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Dem Debates Round 6: The Dauntless and the Defeated

The December 19 Democratic debates, which took place in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University after some controversy over threats of a labor union strike. Here, the AYCE board dives into what we found was one of the most enjoyable debates thus far. From our family to yours, happy holidays!

What We Liked:

Surya: I enjoyed seeing a greater amount of speaking time for some candidates like Yang and Klobuchar. I also liked the amount of rebuttal the moderators gave the candidates since there were fewer of them. It was good for the moderates to finally have more chance to hit back at the progressives this time, which is something I felt that the last debates lacked.

Camille: Four things. First: CLASH! I loved the conflict between Warren and Buttigieg, between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, between Biden and Bernie, and more. I saw a lot of competing ideas finally get debated (which is literally the purpose of these nights), which was very satisfying. Second: moderators. I liked the moderators a lot more than I had the previous debates, because their questions didn’t seem as biased and they hit the candidates hard on their weak spots. Third: speaking times. I loved the LACK of candidates. It seemed like everyone got their fair share of speaking time, and for once I felt like I could actually evaluate each candidate for what they stood for. Fourth: humor. I know that some of the board members thought the jokes were cringey, but I think this is the funniest debate I’ve ever watched.

Elaine: Like the other board members, I enjoyed hearing many more voices tonight. The moderators did a good job bringing in all of the candidates and holding them accountable for actually answering (or at least somewhat addressing) their questions.

Nikhil: The debate hosts actually gave all of the candidates more equal speaking time (Andrew Yang), instead of the entire debate focusing on the same argument between the same candidates. The past few debates have been the exact same dialogue over and over again. “Thank you, Senator Warren, now onto Bernie to talk about Medicare. Thanks, Bernie, now onto Biden to give us some extremely long anecdote about his time with Obama.” Even though the actual policy discussed in the debate wasn’t any different, at least I got to hear a few more voices.

What Was Not-So-Liked:

Surya: I really, really hate identity politics. And this debate showed us a lot of it. The moderators prompted topics on race and age, which, while important to talk about, can be very alienating to certain demographics of voters. The Democratic Party finds strength in its diversity but encouraging voting for someone based on the color of their skin or their age is simply not healthy for democracy. The same issue also comes up with all the “who receives the least billionaire donations” discussion pushed by Sanders, Warren, and Yang that targeted people like Buttigieg and Biden for taking contributions from wealthy people. Of course, it’s sensible to be against billionaires buying out elections and vying for top cabinet positions, but some candidates need to realize that not everyone has the resources to successfully run campaigns without them. Also: cringey jokes.

Camille: I lowkey didn’t like how the moderators cut off some of the spicy conflicts to move on, but I understood that there were 7 people on stage and there were bigger issues to discuss.

Elaine: I also didn’t enjoy the overemphasis on campaign donations. I definitely take issue with billionaires buying out campaigns and dark money controlling Washington, but having wealthy donors doesn’t automatically mean that Buttigieg is going to become a puppet of the elite. After all, a campaign needs funding to continue.

Nikhil: Everyone attacking Pete Buttigieg over the “wine cave.” The hypocrisy of the entire situation was a little annoying since the rest of the candidates act like they haven’t received high-value donations in the past. It’s not Buttigieg’s fault for wanting to win over the support of the ultra-wealthy. Even though in this election cycle, the “rich” are made out to be the enemy, they are still part of the electorate, and Buttigieg is just trying to get votes. In the beginning, I was fine with Warren pointing it out as one of her rehearsed one-liners, but after a certain point, it got old. We get it, Buttigieg wants votes and money. That’s not a mind-breaking announcement that anybody watching the debates actually cares about. They needed to get back to actual policy.

Joe Biden:

Surya: Biden did a better job in this debate without the frequent stuttering, but once again he didn’t have any sort of revelatory breakthrough to clearly establish him as the top of the pack; he still seems to lack energy or look to bring bought radical change in the White House. He did, however, establish that he can work across the aisle and get legislation passed with realistic goals, but he may have been outshined by fellow moderate Amy Klobuchar this night.

