaine: The distribution of speaking time was quite skewed, with Warren getting twenty-three minutes compared to Steyer’s seven. However, as primary debates go, this one went smoothly. However, I wasn’t a fan of the last question where candidates had to talk about an unlikely friendship that they have. It just didn’t seem like a productive use of time and didn’t give us any important answers that would inform voters’ choices.
Camille: They were unfair when it came to speaking time allocation, but this is typical of televised debates.
Surya: I felt bad for Biden for different reasons this debate; it seems like he was almost an afterthought. The last couple of times Biden was on the defensive, but this time he didn’t get to directly spar with anyone. It also is a poor show of strength to be asked about one’s fitness to serve and to answer with low energy. Although he avoided attacks, there wasn’t much attention on Biden this time.
Elaine: Compared to Biden’s past performances, this debate was a good one for him. He wasn’t under attack from all sides as he had been in the past three debates, and he didn’t have any big gaffes as he usually does. For the most part, his answers reaffirmed his moderate stance and didn’t help or hurt him. However, I didn’t like his trying to take credit for Warren’s role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Camille: Biden lucked out on this one. With the attention on Warren, he was able to lay low and avoid attacks from all sides. I thought that his responses to the question about his son were politically strategic insofar as they diverted attention away from himself and towards Donald Trump, but I saw through them as deflections. He did not directly address the question at hand. I must give him some credit though -- this is the first debate in which Biden didn’t have any major gaffes, like the record player comment from the previous debate. Biden will likely remain the top contender for the Democratic party.
Surya: Oof. Booker really looked weird saying that it was “wrong to move on” from the topic of impeachment. Not only did he come off as a nag, but it showed that he’d rather want to talk more about impeaching Trump rather than debate his policies on stage. Booker didn’t get much out of this debate; his only main message was that Democrats should unite, but that’s not enough to advertise himself as the right candidate for the job.
Elaine: Booker tried way too hard to get in a word, which, while understandable considering his low position in the polls, came off as annoying and desperate. None of his answers stuck with me, either; he was still the candidate with lofty values and no real policies. He hasn’t had a standout moment yet, and I fear it’s too late for his campaign at this point.
Camille: It was clear that Booker was looking for a breakout moment in this debate, especially in the beginning when he tried to insert himself by saying “it’s wrong to move on”, then being promptly disregarded by the moderator. Booker was one of the more positive candidates on stage, as he did not directly attack any of the other candidates. Although this was one of the better nights for Booker, he wasn’t able to give any defensive arguments and thus his success seems pretty much unchanged as of current.
Surya: Still not a fan of Buttigieg, but it’s undeniable that he did considerably better this time. In the past, I felt like he didn’t do enough to stand out as a voice of reason that blends progressive ideals and moderate policy. However, this time he got to directly contradict both Warren and other centrist-minded candidates, proving his uniqueness in the pack. Buttigieg delivered a passionate performance which really shined and should help him in the primaries.
Elaine: Buttigieg definitely won tonight’s debate. His attacks on Warren, O’Rourke, and Gabbard were well-delivered; he clearly pointed out the holes in their arguments without seeming petty or hostile. His answers on foreign policy in the Middle East and his calling out Warren and O’Rourke for not having real plans on healthcare and gun buybacks, respectively, were especially strong. He’s definitely continuing his steady increase in popularity.
Camille: In my opinion, Pete performed extraordinarily well tonight. His strategists were wise in advising him to attack Warren, who, as a progressive frontrunner, was easily contrastable with Pete. This is the most passion I’ve ever seen from Pete, with a particularly strong performance while talking about foreign policy and the Middle East. His attacks on Beto’s vagueness were solid, and I think that Pete will be seeing a rise in popularity.
Surya: Castro did a much better job this debate by choosing to be selective with his attacks and not coming off as overly aggressive. It was wise of him to consistently agree with other candidates’ proposals, and then go one step further to clarify nuances which were forgotten by others. However, while he was more poised this time, he kept repeating some zingers which got annoying.
Elaine: Castro didn’t speak much at all during the debate, and his few answers were unmemorable. We didn’t see the attacks on Biden or the strong immigration answers that we’re used to from him. However, I did enjoy his answer where he juxtaposed Trump’s pullout of troops in Syria and the resulting freedom of ISIS prisoners with the immigration crisis at the border.
Camille: Castro came off unnecessarily aggressive towards Biden in the last debate, and it was a good strategy for him to lay low on the attacks tonight. However, I do not think he had any breakout moments, with low speaking times and low impact statements.
