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Dem Debates Round 5: Dull and Dazed?

The November 20 Democratic primary debate was particularly dry and monotonous, but Camille, Abigail, and Elaine are here to break it down for you.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

What We Liked

Camille: I didn’t like this debate.

Abigail: The audience was lowkey dry and I thought that was funny.

Elaine: I liked the comments under the recording of the debate that MSNBC posted on YouTube. A few good ones: “For people who can’t afford the 2 hours, below is a summary of the debate: Thank you Senator Warren. Back to you Senator Warren.” “Booker is the curly fry found randomly at the bottom when you order regular.” “Took me like 40 minutes to realize that this isn’t the SNL parody.” “When did Vin Diesel turn to politics.” And my personal favorite: “OMG, Steyer does not blink! SNL was not lying lol!” I also liked Steyer’s red plaid tie, a rare fashionista in the world of politics.

What Was Not-So-Liked

Camille: This was perhaps the most boring debate of the election cycle. There were no significant moments of heated clash, which is literally the point of a debate. It seemed like most of the candidates were running for VP instead of President, and should just drop out now. Furthermore, MSNBC is extremely biased in the questions that are asked. They clearly favor candidates like Warren, asking questions that allow her to elaborate on policy proposals, but they ask candidates like Yang narrow, clownish questions such as “what would you say on your first call to Putin?”

Abigail: MSNBC needs to be more equal in the amount of time they allow each candidate to speak. Yang, Steyer, Gabbard, and Klobuchar were largely ignored in the first thirty minutes of the debate, despite some polling higher than candidates such as Booker and Harris. There’s a certain level of responsibility media outlets must carry when they’re part of the facilitation of the democratic process; MSNBC isn’t fulfilling that responsibility.

Elaine: I agree with what Camille and Abigail have said; the lack of real policy debate made the debate dry and unengaging, and it seemed like all of the candidates were just trying to make blanket statements about why they should be elected rather than explaining the nuances of the policies that make them unique. In addition, MSNBC can’t seem to run a fair debate, seeing as about half of the candidates went completely ignored during the first half-hour of the debate. Many of the questions posed by the moderators weren’t substantive and didn’t dig at important policy differences between the candidates.

Joe Biden

Camille: Full disclosure: I am not a Biden fan. Biden’s gaffes make me cringe in every single debate. This debate was not immune to his inability to speak fluently and purposefully. From the moment he literally did not know where his thought was going: “Let's start talking civilly to people and treating – you know, the next president starts tweeting should – anyway” to the moment when he talked about violence against women by saying we should keep “punching at it and punching at it and punching at it.” Another notable moment is when he said that he was supported by the “only African American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate.” Although he insisted that he had said the “first” black female senator, he was wrong. With all of this said, I believe Biden could have redeemed himself with a laugh or acknowledgment that he understood what was going on in the room, but he continued as if nothing had changed since his statement. Finally, his closing statement was uncomfortable to watch. I understand that it was supposed to be inspiring, about standing up for American values and actively creating change, but the delivery was poor and awkward. The repetition and yelling were like that of a crazy old uncle.

Abigail: Biden’s performance in this debate was probably the worst of them all. Not only did he come off as incoherent and almost senile, he also lacked the traditional “patriot spark” viewers are used to seeing from him. I also didn’t hear many policy proposals from Biden; he acts like he’s the only option for voters, but doesn’t actually offer anything of substance. Additionally, I feel that his high percentage of voters comes from the Obama era, and his appeal to them is rapidly deteriorating. I don’t expect Biden to be the frontrunner any longer.

Elaine: Joe Biden’s time to bid for president has passed. He’s too old, and he’s lost his ability to make something out of nothing during these debates. None of his answers had any substance or policies, and the incredible number of gaffes just made me cringe. He’d lose his train of thought in the middle of an answer, or he’d make mistakes where he said that only one black female senator has been elected, or saying “Blafrican Americans” when he began to say blacks but then tried to switch to African Americans in the middle. I’m honestly sick of his trying to latch onto the Obama legacy all the way into the Oval Office.

Elizabeth Warren

Camille: It seems like the Warren hype is over. Candidates did not come for Warren as they did in the previous debate, and she did not have any standout moments. I don’t have any huge takeaways from her performance tonight.

Abigail: Warren had every question spoon-fed to her yet still failed to create her usual breakout moment. She more or less rambled about healthcare and didn’t shine a brighter light on her more interesting policies (ex. antitrust on tech giants). Although this may have just been the tone of the entire debate last night, I do want to see Warren bounce back with more energetic moments.

Elaine: I’m not the biggest Warren fan but I don’t strongly dislike her either. In the past four debates, she’s generally done pretty well, and her numbers have steadily grown, which have been reflected in the other candidates’ attacks on her. During this debate, even though the moderators heavily favored her and kept calling on her to respond, she didn’t say anything memorable or anything horrible that would hurt her.

