A Recap of the First Democratic Debates

A Recap of the First Democratic Debates

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In First Debate Of 2020 Election Over Two Nights

{ image via Getty Images/NBC }

Last week, the first of the 2020 presidential debates took place for the Democratic nominees. According to Ballotpedia, there are currently twenty-five Democratic presidential candidates. However, only the twenty with the highest polling numbers and donor contributions made it on to the debate stage. The candidates were split into two groups of ten that debated over two nights on NBC/MSNBC. (One thing that I appreciated about these debates is that the candidates were chosen at random for each night, meaning presidential hopefuls polling at higher and lower ends of the spectrum ended up on the stage each night. This was a contrast to 2016’s Republican debates, which featured higher-tiered and lower-tiered debates. You can guess which of those debates got more viewers.) The debates were moderated by Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, and Jose Diaz-Balart, with an additional panel comprised of Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

So, how did the debates go, you ask? Let me break it down for you.

*All of my opinions below are based solely on debate performance, not on whether or not I agree with a candidate’s ideology and policy proposals.*

Night One

Candidates: Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill De Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Elizabeth Warren

I was most impressed with: Julián Castro

I was least impressed with: Beto O’Rourke

Politics is often akin to a circus, and it was not long before the circus began during the first debate. During the answer to his very first question, Beto O’Rourke began speaking Spanish (not very good Spanish, I might add). Not to be outdone, Cory Booker later did the exact same thing…after he stared at Beto in complete shock, becoming an Internet meme forever. Amidst all of this bilingual chaos, Elizabeth Warren established herself as the debate’s front-runner in the first half. She gave clear, direct answers and had a ready-to-explain plan for every issue. She showed true leadership when other candidates seemed to be floundering.

One of the biggest talking-points of the 2020 campaign is, of course, healthcare. When asked who was ready to immediately abolish private insurance and move to Medicare-for-all, only Warren and De Blasio said yes. Booker and Gabbard do support Medicare-for-all, but aren’t quite so ready to jump in. O’Rourke and Delaney said no. Perhaps Amy Klobuchar put it best when she said that although everyone has different plans and paths to get there, all of the candidates are in favor of universal healthcare.

Klobuchar and Gabbard were certainly the more moderate candidates of the night. I found myself liking both of them, although neither had a huge night. Unfortunately, Delaney, Inslee, and Ryan remain the mysterious candidates that we know little about. While Warren was a standout in the beginning, she could not keep her momentum going long enough to stop Castro from becoming the night’s breakout star. His comprehensive immigration plan was impressive, as was his experience serving in the Obama administration. He certainly made a name for himself. But someone who didn’t? O’Rourke, who did not live up to the excitement his campaign has generated. His answers and ideas were, honestly, lackluster.

Night Two

Candidates: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang

I was most impressed with: Kamala Harris

I was least impressed with: Joe Biden

Night two’s circus-factor came from the lack of civility on stage. Unlike night one, when everyone was fairly courteous, the second debate featured candidates yelling over each other, trying to answer questions that weren’t directed at them, and calling out each other and President Trump. Adding to the circus even more (and in a much more entertaining fashion) was candidate/spiritual leader/author Marianne Williamson, who has become the Internet’s new favorite person. At one point, she said her first act as president would be to call New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said her country would be the greatest place to live, and tell her, “Girlfriend, you are so on.”

Bernie, of course, continued his “Democratic Socialist” spiel, prompting Hickenlooper to insist that the party needs to stay as far away from socialism as possible. Bernie and Harris were the only two candidates to agree to abolishing private insurance this night (although Harris seemed to possibly recant that statement in a later interview). Joe Biden had a huge target on his back the entire night, taking heat from Swalwell who claimed to have witnessed Biden give a speech about passing the torch to the next generation of leaders – when Swalwell was just six years old. He also faced strong criticism from Harris over his past stance on busing and segregation in what was surely the most memorable moment of the night. To add insult to injury, Biden had no response when Diaz-Balart brought up the Obama administration’s deportations of illegal immigrants when Biden criticized the current administration for doing the same.

One interesting part of the second debate was the more obscure candidates’ ability to stand out and get time. I think I can actually identify Bennet, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, and Yang now. However, between her takedown of Biden and several other good moments, it was clear that the night belonged to Harris. She truly seemed presidential and ready to take on anything. Biden, on the other hand, did not. I honestly believe he thought he could get through the debate with nothing but rehearsed responses. It did not bode well for him.

We are already seeing some early polls showing effects from the debate, but what will its real aftermath be? Only time will tell.