Regarding last night’s prelim debate

prelim debate

Sorry, folks. Aside from being tired last night, my jaw thing was throbbing, and I just had to hit the hay with a pain pill.

Some of y’all already posted commentary back on this post. I’ll try to catch up.

I say “prelim,” of course, because there was only one contender on the stage, Elizabeth Warren, and her team had to be kind of frustrated that she didn’t make the cut for the real bout tonight. That put her in the position last night that Joe Biden will be in tonight — although Joe will have stiffer opposition. Interestingly, most of the commentary I’ve seen in the NYT and WashPost (such as Frank Bruni, and Aaron Blake) seems to be to the effect that she did great. I wasn’t that impressed. To me, she was just being Elizabeth Warren, and that has never worn particularly well with me.

Beyond that… a couple of you — Bud and Scout — have already ranked last night’s performances, and Doug has gone into what he liked and disliked in some detail (loves Tulsi, can’t stand Elizabeth). So I’ll take a stab at it myself:

  1. Amy Klobuchar
  2. Jay Inslee
  3. John Delaney
  4. Tim Ryan
  5. Cory Booker
  6. Elizabeth Warren
  7. Tulsi Gabbard
  8. Beto O’Rourke
  9. Julian Castro
  10. Bill de Blasio

Mind you, I wasn’t crazy about any of them, and there’s a big drop-off after Klobuchar, but that’s how I rank them without thinking too hard about it. You’ll note that Warren, whom so many think this debate was about, falls in the middle.

Briefly last night, Doug and I were in agreement about the ones we liked least…

… but I decided overnight I didn’t dislike Warren quite as much as some others.

That done, the real debate is tonight, with Joe facing Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. Too bad we didn’t see how Warren would do against those four.

Here are my Tweets, so you can see how I was reacting in real time:

(And yes, that was an allusion to this skit…)


38 thoughts on “Regarding last night’s prelim debate

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and here’s a bonus, y’all… you know how they had a discussion about the criminalization of undocumented immigration?

    This morning, I found this, which told me something I had not realized:

  2. Doug T

    Castro gets a “10” for body slamming Beto. All the talking heads liked Castro, Booker, Warren and Klobuchar. Sorry but Booker looks too much like that Key and Peele guy. I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying. Warren’s Senate Rule 19 violation is an indication of how well she gets along. It would be permanent gridlock with her as president and McConnell as Majority leader. (Google Senate Rule 19 for a good SC history lesson).

    Hope Joe doesn’t trip up tonight.

  3. bud

    My initial ranking of Thursday’s debate:

    1. Kamala Harris
    2. Pete Buttigieg
    3. Eric Swalwell
    4. Michael Bennett
    5. Andrew Yang
    6. Joe Biden
    7. Kirsten Gillibrand
    8. John Hickenlooper
    9. Marianne Williamson
    10. Bernie Sanders

    Really it was pretty much the Kamala and Mayor Pete show. Swalwell had a few good moments. Bennett, Yang, Biden and Gillibrand were all pretty mediocre but at least not horrible. It’s a sad state of affairs to see someone as average as Biden leading in the polls. Hickenlooper and Williamson were just plain weird. Perhaps they would have been an interesting side show at a circus, but really they just did not belong on a presidential debate stage. And Bernie? He was just awful. I see why Elizabeth Warren is taking over the liberal lane.

    1. Doug Ross

      Buttigieg was the only person on that stage tonight I would vote for. He was calm, intelligent, pragmatic compared to the ranting of Bernie. I don’t know why they let Swalwell and Gillibrand speak so much. Neither has a chance. Yang was not given many opportunities to speak and when he did, it was dull and wonky. Biden got taken to the cleaners by Harris and stumbled over his words a lot. He tried (and failed) to make it sound like he was co-president with Obama. And he kept going back to bills that he took credit for (like the Brady bill) that obviously didn’t fix any of the problems we still have. He looked old and it seemed like his words were not coming out of his mouth clearly. His pitch seems to be “I’m good old Joe…remember me?”.

      Tonight’s debate was ugly. Moderators couldn’t control the conversation.

      I’ll vote for Gabbard or Buttigieg. Otherwise I’ll go libertarian… Unless it’s Warren. Then I’m voting Trump.

      1. Doug Ross

        Based on the feedback I’ve seen about the debate, I’ll double down on my prediction that Biden will not be the nominee. Have not seen any positive reviews of his performance.

        1. Doug Ross

          What did we hear from Democrats over the past two nights that will change the electoral map? That’s all that matters. Pandering to every minority group is preaching to the choir. Democrats can win the popular vote by millions but it won’t matter unless they flip Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. And no whining about the electoral college.. it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it… It’s the system you have to win within. Stop speaking Spanish. Stop with the shout outs to transgender people. Don’t talk about reparations. You need to win Pittsburgh, Columbus, Orlando, Kansas City, and Madison.