Bernie Sanders

Camille: I actually appreciate Bernie’s humor in these debates, from “Thank you. I wrote the damn bill.” and “But other than that, you like him.” in response to Biden’s comment about Kim Jong-Un. Bernie is consistent with his strong performance; he’s rarely ever directly attacked and rarely ever attacks others.

Abigail: Although I commend Bernie for relieving the audience of a completely dry debate, it seems as if he strayed away from actually answering the questions directed towards him. Judging from past debates, moderators are usually eager to bring attention to the holes or downsides of his policies. He needs to address these issues instead of avoiding them and reassure voters he’s transparent. Overall, I think Bernie is one of the few candidates that holds the viewers' attention while he’s making a statement.

Elaine: I’m not a big Bernie fan, but I wish I had seen more of him during this debate. His faith and, at times, stubbornness when it comes to his policies make the debates way more interesting and in-depth. I miss the clash that Bernie always creates.

Pete Buttigieg

Camille: I’ve always had a bias in favor of Pete, up until this debate. His spar with Gabbard was immature, as he called her out for mischaracterizing his quote about sending troops into Mexico to fight cartels, then mischaracterized her attack as “invading Mexico”. I was also displeased with his attack on Gabbard for meeting with dictators – instead of actually engaging in a discussion with her about whether meeting with dictators enables their legitimacy or furthers international diplomacy, he responded to her by saying “and Trump met with Kim” under his breath. Something else that stood out to me was his response to Klobuchar on the question of experience. I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying that argument that mayoral experience is sufficient to lead the entire United States of America. Pete has been getting by because he speaks in paragraph form and has a fancy resume for his age, but intuitively, I think most voters understand that filling potholes is not the equivalent of passing bills and bringing congressmen and American people together. I don’t view Pete as genuine in his intentions – he seems like a young boy who has always dreamed of being President and will do anything to get there. Rather than bringing up unique issues like Yang (ex. automation) as a justification for his unlikely entry, he uses vague, feel-good phrases which will ultimately bring nothing new to the table.

Abigail: Pete wasted too much time engaging in blows at the other candidates, which was especially unstrategic since much of this debate emphasized the ability to unify the party. One of his biggest weaknesses is the lack of experience he has, which puts him at fourth in the polls. It would have been a much better use of time for him to reassure Americans that he’s capable of leading the country without creating an immature ruckus on stage. Pete is well-liked by voters because of his well-mannered persona, but his performance in this debate undermined his unique appeal.

Elaine: Like Camille, I really liked Pete up until this debate. I thought he was an eloquent, fresh-faced moderate candidate who could unite the party. During this debate, though, I didn’t appreciate his attacks on the other candidates. They were low blows that didn’t actually address any policy issues. And while I didn’t like Klobuchar’s constant rehashing of her experience, I think she made an important point in that he simply lacks the legislative experience that many of the other Democratic candidates have.

Andrew Yang

Camille: I commend Yang for using his first speaking minutes complimenting a fellow candidate (when he commended Steyer for using his billionaire bucks to fight climate change). It’s clear that the establishment media has favorites, and given that Yang was not called on until 30 minutes in, he is not one of them. Yang brought up some issues I felt were heavily undercovered, such as the necessity to empower young boys into becoming strong men with purpose in order to prevent mass shootings or recruitment by hate groups. I found his closing statement about parents, children, and a better future for America to be emotionally compelling.

Abigail: Despite the media blackout Yang is facing, he still managed to make the most out of the 2-3 questions he was given. He brought up issues that made him almost more human than the other candidates, adding a sense of morality and emotional appeal that contrasted with the others on stage. I really hope voters can push media outlets to give him more time.

Elaine: With the six minutes that MSNBC gave him, Yang performed pretty well. I don’t know how he can get out of this media blackout, though, and I’m not sure how much farther he’ll make it in this race if he can’t get his name out there in these debates and expand his extremely devoted fan base. Hopefully, he can continue to bring up these important issues, like stopping gun violence at the root of the issue (the emotional health of young boys and the ability of hate groups to recruit them), dealing with automation, and empowering families through the Freedom Dividend.

Amy Klobuchar

Camille: Aside from the fact that she ate her salad with a comb when her assistant forgot to bring her a fork, Klobuchar has always been appealing to me because of her moderate stance. However, I don’t think she made a strong case for herself tonight. For one, she was physically shaking, and although this shouldn’t play a role in the question of electability, it was likely distracting to viewers. For another, her argument about winning in blue, purple, and red states holds no impact weight to me. Like, okay, you’ve won in the past. Why should you win now? It’s like if a football team went into a game and pointed out their past successful games as justification for their win. There are no independent reasons that she should win this election. Sure, it’s a reason that Trump would lose to her, but that’s a defensive argument, not an offensive one.

Abigail: I don’t think Klobuchar did extremely horrible, but she didn’t say anything stellar either. She lacked substance and failed to bring a new discussion to the stage, which was disappointing because she’s already struggling to be memorable. In addition, jumping into the argument about Pete’s experience wasn’t too strategic either. Although it gave her some screen time, there weren’t any other advantages.