Surya: Gabbard pulled a Bill de Blasio this debate and started asking other people questions rather than fully answer the ones she was asked. However, I found it nice to hear her call out everyone who had attempted to hinder her campaign. Gabbard is known for being the ‘veteran candidate,’ but this time we got to hear her focus more on domestic policy as well. It was definitely more interesting to have her on stage, but there wasn’t anything revelationary.
Elaine: Gabbard seemed overly aggressive to me when she directly called out the NYT and other media outlets for smearing her, especially since the NYT co-hosted this debate with CNN. Her debate with Buttigieg over pulling out troops from Syria exposed an interesting dynamic that we haven’t seen before. Overall, I think her performance was decent but not remarkable in any way.
Camille: Tulsi did a good job by calling out the media and how they smeared her as a Russian plant. I believe that she performed very well, but her comments on foreign policy were quickly swept to the side by Buttigieg’s “Respectfully, congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong.”
Surya: I almost forgot Kamala was on the stage. While she was the new star of the presidential race for a period of time, she’s been facing a sharp downturn. The only thing I remember from her this time was a brief clash with Warren that didn’t really amount to anything. Kamala simply flopped this time, and I doubt she’s in reach for the nomination anymore.
Elaine: Since the first debate, Harris’s popularity has been on a downward trend. I once saw her as a strong contender for the nomination, but she hasn’t been able to pull of the great debate performance that she needs to climb back up to her original position in the candidate field. This debate, for better or for worse, lacked the quick rebuttals that she is known for. I don’t see her candidacy going anywhere.
Camille: Ever since the first debate in which Kamala went for Biden’s throat, she has seen a heavy decline in the polls. I attribute this to her lack of a clear campaign message and persona. Tonight, I believe that she has focused her character slightly more. Her continuous references to being attorney general solidify her image as a mean, lean prosecutor who sees things as they are. Despite the crystallization on this night, Kamala failed to have a breakout moment. Perhaps her strategy is to lay low so that people forget her inability to defend against Tulsi’s attacks, but I don’t see this as a smart move since her popularity is rapidly declining and she needs a strong reason for voters to choose her over other candidates.
Surya: Wow. Klobuchar finally got the assertive energy she needed this entire campaign. She had the strongest attacks against Warren of all the candidates and did a much better job laying out how her policy proposals are supposedly superior to those of the progressives. I loved Klobuchar’s rhetoric as well, which made her appeal to a broader audience. Unfortunately for Klobuchar, however, it may be a little too late for her to gain traction.
Elaine: Klobuchar (and the moderate crowd in general) performed well this time around. Her attacks on Warren were successful and poignant, especially when she called her healthcare plan a “pipe dream.” I can see her gaining popularity after her solid performance.
Camille: Like Buttigieg, Klobuchar was wise in attacking the progressive frontrunner, Warren, in an effort to bring attention to herself and showcase her moderate stances. To be specific, when Klobuchar said “I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires — not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires”, this was a pretty powerful rhetorical point. Klobuchar has been teetering in the single digits, unable to get close to the frontrunners, but it will be interesting to see how this strong performance will affect her poll numbers.
Surya: Buttigieg literally took down Beto. Beto has been running as the gun violence candidate since the last debate, and in almost all of his town halls that he’s had since, an audience member has brought him down; this time, it was Mayor Pete. Buttigieg pointed out that Beto’s mandatory gun buyback would face implementation problems, is dangerous, is impossible to get passed in Congress, and is part of a platform that can’t stand against Donald Trump. I think it’s time O’Rourke should just give up. (It’s also weird hearing him say “My administration.” It just doesn’t fit.)
Elaine: O’Rourke should just drop out at this point. His polling is stagnant, his popularity is falling rapidly, and he hasn’t been able to have a memorable performance in any debate so far. I have nothing else to say.
Camille: Beto is quickly losing steam, and I question why he’s still running. His bold “Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15s” was called out and picked apart by other candidates, revealing that he’s all talk and no plan.
Surya: Bernie did surprisingly well tonight. Being able to have more energy than anyone else on the stage after a heart attack is definitely not what I expected from him. He even received praise from other candidates for his bravery, further bolstering his presence. Bernie also destroyed Biden, shaming his voting record in the Senate and his past actions as VP. And even better for him, he got the endorsement of “The Squad” in perfect timing. I can’t think of a single thing Bernie did wrong. Looks like Warren has some contest after all.
Elaine: I agree with Camille that Sanders is pretty consistent. During this debate, he stood unwaveringly in his Medicare for All stance and the rest of his progressive policies. I really appreciated that he acknowleged that his healthcare plan will raise taxes but lower costs for the middle class. He didn’t try to skirt around the issue like Warren. However, his answer to the question about his fitness for presidency, especially after his heart attack, didn’t convince me that he was healthy enough to be elected.
