Last night’s Democratic debate was not the most memorable debate, and it remains to be seen whether any of the performances by any of the candidates will affect the polls. In fact, of all of the debates, last night’s debate may end up being the least impactful of all. Partly this comes down to timing: the debate smack dab in the middle of the explosive impeachment hearings and therefore strained the nation’s capacity to consume political news.
It was a make or break moment for several candidates, like Harris and Booker, both of whom have struggled to raise funds in recent months.
Here is an overview of some of the key takeaways from last night:
Buttigieg showed the power of good preparation
Since the previous debate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has launched into first place in Iowa and is threatening to take the lead in New Hampshire according to at least one recent poll. His meteoric rise has the commentariat buzzing with references to Obama’s unexpected and fortuitous win in Iowa in 2008. Could Buttigieg follow a similar path into the White House?
The comparison with Obama is appropriate in several ways that were on display during last night’s debate. Several candidates leveled attacks on Buttigieg’s relatively meager experience in comparison to the Senators and the former Vice President who shared the stage with him. Buttigieg also weathered attacks about his lagging support among Black voters, which is a strategic weakness that could seriously threaten the viability of his candidacy.
In one of the more significant exchanges of the evening, Gabbard accused Buttigieg of advocating sending American troops to Mexico to fight cartels. Buttigieg’s retort was acidic: “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?” I’m talking about building up alliances, and if your question is about experience let’s talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al Asad… I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”
When Senator Amy Klobuchar took a swipe at him as a “local official,” he was ready with the retort: “There’s more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?”
Biden continues to falter
From the moment he opened his mouth, it was clear that Biden would have a shaky night. He simply cannot articulate words without slurring them, giving the impression that his mental faculties may not be as sharp as they once were. His problems with diction continued to plague his performance throughout the evening and added a layer of cringe over some of his inevitable gaffes.
He had two major gaffes. In one, he said that he had the support of the only female African American Senator. All eyes immediately turned to Harris, who after all is a female African American Senator, as she threw up her hands saying, “what about me?” Biden quickly realized his mistake and corrected himself, saying he meant to say the “first” female African American Senator, but the damage had been done.
In another more significant gaffe, Biden attempted to address the problem of domestic violence, saying, “No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger other than in self-defense, and that rarely ever occurs. So we have to just change the culture, period,” Biden said. “And keep punching at it and punching it and punching at it.” That last line elicited gasps from the crowd, but Biden didn’t seem to recognize why, and just plowed forward.
Klobuchar is a potential dark horse candidate
Most of the rest of the debate was uneventful. Harris and Gabbard had some significant exchanges. But overall, the candidates mostly avoided attacking each other on any substantive issues. If anything, the candidates seemed more intent on emphasizing solidarity and being nice to each other than anything else. Yang memorably commended Steyer for using his own money to fight climate change. “I think Joe is right,” Senator Bernie Sanders said at one point to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
In this congenial atmosphere, Klobuchar was able to grab significant air time and put forward a strong message of building ties and getting things done for the American people. Her message resonates with many centrists and independents, who seem to appreciate her lack of challenging progressive policy positions and her folksy midwest vibe.
Unfortunately, much of the substance of what she had to say was overshadowed by her visibly shaking heirdo.
“klobuchar has been very visible shaking all night is she f–in okay,” tweeted @LukisYT.
“Why is Amy so shaky? Is she just really nervous?” asked @davejay.
Added another Twitter user: “Klobuchar is literally shaking. I’m worried about her health.”
“I like Amy Klobuchar, but why does her hair shiver when she is talking? Is she nervous? Its visually distracting,” tweeted @ethansemmel.
Another person quipped: “Klobuchar’s hair helmet is shaking like there’s an earthquake, and we need to get to the bottom of this.”
Last night’s debate is unlikely to move the needle for anyone single candidate but there were several memorable moments that could resonate with voters. Buttigieg survived sustained attacks, and Biden made sever gaffes. Warren got a ton of airtime while Yang got almost none. Sanders made his typical appeal for Medicare for All and Booker appealed to viewers to donate to his campaign. But overall, not much happened and this debate is likely to be forgotten by the end of the week.