Elaine: I thought that Klobuchar’s performance was pretty good at first, but by the end, I was tired of her relentless declarations about her experience and her subtle jabs at Buttigieg for not having any Washington experience. Although it’s a good point to bring up, repeating the same points over and over gets old. Besides, legislative success and experience is not a reason to vote for a presidential candidate.

Cory Booker

Camille: This might be my coastal elitism shining through, but I was actually really impressed to find out that Booker was a Rhodes scholar. This increased my respect for him. Booker is always passionate and positive in his debate performances, but this one, in particular, stood out to me because of his closing statement. I don’t know if this was planned or not, but when he said that he scrapped his planned closing statement to talk about John Lewis, civil rights icon, I found the statement much more compelling and emotionally appealing. Booker would be a good Vice President.

Abigail: I think Booker did exceptionally well in this debate compared to other candidates. He chose the right time to engage in clash, he stuck less to the “my community” narrative and more to a “my country” one, and he continued to maintain his usual passionate and energetic performance. Booker’s charisma really shone through on stage; I agree with Camille, he would make a good VP.

Elaine: Booker’s a great speaker, but I feel like his messages never quite get through to the audience. He seems a bit aloof and above everyone else. However, he did well tonight with his emotional closing statement and when he pushed Biden on legalizing marijuana, which made him rise above the Vice President when compared side by side to Biden’s gaffes.

Kamala Harris

Camille: Wow, Harris is a long way away from her first fiery debate performance. She was literally handed the opportunity to call out Buttigieg for his clear pandering to black voters – whether that be the development of the Douglass Plan at the convenient moment he was losing black poll support or the moment he incorrectly listed several black supporters from South Carolina. However, she stumbled when asked to criticize Buttigieg, and awkwardly changed the subject to a “bigger picture issue”. I also believe that her attack on Gabbard was 1) too little, too late, and 2) poorly defended. First, it seemed like she wanted a comeback from Gabbard’s attack three debates ago. Poor timing. Second, her argument that Tulsi criticized Obama and was not loyalty to the party directly feeds into Tulsi’s point that the Democratic Party is too preoccupied with party loyalty and Washington politics to actually have an open discussion. Harris should just drop out.

Abigail: A Harris nomination is becoming less and less of a possibility as the debates progress. She didn’t say anything particularly interesting in the two hours and also failed to make her usual power move. There were already arising issues with her campaign regarding her history as a prosecutor, and I’m suspecting that her performance in this debate won’t be any more beneficial for her run mainly because of her failed attempts to attack candidates such as Buttigieg and Gabbard, and her inability to come off as a unifying candidate.

Elaine: I agree with Camille’s analysis — after the first debate, I saw Harris a strong contender who was ready to challenge the others on real policy issues. She seemed like she had done her research and would continue to come out swinging. However, her debate performances have downgraded, and this most recent one certainly won’t help her. Her jab at Tulsi for criticizing the Democratic party made her seem like she advocates blind loyalty and partisanship. Harris’s bid is well over, and she should drop out.

Tulsi Gabbard

Camille: Although I thought Buttigieg’s and Harris’s attacks on Gabbard were poor, I didn’t think that Gabbard’s responses were stellar either. That is, she barely provided defensive arguments, let alone offensive. I thought that her closing statement started off unique with the word “aloha”, but when she talked about MLK and racial cooperation and integration, it seemed outdated. While we don’t live in perfect racial harmony, we also don’t live in a Jim Crow America with segregation.

Abigail: I agree with Elaine. Gabbard lacked a sense of relatability to voters at home and seemed too calculated in her responses. Although she didn’t say anything that could cost her the nomination, her performance didn’t boost her chances either. However, she did do a job defending herself from Harris’ and Buttigieg’s attacks about experience, albeit not a good job, a job nonetheless.

Elaine: Gabbard generally brings up good points when she is given time to speak, but something about her tone was off-putting. To be frank, she seems kind of cold and removed when she’s on the debate stage, and her message clearly isn’t being received any better by the public seeing as she didn’t make it to the last debate in October. I didn’t like her closing statement — the aloha part seemed cliche and unnatural.

Tom Steyer

Camille: Steyer looked noticeably more comfortable on stage – maybe he read the AYCE analysis of the previous debates (lmao) and saw our discomfort with his staring. However, I was still annoyed whenever Steyer spoke. I still have no idea how he got onto the debate stage, and I wanted to hear from the other candidates who had unique ideas and actual support. To me, Steyer seems like someone who’s always dreamed to be the POTUS but has no independent reason to become the POTUS.

Abigail: I’m actually glad Steyer was there to bring climate change into the discussion as it was largely ignored for the two hours of the debate. Although he’s still not a serious consideration when it comes to who gets the nomination, I’m glad he was added as a little wild card and spiced up the stage.

Elaine: Remind me how he got onto the debate stage? The strange eye contact didn’t bother me as much, and I did appreciate his emphasis on the climate crisis, but I didn’t hear any real policies from him, which has prevented me from taking him seriously at all. Can someone please just talk about policies already????


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