Camille: WOW! I can safely say that this is the first time I will be writing a review on Biden that does not involve gaffes. I kept waiting for it to happen, but Biden was clear and concise throughout the night. Although I could hear some repetition going on, his overall thought train was going in a consistent direction. I thought that this was Biden’s best night, and he really represented the moderate, I-Can-Beat-Trump stance that his campaign has been going for. I bet his campaign staff is relieved.

Elaine: I’m not the biggest Biden fan because his gaffes have just destroyed my respect for him as a candidate. However, I enjoyed his performance in this debate. He’s finally dialed back the Obama stories and refocused his answers on his ability to reach across the aisle and get things done as an individual, irrespective of the people around him. To me, he shone during this debate, even though he still had to have a slip-up when he couldn’t understand moderator Amna Nawaz when she correctly pronounced Afghanistan, albeit in a different accent than most Americans hear.

Nikhil: Finally, a half-decent debate for Joe Biden. After a series of stuttering performances, Biden was able to deliver a coherent message, especially on working together with Republicans. While every other candidate has the same rehearsed message about the necessity of bipartisanship, Biden was the only one that gave a coherent reason for why he could deliver on this promise. While Biden’s answers in the past have been focused on simply attempting to claim Obama’s success, this debate showed viewers the spark that people actually saw in him while he was VP. With Warren faltering, Buttigieg getting hammered at this debate, and Bernie not gaining any real momentum, this debate cemented Biden as the front-runner, for now.

Elizabeth Warren:

Surya: Warren was not good or bad this night, but she seemed a little arrogant sometimes. When she was given statistics from top economists on her tax plan and asked what she thought about it, she said, “They’re just wrong.” That’s neither professional nor a rebuttal of what reliable sources say. She also attacked Buttigieg for having fundraisers in wine caves with wealthy people, but she herself is a millionaire and has received contributions from wealthy donors in the past. Long story short, this wasn’t her best performance.

Camille: Warren fought a good fight, and I liked the way that she answered the question about forgiveness (which Klobuchar seemed to steal lol). I appreciated that she attacked Pete first, because I am not a huge Pete fan myself.

Elaine: Warren was pretty lukewarm during this debate. Buttigieg brought up a good point when he pointed out that she’s being hypocritical by calling out his “wine cave” meeting when she herself is a millionaire. I agree with Surya on the tax plan – you can’t just tell economists that they’re wrong. I felt like she was trying too hard to bring every question back to what she wants to talk about and drop some talking points here and there instead of actually engaging with policy questions and her fellow candidates. Her last answer about being too harsh at times did make me feel for her, though.

Nikhil: Warren didn’t do anything to stand out, but at the same time, she wasn’t terrible in this debate. Even though I don’t agree with most of what Warren says, I thought her position on the economy was the most coherent and detailed in the debate. She also stood out with her line about how she would be the youngest woman elected, but other than that, Warren was mostly just there. These positives from Warren were more or less canceled out by Buttigieg pointing out the mass level of hypocrisy involved with Warren calling him out. All in all, she didn’t do bad, she didn’t do good, but she’s still ahead of Bernie as the progressive Democrat.

Bernie Sanders:

Surya: Bernie is one of the most consistent candidates when it comes to energy and inspiring crowds. But this time… not so much. He had a couple of blunders on the discussion about his age, didn’t get many laughs for his jokes, and was called out by a moderator for dodging a question on race (which looked really bad). Bernie also didn’t clash with other candidates as much as he usually does, which often is one of his strengths since he’s good at debating.

Camille: I think that Bernie stayed on brand for this debate, but perhaps a little bit too on brand. I felt that for some of the answers, he didn’t actually answer the question, and instead turned to his talking points about wealth inequality. Unlike the other board members, I thought his callout on Buttigieg’s donors was funny, and so were some of his dad jokes.

Elaine: I didn’t enjoy Bernie’s answers during this debate. Nothing was memorable in a good way, and his answers on race were cringey. He tried to get around a race question by going back to the climate change topic, but the moderators called him out for it, and he tried to make some vaguely topical answer about how climate change disproportionately affects racial minorities, but he was beyond saving at that point. Then, when he said “and I’m white too!” in response to a question about his age, it just felt uncomfortable.

Nikhil: For me, this debate was just flat out terrible for Bernie Sanders. I visibly cringed when he started announcing how many billionaires had donated to Biden’s and Buttigieg’s campaign. Seriously, Bernie, it’s not a competition. Then, once again, Bernie’s cringe continued when he decided to tell everyone watching that he was white. Yes, Bernie, you’re white. That’s not something you have to tell us, the entire United States knows you’re white. It was his attempt at a dad joke that simply wasn’t funny. Then, even on policy, Bernie failed again. Every single answer Bernie gives is based on the same response: rich people = bad. If he wants to expand his base, he needs to figure out how to actually answer a question with a little more substance other than making billionaires go away.

Pete Buttigieg:

Surya: Buttigieg was on the defense this time, but it was pretty damaging for him. Especially due to the attacks from Klobuchar, Pete looked less worthy of even taking office because the candidates all made him look inexperienced and naïve. To give him credit, though, I thoroughly enjoyed his rebuke of Warren’s attack. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Pete has a sketchy past...

Camille: Full disclosure: I have anti-Pete bias. I used to be a fan, but now he represents greed and egoism to me. He handled the attacks about the billionaire donations pretty well, but I continue to dislike the way he plays up his mayoral experience. It was disingenuous to compare his 80% win Despite Being Gay to Klobuchar’s wins in Congress and in red districts — Buttigieg won with only 8,000 votes in a liberal college town, then lost in a state race. Buttigieg’s inauthenticity is supplemented by a podcast I listened to in which he revealed that the primary reason he joined the military was because his college advisor told him that in order to get the Rhodes Scholarship, he’d have to out-compete those who had already served. I also think that the discussion on donors is key. While some of my fellow board members think that it’s necessary to take billionaire donations to fund a campaign, I think that Pete’s inability to garner grassroots support is disconcerting, and needs to be examined and criticized.

Elaine: Buttigieg has been rising to the top of the race, and people are noticing. Both Warren and Klobuchar came for his life during this debate, and he defended himself decently enough. I liked his point about Warren’s hypocrisy on the issue of wealthy donors, but I can’t help but be swayed by Klobuchar’s issues with his experience. I’m sure that his time in the military and his role as mayor of South Bend show his passion and patriotism, but like Klobuchar said, at some level, you have to show that you can win. Many of the candidates on stage have passed hundreds of bills through the Senate, and Buttigieg lost the race for Indiana State Treasurer and withdrew from the DNC Chair race on the day of the election. I just don’t have confidence in his experience.

Nikhil: It seems like everyone came after Buttigieg in this debate. To summarize his debate, even though he could have responded a lot better, he also could have done a lot worse. He was constantly attacked for his wine-cave event, and even though calling out other candidates may not have been the best move, I still fundamentally agree with him on that point. However, my main criticism about Buttigieg still remains, and this debate really brought it to the forefront. He’s the mayor of the fourth largest city in a state people barely know about who has lost past elections running for President. Does he really have the experience to be President?

Andrew Yang:

Surya: I will say that while Yang always does well in the debates, this one was only really standout for him because he was the only candidate of color on the stage. That aside, Yang is struggling a bit in his campaign, barely qualifying for this debate and lacking upward momentum that can get him to do well in the primaries. To remedy this, he tried to be a bit more aggressive, even shading Buttigieg over the wine cave. At this point, I think Yang is just vying for a vice-presidential bid for one of the top three candidates since he’s being so nice to them.

Camille: More full disclosure: I have pro-Yang bias. Yang’s focus on special needs, nuclear energy, and mental health made the debate filled with new ideas, rather than being a competition of Congressional records and similar policies.

Elaine: It seems like every time Yang gets on stage, he shows just how intelligent and knowledgeable he is. I loved his point about thorium as a nuclear fuel because far too few people are talking about it as a safer alternative to uranium. On the impeachment question, when he stepped back and argued that we need to focus on the issues that got Trump elected rather than impeachment, I appreciated his fresh point of view whereas the other candidates seem to always argue about who can do things better and cheaper. He continued to bring up his Freedom Dividend and Democracy Dollars, but it wasn’t as forced as it had been in some past debates; he smoothly integrated his ideas with questions on voter turnout and campaign financing. His openness about his underdog status in the debate was refreshing and honest, and he comes across as being for the people.

Nikhil: I absolutely loved Andrew Yang in this debate, but, to be fair, I’ve also loved him in every debate, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. In the beginning, I was a little irritated with Yang’s continuous use of the word “blasting,” but I guess it’s not for everyone. What makes Yang stand out is his unique responses to policy questions. While other issues between the rest of the candidates usually turn into, “I can do it better,” Yang’s responses are a breath of fresh air. For example, talking about thorium regarding nuclear reactors was a smart move. Moreover, he continues to drive home his Freedom Dividend, which the rest of the candidates keep skirting around. He was the politician that acted least like a politician, if that makes sense, and it made him seem genuine and connected to the people.

Amy Klobuchar:

Surya: Dang. This was Klobuchar’s best debate yet. She did a much better job of conveying the moderate message than Biden and also capitalized on every opportunity she had to talk about her efficacy in Congress. I can’t think of any negatives for her except for just a couple of jokes that landed flat. Who knows? I maybe wouldn’t mind supporting a Klobuchar nomination now.

Camille: Klobuchar was on fire tonight. To be honest, I’ve been lowkey rooting for Klobuchar to perform well because I’d like to see a woman president who’s not as extreme as Elizabeth Warren is. I LOVED that Klobuchar attacked Buttigieg on experience, since she chose not to in the previous debate. I could see that she was getting shaky towards the end of their exchange, but she pointed out key flaws in his candidacy, which was perfect in my view.

Elaine: I heard a lot more of Klobuchar in this debate, and I have to say, I was REALLY impressed by her performance. She was confident and poised, whereas she seemed nervous and unsure of herself in past debates. She asserted her moderate stances and emphasized her success in a purple state like Minnesota and how her background as a Midwestern Senator made her perspectives unique. I think the debate will push her up to be a frontrunner, and I’m looking forward to her performances in future debates.

Nikhil: This debate was what Klobuchar finally needed to push her into the “upper-echelon” of candidates. While, in past debates, Klobuchar’s voice was seemingly just pushed to the back, with more speaking time, she stood out. When attacking Buttigieg, she successfully drove home the idea of her perceived electability versus other candidates. Klobuchar is attempting to set herself up as the moderate candidate, as an alternative to the far-left Sanders and Warren, and this debate set her on that path.

Tom Steyer:

Surya: I didn’t even think Steyer would make this debate, and I still feel justified in saying that he shouldn’t have been in it. He says nothing that is remotely remarkable and it sounds hypocritical when he criticizes the rich and corporations (as a billionaire). He also makes climate change the center of his campaign which isn’t very unique since every candidate has established it as a priority. Steyer sounds like someone who should be voting instead of running for office. He’s perhaps the most useless candidate I can think of.

Camille: Tom Steyer needs to drop out. He is taking valuable air time away from the candidates with actual grassroots support, or actual unique ideas. He literally has an RCP average of 1.5% as of December 19, and will not become the nominee. I thought that his performance was not as bad as the previous debates, but there were definitely no standout moments.

Elaine: Every time I see him on stage, I feel surprised because I’m still confused about how and why he’s running for president?? He did make better points in this debate than past ones, but his eye contact is as perturbing as ever, and he honestly needs to just drop out. He’s not contributing to the debate or making a name for himself in them, and I don’t think his candidacy is supported by anything other than pure financial will.

Nikhil: I don’t think anybody knows why he’s in the race, or how he made the debate stage over, in my opinion, more-qualified candidates. Honestly, there’s not much to say about him. He was selected as the face-person as some campaign to impeach Trump a long time ago, and he wants to stop climate change. At the same time, who doesn’t? And he also keeps creepily staring at the camera. That’s about it. He’s not going to get anywhere close to winning the nomination.


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