Democratic Debates: Night One Takeaways

The opening night of primary debate season opened somewhat quietly. Most candidates seized the opportunity to introduce themselves, often ignoring the question to circle back to their bread and butter talking points. The bigger names, especially Booker, performed fairly well, and largely avoided getting into confrontation with each other. Below are some of my biggest takeaways.

Bill De Blasio

Going into last night, the average American could probably identify three of the ten candidates on stage. That made the debate especially important for the other seven, as an opportunity to introduce themselves and make some sort of lasting impression. De Blasio seized that opportunity.

De Blasio was the tallest on stage and frequently the loudest, two qualities that are neither inherently good nor bad on their own, but feel like they have the same subconscious effect of being the first or last person to interview for a job. Regardless of the substance of what was said, De Blasio had two memorable qualities going for him.

It didn’t hurt that De Blasio frequently rocked the boat when he did speak. De Blasio opened the intra-candidate scuffling by calling out Beto O’Rourke for defending private insurance. While De Blasio didn’t get to follow up on his question, it was still a notable moment. De Blasio is significantly behind O’Rourke in the polls and called out a candidate whose weak spot is substantive policy ideas.

Additionally, there was a moment where I thought De Blasio was about to declare that the Democratic party needed to be the party of working people everywhere. If you had that on your Bingo card I think you could have just called it a night right then.

Julian Castro – Issue Candidate?

Castro showed well in what was likely many Americans’ first exposure to him. Whether he has the staying power to remain in this race into the later phases remains to be seen, but if nothing else it seems like he has a chance to push the party’s stance on immigration.

In another intra-candidate scuffle, Castro challenged everyone on stage to get rid of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a position further to the left of most other current proposals on offer and one that has since been adopted by Senators Warren and Booker. I don’t want to prematurely pigeon-hole Castro, but he clearly showed the most chops on the immigration issue, something that should have a lasting impact on this race, regardless of the fate of his candidacy.

He also appropriately pushed back on what was an abysmally designed question posed by Chuck Todd.

“Thirty seconds, Secretary Castro, does — who pays for the mitigation to — to climate, whether it’s building sea walls, for people that are perhaps living in places that they shouldn’t be living? Is this a federal government issue that needs to do that? Do they have to move these people? What do you do about that, where maybe they’re building a place someplace that isn’t safe? Who pays to build that house? And how much should the government be bailing them out?”

I think he’s trying to elicit the response that the oil industry should pay for the cost of fighting climate change? Maybe? Brutal.

Beto O’Rourke – Beginning of the End?

During the immigration section, O’Rourke was pointedly called out by Castro for not adopting his plan to repeal Section 1325, and, well, didn’t really have a response.

It’s telling that both Castro and De Blasio went after O’Rourke, and it wasn’t a great night for Beto, a candidate with higher name recognition than most others on the stage. Beto’s candidacy has been built largely on his charisma as a campaigner and an aspirational, albeit substantively hollow, message of uniting America. If the race to this point has shown anything, it’s that policy proposals will feature prominently in deciding it.

There doesn’t really appear to be a lane for O’Rourke to make a deep run in this race. He’s not the policy candidate. He was outperformed by Booker as the aspirational candidate. And he isn’t the climate change candidate. After being caught without a rebuttal by two lesser known candidates, and with a glaring weak spot in an area that looks to be a major factor in deciding this race, you wonder how long O’Rourke’s campaign is likely to continue.

Tim Ryan – Hot Take of the Night

I don’t really know why Tim Ryan was on stage any more than you do, but I do know he had the most absurd stance of any that were proposed. When discussing foreign policy and American intervention abroad, Ryan seemed to make the case that the problem with Afghanistan and Iraq was that we needed more Afghanistan and Iraq.

That’s an incredible read of those catastrophes.

The Liz Warren Show

Warren received about as preferable a draw as you could have asked for. She was the only heavyweight on the stage on night one of the debates and will be able to sit back tonight and watch the three others in her weight-class go head-to-head.

She largely rode those circumstances to a good night.

Warren opened strong with responses on the economy, getting multiple opportunities to talk before several others had any opportunity. She was frequently returned to by the moderators and given the opportunity to respond to other candidate responses, as well as being framed as the standard bearer on a question to Senator Booker about breaking up big tech.

At times she ducked questions, most notably on gun control. As a candidate whose schtick is being the one that has put in the research to have a plan for the many issues facing the nation, she proposed that we…take the time to research the problem more. It’s an interesting sidestep by a candidate generally seen to be the wonk of the group, and I think it speaks to her eye towards New Hampshire, a state that’s far more libertarian liberal than big government liberal.

She sat out a large chunk of the middle section of the debate, a section that included climate change(a disappointment and missed opportunity), as well as foreign policy(not a bad idea, given it’s a weak spot for her).

Overall, I don’t think this debate will move the needle much either way for her, though I’m not entirely sure that was ever a real possibility. On a night where she stood as the only heavyweight, it was unlikely she was ever going to face a challenge that would push her.

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