(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Jennifer Rubin, and this is Round 31. With kids back in school and summer vacations a pleasant memory, the country is ready for another chaotic and unenlightening debate, right?

The Commentary

Well, maybe not. Having learned from prior debates, ABC News in hosting next week’s debate should try to tamp down interruptions, tease out the candidates’ policies and test their political radar. (Anyone think Congress will ever pass Medicare-for-all? If not, what’s plan B?)

For now, the race remains largely as it was just after Joe Biden entered the primaries in April. Voters like him more than media types do. Pundits delight in pointing out his gaffes as if they were in the same category as President Trump’s lies, attacks, ignorant statements and racist utterances. But the goodwill Biden enjoys in the party will probably keep him as the polling front-runner, albeit a vulnerable one, until voters weigh in next year.

In the second tier, you’ll find super-progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The question for both is whether they inevitably divide their most likely base of support. For either to prevail, it will be necessary to reach out to more nonwhite, moderate voters — or for the other to simply fade. If neither happens, Biden’s chances of becoming the nominee soar.

In a new third tier we find Sen. Kamala D. Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. For many voters tired of the same old politicians (and I do mean old — at 70, Warren is the youngest of the top three), these may be the most interesting candidates. Harris, the only contender whose emotional IQ is as high as Biden’s, combines charisma with prosecutorial skills and often seems to be having more fun than her competitors. If your tastes run to cool, Spock-like smarts, Buttigieg remains in the mix. For either to do well, Biden will need to falter.

As for the other five debaters, their place on the stage this month and in October allows them to maintain hope for a breakout. Unfortunately, such moments at debates have not been sustained in this race. If these low-single-digit candidates’ fundraising dries up, look for some to drop out — and focus us on the truly viable.

— Jennifer Rubin

The Ranking

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Bernie Sanders
4. Kamala D. Harris
5. Pete Buttigieg
6. Cory Booker
7. Beto O’Rourke UP 3
8. Amy Klobuchar DOWN 1
9. Julián Castro DOWN 1
10. Andrew Yang DOWN 1
11. Tim Ryan
12. Michael Bennet RETURNS TO RANKING
13. Tom Steyer DOWN 1
14. Tulsi Gabbard RETURNS TO RANKING

Falls off ranking: Steve Bullock

Last week’s ranking: Round 30 | Here’s how we get a brokered convention

Don’t forget to click on the yellow highlighted text above to expand the Ranking Committee’s annotations. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Or if you didn’t qualify, maybe for one in October.

Read more on 2020:

Jennifer Rubin: A real gaffe from Bernie Sanders

Greg Sargent: Sun Belt or Rust Belt? Democrats, go for both!

Henry Olsen: Don’t trust candidates who ignore nuclear power

Eugene Robinson: It’s still Biden’s race to lose