It’s over, folks. We made it.
The second night is complete, and we are now able to relax and enjoy the weekend while trying to forget what happened on stage tonight.
With the second set of ten candidates, you did not have the same level of animosity and interruptions that you have Wednesday night. While things seemed more civil, it made it tougher for candidates to stand out. So, it’s harder this time to pick who won and who lost. That said, I once again subjected myself to this for you all so you don’t have to think too much about this.
Again, a couple points on how this is judged. First of all, saying someone “won” is not saying they are right or that I agree with them. It means that, objectively, they had a good night. Secondly, this is about their forcefulness, composure, and passion more than it is about the strength of their ideas. And lastly, this is a ranking of who did the best on television. It is an important look, but it is not about their ability to run a campaign, but more a reflection of how their campaigns run them.
The Winners: Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Michael Bennett
These three – Bennett, Harris, and Sanders did something the other candidates did not do well: They drew blood from the top candidate. I mentioned earlier it was Biden’s to lose (and I think he did – see below), and these three knocked him down to the loser’s table.
Starting with Sanders, he was obviously the guy at Biden’s heels. Posing a stark contrast between himself and Biden on the issue of the Iraq War, he focused a lot on Biden’s time as a Senator, not as a Vice President. It destroyed Biden’s attempts to tie himself to Barack Obama, which is the only way he could really get any applause tonight.
Harris was able to go after Biden in a way no one else on stage could: She hit him on the segregationist comments, and did so way more aggressively than Corey Booker did this past week when asked by the media about it. She can come in both from Biden’s left and as a member of the black community, which voted for Obama and not Biden.
Then there is Bennett, who I did not expect to come out swinging at all, much less at Biden. But he is the one who most clearly got under Biden’s skin with his comments on Bush Tax Cuts. Biden talked about his ability to work with Repbulicans, and Bennett tore him down on it.
Sanders and Harris needed to win and knock Biden down a peg. Bennett needed to show some personality and something beyond just platform talking points, and he did.
The Losers: Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Andrew Yang
Like I said, Joe Biden did lose. He was the only one who had a job of not losing to be able to win, and he couldn’t even do that. His talking points were easily torn apart by both moderators and other candidates, he relied far too much on Obama’s legacy to help him out, and he could not make himself his own man.
Gillibrand had very little time to say really anything and stand out, and when she did, she was not memorable at all other than being frankly annoying (as a note, the most annoying people both nights were New York politicians so I think we see a pattern forming). I can’t really think of anything that was really noteworthy other than the fact that she answered her first question and it felt like it was twenty or thirty minutes into the debate.
Then there was Yang. I think. Couldn’t really tell because he was addressed like twice the whole night, and one of those times was his closing statement. Here’s an eclectic (read: very out there) guy in terms of personality and policy, and it was totally toned down. This was his chance to make an impression, and I don’t think he did.
The Also-Rans: Marianne Williamson, Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Pete Buttigieg
Let’s get this out of the way: Mayor Pete was not bad, and could have gotten into the winner’s circle, but he played it very safe. Too safe, in fact. I think he is probably a close fourth place, but he did not go the extra mile to make it into the top three. The same goes for Swalwell, who actually had a really good night, but his statements were so riddled with cliches that it was more corny than serious.
Hickenlooper was okay, made some points that I think were smarter than some of the others, and generally wasn’t terrible – a low bar, to be sure – but he too didn’t stand out nearly enough. Williamson, meanwhile, had very little time but did make use of it (unlike Yang). However, I don’t think she is taking herself seriously as a candidate and was just able to bring her activism to the stage. That’s actually not bad for her, but I don’t think she’s trying to win so much as get her voice heard.
The problem with this whole debate, though, is that it was boring. It lacked the passion of last night’s. In fact, the most passionate part of the night was Chuck Todd asking questions (Note to Chuck: I appreciate the effort, but not even Jazz Hands could make this debate more interesting. Good on you for trying, though.). The whole thing was just… tired, I guess? It was a strangely quiet night, and it really didn’t do any of the candidates any favors.