          1. Doug Ross

            Well, you used Jennifer Rubin to assess Tulsi Gabbard so let’s see what she had to say about Joe:

            “As the debate went on, however, the former vice president ran into trouble, most dramatically and painfully at the hands of Harris on the issue of race. Insisting that he favored letting localities decide on busing was a bad misstep because the discrimination at issue, in many cases, requires federal intervention. Biden soldiered on but real damage had been done. He defended his vote for the Iraq War and then pivoted to his positions on Afghanistan and pulling troops out from Iraq. He stumbled again, however, on guns — mangling a punchline when he said that our opponents were gun manufacturers and not the National Rifle Association. What Biden meant to say was that our opponents aren’t gun owners.
            Mostly, he suffered in comparison to brighter, sharper voices. Was this fatal to Biden’s chances? No, but it suggested he is a very, very vulnerable front-runner. He also got lucky: Sanders had a poor night as well.”

            So that doesn’t sound too fine… seems pretty accurate to compared to what I saw. He’s already losing to Harris in the prediction markets. Every time he is on stage with other candidates, he only has one direction to go – down.

          2. Mr. Smith

            “Joe did fine.”
            The voice of the ostrich with his head in the sand.

            Biden has disappointed, but he’s never made me angry. Until Thursday night’s debate, that is, when he gave the answer he did on busing. As a child of “forced busing,” which I believe made me a marginally better person, the suggestion that such things should’ve been left up to local authorities is dead wrong. It’s historically wrong and it’s politically wrong, I don’t know who exactly Biden was trying to appeal to with the answer he gave, but it certainly wasn’t me. He should’ve simply declared mea culpa rather than continuing to insist on his rectitude.

            1. Scout

              Side note: shouldn’t it be “bussing”? Everytime I see ‘busing’, my brain says “boosing”.

              That was a confusing exchange. Harris’ body language and tone made me wonder if she was upset about being bussed, which made it confusing that she was mad at Joe for being against it. I get it now but it was confusing in the moment. Maybe the mismatch confused him too. His positions and defense of them are a bit confusing as well. It does seem like he could say something like, ‘At the time, I honestly didn’t think it was the best way to accomplish the goal, but I can see now that Bussing can be beneficial.’ That doesn’t seem like it would have been a hard or bad thing to say. But he didn’t.

  4. Scout

    I like Pete and Biden best. I acknowledge that Harris did well and seems capable but there is something about her that turns me off, may be a bit too strident. It may just be the nasality in her voice which shouldn’t matter but gets on my nerves. Then the middle ones – Bennett, Sanders, and Yang – seem OK but not great. I really didn’t like the last 4. I thought I might like Hickenlooper but as the night went on, he said some odd things. Gillibrand seemed whiny and intrusive from the beginning. Williamson seemed like a nut. I don’t know why I didn’t like Swalwel, but I didn’t. Too young without the gravitas of Pete, maybe – don’t think he’ll be taken seriously.

    1. Pete
    2. Biden
    3. Harris
    4. Bennett
    5. Sanders
    6. Yang
    7. Hickenlooper
    8. Swalwel
    9. Williamson
    10. Gillibrand

  5. Doug Ross

    Here’s the question I would ask Biden and Bernie at the next debate: Are you comfortable with the idea that if you are the party’s nominee and win, that it will be at least another eight years before America has a woman president? Will you commit to naming a woman as your running mate?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Really? I would never ask such a thing. The Democrats ran a woman last time, and I voted for her. Not BECAUSE she was a woman, but because she was qualified.

      Joe may very well choose a woman (and if Joe’s not the nominee, we’ve got way bigger problems than who the running mate is). If so, fine. But I would never suggest he’s under some sort of obligation to do so…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Maybe. Maybe not. Joe’s a forgiving kind of guy — which of course is one thing some people don’t like about him.

          Personally, I’ve thought about it and have had trouble choosing a running mate from among these candidates.

          So far, nobody checks all the boxes. Of course, the main box is: Ready to be president…

          1. David T

            “Of course, the main box is: Ready to be president…”

            When was that the last time it was a credential for being Vice President? The only reason for selecting a running mate is to pick up votes that only that person can get. That’s why there was talk about Pence being overlooked for Haley, that she could pull in women voters. Can you imagine Nikki Haley as President? I don’t know how that airhead has made it as far as she has.

        2. David T

          I wouldn’t say that, you know how politicians are. They’ll say and do anything to get votes. If ol’ Joe thinks Harris will help with certain demographics it’ll be “my good friend Kamala” by Monday morning.

          1. Doug Ross

            And apparently it is up to Joe to FORGIVE Kamala for expecting him to defend his record on busing. His answer should have been “I was wrong then. I’m sorry.”

