The second night of the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate got confusing early and stayed there. From the start, it appeared as if the debate had been underway before we tuned in. Almost every candidate was in the policy weeds from the beginning, and the debate got off to a slow start. The cross-talk and the noise that occurred were not flattering for anyone.
The big story going into the debate was whether former vice president Joe Biden could protect his position. While it may have marginally eroded, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) did land some blows but Biden’s position did not collapse.
So, as a partisan Republican, here are my thoughts on each candidate’s performance, ranked one to 10 with one being the best and 10 being the worst:
1. Harris: Moderator favorite; they really let her talk, to the point where I wonder if it was planned in advance. She got where Biden critics wanted someone to go, and it was effective. She has a long road ahead, but Harris is a contender. At least her thoughts had a beginning, a middle and an end. Not better than Julián Castro, but good.
2. Biden: Lucid. Ah la Reagan in 1984, Biden proved he was not doddering and out-of-it. All the confusion onstage served him well. Except for a moment with Harris, he was never really challenged. He didn’t do great, but he protected his front-runner position. The giant is still standing.
3. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Bernie was Bernie. While no one can make the case that he is evolving, if you liked him in 2016, there is a good chance you will like him in 2020. But is Bernie a one-trick pony? Is he attracting any new support?
4. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Mayor Pete may have peaked already. He seems like an able congressional staffer. Buttigieg embodies the staff guy you meet with when the boss is unavailable. What about him is “presidential”? Better than Beto O’Rourke, but not by much.
5. Author Marianne Williamson: Well, actually she was interesting and maybe gave her candidacy some viability. She said some wacky things, but at least it was in a way that was sincere and probably has a following. What she said about America not having a health-care plan but having a sickness plan was unique. She challenged the traditional candidates by asking where have you people been? and why don’t you think? She might hang around.
6. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper: He is plain vanilla in every way. Did not say one memorable thing. He is destined to be the completely forgotten man. He is just not credible on the 2020 Democratic stage. Maybe he should be in charge of a medium-size state.
7. Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.): Took his shot at Biden. Swing and a miss. Earnest but completely unremarkable. I cannot think of what is next for him.
8. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.): Constantly tried to elbow her way into the debate but then had nothing pointed to say. Used her time with confusing arguments that made her sound like a government lawyer.
9. Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.): The Beto of night two of the Democratic presidential debates. No real reason for being onstage. Mentally wandering, unremarkable. He said the word “sequester.” A typical swamp creature.
10. Former tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang: Robotic. His YouTube videos are much better. He should stick to social media. In his case, more is less.
The bottom line is a narrative is developing in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination that there is a giant, and the media is on the hunt for the giant-killer. The giant is Biden, and the giant-killer has yet to emerge — and probably will not for some time. And yet, that is the the most exciting and easiest story for the media to create and cover. The past two nights have given life to some dormant campaigns, invigorated a few, and otherwise sustained or diminished others. These debates are important, but not determinative. The real campaign has just started.
Watch Jennifer Rubin’s take from the first debate: