I watched the first Democratic debate in a bar, during a 48hills Pride event, and there was noise and there were interruptions. I suspect that was the case for a lot of other people who watched it. So my impressions are imperfect.
In fact, the entire process was pretty imperfect. The moderators asked some bad questions, and allowed some of the candidates to interrupt constantly (Tulsi Gabbard and Bill Deblasio) and take time away from the others. There was only a little real debate (Julian Castro got into it with Beto O’Rourke over whether it should be a crime to cross the border, Gabbard fought with Tim Ryan over whether the US has any military business in Afghanistan and Ryan looked like a fool when he said that the Taliban flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, which was decidedly not the work of the Taliban).
For Castro, it may have been one of those “breakout” moments — although the technicalities of the legal sections were a little confusing, Castro made the point pretty clearly that he wants to decriminalize immigration and O’Rourke does not.
He also made points about the young father and daughter who died crossing the Rio Grande and called for a Marshall Plan for Central American countries.
If you want to look at how the Democratic base saw this, Daily Kos is pretty clear: Elizabeth Warren got 60 percent of the vote in a straw poll on “who won the debate.”
But the moderators ignored her for the second hour of the debate. Over and over, the questions went to the guys – and Gabbard to her credit pushed her way in – but from the end or hour one, there was not one single moderator question that went to the person who is by all accounts in the lead of this particular group.
Warren made her agenda clear:
Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for thinner and thinner slice at the top. It’s doing great for giant drug companies It’s not doing great for people who are trying to get a prescription filled… It’s doing great for giant oil companies…just not for the rest of us who are watching climate change bear down upon us… When you have an economy that does great for those that have money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption plain and simple.”
The moderators had two hours; it’s nuts that they spent about 20 minutes asking how the candidates would deal with Mitch McConnell. (Anderson Cooper later said the he was “scratching his head” about all of the focus on McConnell.) That was a set-up for asking if they can do “bipartisanship,” which doesn’t exist anymore. Warren had the best answer, which is that (unlike Obama, although she didn’t say that) she would keep the campaign that elected her going, actively, after the inauguration.
Interestingly, she was the only candidate who didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Donald Trump. “What I wanted to talk about is a lot bigger than Trump,” she said on CNN.
Seems to me that Bill DeBlasio was irrelevant, Beto O’Rourke was done after his disaster of a clash with Castro, and Tim Ryan showed the party crisis that we will see more of tomorrow, when Joe Biden is on the stage.
Ryan kept arguing that the Democratic Party needs to change its image and message if it wants to attract working-class voters. He specifically talked about the coastal and “Ivy League” elites, an attack on Warren. But his message was that the party needs to offer more cautious proposals and move toward the center – which is exactly what the party did in the last election. And it didn’t work.
Warren and Bernie Sanders are offering a much stronger message to the working class; Sanders won primary states that Trump won in the general election.
In an interesting set of interviews with undecided Iowa voters after the debate, the overwhelming consensus was Warren – Warren and Booker, Warren and Castro … but Warren at the top.
Van Jones on CNN: “When I listened to Elizabeth Warren, I felt like help was on the way.”
So tonight I see Warren, Booker, and Castro as the candidates who emerged from this debate.
And we will get more tomorrow.