By Ilyas Talwar '20
Thursday’s Democratic debate in Houston was the most anticipated debate thus far. Everyone was waiting for the Biden-Warren showdown, and now that the dust has settled, everyone is still waiting for the Biden-Warren showdown. This debate didn’t have the same intense takedowns of the first two debates, but it was the most substantive. Although no one won this debate, a couple of people definitely lost it.
After two lackluster debate performances, Biden came out strong on Thursday. The first thirty minutes of the debate were his best of any of the past three. He sparred with Sanders and Warren on healthcare, getting more heated with the former. He successfully advocated for his healthcare plan while taking a jab at Medicare for all with a few good soundbites such as, “[Sanders], for a socialist you have a lot more faith in corporate America than I do.” However, Biden’s performance faltered as the debate went on. He delivered rambling answers to foreign policy questions and avoided the issue of climate change—tendencies that many Democrats point as an example of his inability to be president. His worst moment of the night was when he responded to a question about slavery by saying that parents should play records for their kids at night. The record player may actually have been a net positive as the media coverage surrounding it drowned out the rest of his answer which was not good. Overall, his performance was better than the first debate, and it showed a vitality that we hadn’t seen in the past, but it still left a lot to be desired.
Sanders did not have a good night. He sparred with Biden on healthcare and came out on the losing side of that exchange. Sanders didn’t talk much for the rest of the debate, and he seemed to be dealing with a throat issue. His performance overall was worse than it usually is, but it wasn’t disastrous by any means. The spotlight wasn’t on him in the run-up to this debate, so his mediocre performance can be easily overlooked.
Warren is the candidate of the hour. She’s been steadily gaining in the polls but is still a ways off Biden. Her performance was strong but not extraordinary. Warren has proven herself to be an effective debater, and she often tries to rise above inter-candidate fighting in these debates and pivot back to her plans and the issues facing Americans. She wasn’t really able to do that this debate, but she delivered a strong and effective performance that won her some new supporters.
Buttigieg’s performance was overall solid. A few moments that stuck out were his story about coming out as a gay man and his comment on the debates as a whole. He called the debates “unwatchable”—a viewpoint many agree with. This comment earned him an attack from Castro who responded with “that’s called a democratic primary.” Buttigieg was strong, consistent, and avoided any costly errors.
Kamala had a strange night. She started strong with an opening statement that was directed at Donald Trump. This admittedly loses some of its charm when one realizes that Trump was delivering a speech at the exact same time, but I digress. However, she struggled to find a debating style that worked. Her answers were overall fine, but she slipped into strange laughter at one moment. She tried to attack Biden with Obama’s famous “yes we can!”...but fell flat in the most awkward way. Overall, she did poorly.
Booker had a good night. He was able to avoid getting into any serious arguments with other candidates and, as a result, was able to push his campaign message. His passionate speaking style only served to score him extra points.
Yang did not have such a good night. He unveiled a plan to give 10 families UBI which sounded a bit gimmicky, then he too was attacked by Castro. The rest of his performance was overshadowed and not extraordinary. Overall, if he wants to gain more support he’ll have to do better than that.
Klobuchar had a decent night. She, like Booker, avoided any major fights and was able to push her message as more of a moderate democrat. Although she may not be as captivating as Booker, she is definitely more well-known than she once was. Her performance wasn’t amazing, but it didn’t need to be considering how many people knew very little about her.
O’Rourke had a solid night. He excelled when it came to gun reform and many other candidates applauded him for his calls for gun reform following the horrific mass shooting in El Paso. His quote of “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15!” garnered lots of applause, but such talk coming from a democrat is sure to incur the wrath of many Republicans and Libertarians alike.
Now the big one—Castro. No one won this debate, but Castro definitely lost it. No one remembers how he did on any of the questions, all they remember is how he went after Biden for his age. He attacked Biden’s healthcare plan saying that it would force the poor to buy-in. When Biden denied this, Castro claimed that Biden had forgotten what he had said. This was a thinly veiled assault on Biden’s age. Castro came off as mean-spirited from this exchange, and, after the debate, it was revealed that he, not Biden, was wrong about the Vice-President’s healthcare proposal. Since the debate, Castro has lost the endorsement of one of the three Texas congressmen who endorsed him. Dark days may lie ahead for the Castro campaign.
A few closing thoughts: the real loser of this debate was the economy. Despite being vital to any nation's success, the economy was the subject of approximately 0% of the questions asked. Ten candidates on one stage is still too many. It is looking like the October debate will be over two nights with around six candidates each. This should allow the candidates to focus more on policy issues than on getting quick soundbites. That being said, I’m not sure who at the DNC thought twelve debates was a good idea because the prospect of enduring eight more of these makes me feel anything but excited.