Camille: I’ve realized that I never have much to say about Bernie Sanders, and I’ve concluded that it’s because his message and performance remains relatively consistent. Bernie doesn’t have major gaffes and he’s incredibly straightforward. He recovered very well from the heart attack, even adding humor when he said “Are you suggesting I’m Vladimir Putin?” to Biden when he was gesturing at him, and “But I’m not on it tonight.” when talking about medical marijuana.
Surya: To quote my little sister, “Oh no! Not eye contact!” Steyer definitely wasn’t comfortable on stage, and that translated to him giving off a VERY uncomfortable vibe (especially with all that weird staring). Steyer came into this debate with a lack of energy in his campaign from the beginning, especially considering that he’s a billionaire, the Democrats’ favorite bad guy. Steyer has been openly desperate to get on stage, but his message is unclear and he failed to provide anything new that Americans should care about. Steyer only gained fame for his “Need to Impeach” campaign, but now that impeachment seems a likelihood, Steyer really hasn’t proven much he has to fight for.
Elaine: The amount of eye contact that he held genuinely made me uncomfortable. It felt like he was boring a hole into my brain and trying to manipulate me into voting for him. With the least speaking time, he remains a forgettable candidate with little substance in his answers. The dynamic on stage was also uncomfortable with most of the candidates supporting a wealth tax and his being a billionaire.
Camille: It seems like Steyer simply paid his way onto the debate stage, which I view as concerning. Steyer stared at the camera each time he spoke, instead of speaking to the crowd and moderators like the other polished politicians. I’m not sure if his campaign advisors told him to do this, but the fixated eye contact was certainly uncomfortable for me to watch. Aside from being the only billionaire on stage, Steyer did not stand out to me as someone who could provide any fresh ideas to the stage. I thought many of his points were normal Democratic talking points with no added flare or offensive arguments in favor of his campaign in particular.
Surya: Goodness Elizabeth, answer the question. Warren displayed classic politician behavior and dodged questions and statements, whether it came to commending Joe Biden for fighting on her behalf as VP or when she refused to claim that she would raise middle-class taxes. Surprisingly, she wasn’t a punching bag like Biden was last time, but rather, she arose as a master defender (except for jabs from Klobuchar and Yang) of her policy proposals. It was a strong performance, but it could have been stronger.
Elaine: Warren has a good shot at the nomination, and the other candidates certainly knew that. She had attacks coming from all sides, and in my opinion, she didn’t quite rise to the occasion. Her performance wasn’t horrible, but for a candidate who is consistently a star in these debates, she let a lot of people down. Her refusal to admit that she would raise taxes on the middle class annoyed me to no end, and she seemed unable to answer the specific policy questions that Klobuchar and Buttigieg threw at her.
Camille: I was shocked on October 8 to see that Elizabeth Warren had finally surpassed Biden in the polls, according to Real Clear Politics. Although this changed the day which immediately followed, it is clear that strategists on other campaigns viewed Warren as a threat. I believe that Warren dealt with the blows in a calculated manner, and her facial expressions and constant note-taking reminded me of her background as a high school debater. However, her inability to directly answer the healthcare question was detrimental, and more elaboration on her policies only helped more moderate candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg spotlight their more centered approaches.
Surya: Watching Andrew Yang unleash his inner 1992 debate skills and destroying Bernie and Warren on the issue of automation was perhaps the most exciting thing for me to watch. Yang pushed the Freedom Dividend as hard as he could, and it clearly rung true with his audience, gaining tons of Twitter followers again. What was even more outstanding was both Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard endorsing the idea of UBI alongside him, bringing the idea a traction that it didn’t have before. It was clear that Yang was one of the winners this time.
Elaine: Wow! Yang’s Freedom Dividend policy really got attention here. He engaged well with the questions and ably defended his version of universal basic income. I especially enjoyed his answer to the impeachment question, where he reminded the other candidates that Trump was elected for a reason, and just impeaching him would not resolve the underlying issues in American society. He warned candidates that impeachment may not be successful and encouraged them to focus on the issues at hand because “When we are talking about Donald Trump, we are losing to Donald Trump.” This was a great night for Yang.
Camille: Strong performance on Yang’s end. He was much more aggressive than he was in the previous debates, and I think this is the first time I really saw the High School Debater in him come out. Finally, the moderators are paying attention to Yang’s policies, and by making automation a topic of discussion, they showed that he has significant ideas. I see this debate as a win for Yang.