But I was invited to a debate-watch party tonight and, deciding to be a sociable sort, I went. Here's my thoughts:
- Everybody played nice. There weren't a lot of sharp shots or jabs between the candidates; there seemed to be a real desire amongst everyone to keep it positive. As someone who very much values "no fighting", I liked to see that.
- It also seemed to be the case that the candidates all converged around a pretty similar progressive vision. We saw minor skirmishes around, e.g., abolishing private insurance outright versus retaining it alongside a public option -- but if that's the "debate" in the Democratic Party, then we really have seen a major progressive victory.
- That said, one consequence of this general positivity and agreeableness was that there often weren't clear differences between the candidates, or opportunities for anyone to really stand out. I didn't really see much reason to reshuffle my preferences. And so I suspect and worry that this nice-nice won't last, as candidates realize they need to take swings in order to differentiate themselves.
For the most part, then, my sense was that all the candidates did "fine". "Fine", of course, is much better for a candidate polling well like Warren than it is for a candidate who needs to break out of the pack, like Ryan.
- Elizabeth Warren: Defined "fine". Surprisingly vague on policy details given that she "has a plan" for that. B+
- Cory Booker: While I liked the "identity politics" focus -- special shoutout for specifically giving mention to violence facing Black trans individuals! -- I can see how others might view it as pandering. It did sometimes seem calculated. But I thought he was pretty good. B+
- Julian Castro: A lot of people are saying he had a particularly good night. I didn't think he really stood out, but he was treated like he was on the A-list tier, which might ultimately be more important. Probably benefited most from this debate having only one of the true top candidates (Warren) on stage. B+
- Amy Klobuchar: Seemed a bit shaky to me. On the one hand, she's clearly the "moderate" voice of the group, on the other hand, it still was a pretty emphatically progressive vision -- we're talking a narrow band here. B
- Beto O'Rourke: Of all the (broadly defined) "top tier" candidates, seemed to have the worst night. Nothing abut him stood out, he felt very generic and empty suit-ish. Just run for Senate already. C
- Bill De Blasio: Probably the most pugnacious candidate on stage, and not coincidentally also the candidate who I shifted most on -- alas, from "not thinking about" to "actively disliking". I guarantee you put this guy in a room with five women and he'd never let any get in a word edgewise. He really tried to steam-roller the moderators. Had a bunch of lines that I suspect would've been bigger applause lines if the audience wasn't already primed to hate him. D+
- Jay Inslee: Second to De Blasio on the "pugnacious" quality. Somewhat volatile -- on the one hand, did a very good job emphasizing his progressive record as Governor. On the other hand, he's running a campaign based on climate change but went for the cheap-shot applause line on the "greatest existential threat facing America" question. C+
- Tulsi Gabbard: No less terrible than she was before, but now I also think she might be a robot. Her first answer, nominally replying to a question about women's equal pay but entirely about her record of military service, certainly won the award for least responsive answer of the night. Got real lucky that the genocide/responsibility-to-protect question wasn't directed her way (which it absolutely should have). D+
- Tim Ryan: Seemed to have those Michele Bachmann eyes. Rails against coastal "elitals", though I suppose I'm outing myself as one for pointing it out. Still, boo for being a divider. C-
- John Delaney: It's really impressive how this guy is from my home state, has been running for President since approximately the Iron Age, and yet I still can't remember anything about him. I didn't recognize him when they first cut to him for an answer, and then, five minutes later when they returned to him, I had already forgotten who he was again. Poor guy. D+