(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Molly Roberts, and this is Round 32. Welcome to America, land of the freedom dividend.

The Commentary

The third Democratic debate began with a vow from Andrew Yang to give away $1,000 a month for a year to 10 families, selected randomly in a sweepstakes. This absolutely-not-a-bribe, as it turns out, is a neat metaphor for the hours upon hours of crosstalk that voters have been treated to this summer. For everyone but the three top-tier candidates, these evenings put together are one long contest of luck.

For the first two debates, who was matched with whom? For this one, who made the arbitrary cut? Does a candidate get speaking time proportionate to their place in the polls, and more importantly, do they get speaking time in the right segments? Does the moderator cut them off when their time has elapsed, or has she already given up by that point in the night?

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47!” Beto O’Rourke exclaimed in a breakout moment. But it’s too late for him; you know you’re not a contender when everyone else is singing your praises all night. And Kamala D. Harris turned on too early, back at the first debate.

Of course, candidates are going to take shots at one another, sometimes tinged with substance and sometimes all sound bite. Of course they’re going to “go on … twice over!” as Joe Biden complained. How else are they supposed to get noticed?

“Yeah, that's called the Democratic primary election,” said Julián Castro, who gambled on attacking Joe Biden for “forgetting” what he had said minutes ago — or, in other words, being an old guy. Looks like he’s banking on a VP slot … alongside someone else than the septuagenarian front-runner.

Did anything stick? We’ll see soon enough. Mostly, though, the evening seemed winnerless. Slightly longer answers offered slightly more substance; distinctions on policy points became more distinct still, especially when it came to health care. The debate wasn’t useless for America, but it might have been relatively useless in changing anything meaningful about the race. So congratulations to Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

There’s some consolation, at least. Everyone, Yang promises, will get democracy dollars.

— Molly Roberts

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. Amy Klobuchar UP 1
8. Beto O’Rourke DOWN 1
9. Andrew Yang UP 1
10. Julián Castro DOWN 1
11. (TIE) Michael Bennet UP 1
11. (TIE) Tim Ryan
11. (TIE) Tom Steyer UP 2
14. Steve Bullock RETURNS TO RANKING

Falls off ranking: Tulsi Gabbard

Last week’s ranking: Round 31 | Welcome to the third tier, Kamala Harris

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. Until then, don’t spend all your patriot points at one place.


Read more on the debate:

Jennifer Rubin: Moderates stood out in the third debate. Too bad it won’t make much of a difference.

Alyssa Rosenberg: The Democratic debates are making me feel better about America

Ed Rogers: Ranking the Houston Democratic debaters, from Warren to Beto

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Democrats finally realized who their real opponent is — Trump

The Post’s View: Dear Democrats: The U.S. needs plans, not platitudes, on Afghanistan

Kathleen Parker: Donald Trump clearly won the Democratic debate