              1. Doug Ross

                Right. And I’m saying it’s not up to Joe to forgive Kamala. She didn’t do anything that requires forgiveness. She asked him to defend his position on busing. If Joe is so above it all that no one should dare question his record, he’ll never survive a general election. If he were to select her without addressing that issue it would look badly for both of them.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  OK, let’s review:

                  Brad did not say Kamala needs to be forgiven by Joe. Here’s what happened…

                  Doug wrote: “Harris probably ended her chance to be his running mate last night.”

                  Brad, perhaps erroneously, read that to mean that Kamala had done something that would cause Joe to hold a grudge against her.

                  Brad responded that that probably wasn’t the case: “Maybe not. Joe’s a forgiving kind of guy.” In other words, a guy who doesn’t hold grudges.

                  Brad is having trouble seeing how that led to a discussion of whether Kamala needed forgiving.

                  But then Brad is not having a great day. He hasn’t been feeling great all week, and the last two late nights have taken a toll. (Last night he was at a watch party at James Smith’s house, but it would have been a late night anyway.) He had to go back to the endodontist today because the temporary seal on the root canal had come loose. His tooth became really sore from having the seal packed back into the sore tooth. So he took another Dr. House pill.

                  He’s having trouble remembering things. Don’t tell Bryan Caskey or Mike Fitts, but a short while ago he had trouble remembering the name of Lord Nelson AND “Trafalgar.”

                  Also, he is referring to himself in the third person, like Bob Dole and Smash Williams from “Friday Night Lights…”

  6. Harry Harris

    I thought Buttigieg stood out as the most “presidential.” Harris did well with substance and tactics, but seemed harsh at times. Biden seemed to be stuck on Obamaizing his case.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Buttigieg stood out as the most calm… That’s an attractive feature in this crowd…

      I’m not sure that’s the same as presidential, but it’s an important characteristic…

    2. Doug Ross

      Joe and Obama had eight years to do something about climate change, guns, healthcare for all, deficits, immigration, etc. They passed Obamacare which most candidates now want to scrap.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, Joe and Barack (Joe’s good buddy, which you may have heard him mention) did fine.

        You know what’s going on with the others wanting to scrap Obamacare? That’s them trying to make absolutely sure Trump gets re-lected, by pulling the party to the left. And I say that as someone who has always wanted single-payer.

        That’s not what they would call it, of course, but it goes together with the ways they talk about abortion, race, gender, immigration, etc. They’re so busy trying to cater to their overexcited left wing, so busy trying to get enthusiastic applause from the Peanut Gallery in a room full of Democrats, that they’re pushing away all the people they need in the general election.

        Someone needs to tell them that independents and Never-Trump Republicans have TVs, too.

        David Brooks addressed this today in a column headlined, “Dems, Please Don’t Drive Me Away:”

        I could never in a million years vote for Donald Trump. So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?

        According to a recent Gallup poll, 35 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, 35 percent call themselves moderate and 26 percent call themselves liberal. The candidates at the debates this week fall mostly within the 26 percent. The party seems to think it can win without any of the 35 percent of us in the moderate camp, the ones who actually delivered the 2018 midterm win.

        The progressive narrative is dominating in part because progressives these days have a direct and forceful story to tell and no interest in compromising it. It’s dominating because no moderate wants to bear the brunt of progressive fury by opposing it.

        It’s also dominating because the driving dynamic in this campaign right now is not who can knock off Joe Biden, the more moderate front-runner. It’s who can survive the intense struggle between Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and others to be the surviving left-wing alternative. All the energy and competition is on the progressive side. Biden tries to bob and weave above it all while the whole debate pulls sharply leftward.

        This is why, when people say such things to me as that poor ol’ Joe isn’t getting in step with the way his party is today, I say, “Good.”

        1. bud

          David Brooks continues to live in a fantasyland where unicorns would run through the streets of America pooping diamonds and rubies if only people would come together around a moderate candidate who can bring us together in harmony and love. The idea that 35% of Americans are moderates who can be persuaded by a sensible centrist is just absolutely preposterous. This election will be almost exclusively about turnout. There are 52% of the electorate who will absolutely not vote for Trump. Probably 45% will absolutely not vote for a Democrat. That leaves at most 3% who can actually be persuaded. But the Democrats can still lose, thanks to the odious electoral college, if enough Dems stay at home because they perceive their guy as too out of touch to move the country forward rather continues to live in the past. So while someone like Biden may run the table with the tiny swing vote available there is a HUGE risk of losing young voters and people of color with Biden as a man perceived to have big problems with his past and/or his age. This seems so obvious to me yet Brooks and Brad continue to utterly ignore it. The past is the past and cannot become the present no matter the longing. Biden showed the electorate last night he is nothing but a ghost of elections past. Time to pass the torch to a younger generation who can transform the country in a positive way.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            David Brooks lives in the same world I do. I don’t see any unicorns, but I see a lot of people. Those of us in the middle outnumber either Democrats or Republicans, and a lot of us are pretty fed up with the partisans trying to frame everything as a false choice between their two extremes…

            1. bud

              But you see there are choices and not false ones. We absolutely must move toward a medical system that insures EVERYONE. Obamacare can never do that. So the choice is between a future with healthcare as a right or a return to a system that denies 10s of millions.

              Then there is the choice between a compassionate immigration system and one that cages children and allows people to drown.

              There is a choice between inclusion of everyone and a system that continues to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

              We have to choose between a future that provides a decent standard of living or a new gilded aged.

              There is a clear choice between shoveling money, resources and lives into a Middle Eastern policy that is morally bankrupt and a policy that believes the practical and ethical choice is to back away and serve as a dispassionate mediator only.

              It’s not about choosing between extremes. Rather it’s a choice between pragmatism and reactionary hostility. It appears that Biden is choosing to be a reactionary. And many people are just not having him. They see his bussing vote, treatment of Anita Hill and cozying up to southern bigots as just a bit too close to racism. They view his touchy feely persona as a bit too close to creepy. They view his vote on Iraq as a bit near being a warmonger. I for one will sigh, hold my nose and pull the straight party ticket for Biden and the other Dems if that’s what it comes to. But other liberals won’t. Call us partisans and scold us for our sensible 21st century views if you want. But never suggest there is some imaginary middle ground on many issues. There really isn’t. David Brooks lives a fantasy that somehow the Republican Party is something other than the party of Trump and somehow the Dems are just as extreme. That is just plain wrong.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                “But never suggest there is some imaginary middle ground on many issues. There really isn’t.”

                Of course there is. And not just one. Each of the issues that you mention has MANY different approaches, and within each approach there are many paths to consider.

                A policy that would solve the situation on the border has many facets, each one requiring careful thought about what will work, and be the right thing to do. It’s not just a matter of stopping the separation of families, although that must happen — the crisis that the Trump administration is CREATING must end, and end humanely. We need a long-term plan for helping improve conditions in those countries that people are fleeing, which is in itself a matter of overwhelming difficulty and complexity.

                Then, we need to rethink our immigration system from top to bottom: How many people should we be letting in from where, and how to we need to improve and expedite our system so that that works smoothly?

                There are many, many value judgments to be made and practical considerations to consider.

                It’s not just choose black or white and we’re done…

            2. bud

              Let me just leave this with a question. For all you Biden supporters that back him for the reason Brad and Brooks suggest, that Biden wins moderate voters. Do you believe Biden essentially holds onto the left wing of the party and dismiss any thought that he will lose significant voters from the left? To me it’s simply a math question: Does Biden win more from the middle than he loses from the left?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’m not sure I understand the question. When you say “loses from the left,” are you referring to low turnout?

                Sure, the base needs to turn out. But you also have to appeal beyond the base to win. It would be very, very helpful if the base would wise up and understand this.

                Getting Trump out of office is of such overriding importance that everyone who understands this fact needs to start thinking more pragmatically. I have little patience with those who demand that “It’s gotta be exactly the way I want it…”

                I never had much patience for it, but during the campaign I lost what little I had.

                Anyone with a brain understood that we had to appeal beyond the Democratic base to have the slightest chance of winning.

                But a lot of the Bernie wing of the party couldn’t care less about that.

                The Republicans kept trying, awkwardly and untruthfully, to tie James to Bernie — when they weren’t trying to tie him to Hillary. But if we said anything that put even the slightest distance between us and Bernie, his people went ballistic on social media, threatening to stay home on Election Day, yadda-yadda, and DEMANDING that we take back whatever mild statement we had made that noted how unlike Bernie James was.

                It was ridiculous….

                1. bud

                  Brad I really wasn’t spoiling for a fight. I get it Trump needs to go. What I’m attempting to discern is whether Biden really is THE best way to do that. But if the lefties stay at home rather than vote Biden is that really more dishonorable than centrists who stay home rather than vote for Elizabeth Warren? I find that a rather disturbing way of thinking. Either Trump needs to be defeated or he doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. So if Biden loses will you still feel that way or do you sulk and stay home? If you say stay home then stop condemning the lefties for doing the same thing.

          2. Scout

            This is completely anecdotal, but I know Trump voters who have told me they would have voted for Joe but couldn’t vote for Hillary. I also know my Mom loves Joe, and I think this is not uncommon among older people, and older people go to the polls.

            I feel pretty sure that my Trump voting friends who shunned Hillary would not be so gung ho about a Harris or a Warren or a Bernie or a Booker….probably not Pete either. But they will do Biden. Klobuchar might be a possibility.

            Just something to consider. Not sure he should be dismissed so quickly.

            Electability is important.


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