Five comments on last night’s debate

Five comments about last nights debate:

  1. While Joe Biden presented himself well on some issues, he was too often backward looking and lacked force. He stumbled on the most important exchange of the night when Kamala Harris went after him on his opposition to busing and comments about segregationist senators. He seemed defensive and even a bit deflated during and after the exchange. The sensitivity of the topic (race) and how it underscored Biden’s biggest weakness (age) was a one-two punch––a hard hit right out of the gate.
  2. Bernie Sanders was, well, Bernie Sanders. Now that other Democrats have embraced his ideas, he seems to have lost steam. Elizabeth Warren’s strong debate performance Wednesday was also bad news for him.
  3. Last night, we saw a number of candidates at the bottom of the polls––such as Eric Swalwell and Kirsten Gillibrand––struggle for attention, even when it meant butting in and talking over others. When candidates do that, they better have something unique and powerful to say. In most cases, they didn’t, and became annoying.
  4. Remember: These two debates were only the first round. There are more to come, and that gives candidates who didn’t do particularly well this week a chance to come back and do better. It also means those who did do well could face a slump down the line. Next week’s polling will give us a good reading, a chance to see if the kaleidoscope really turned.
  5. As in the first debate, the thrust of the discussion went well to the left of the political center. Democrats keep digging a hole for themselves in the general election.

Candidates who helped themselves to some degree last night:

Kamala Harris: She was the only candidate who clearly helped herself. Post-debate punditry was gushing in praise of her. She had the energy and the most applause lines. Her prosecutorial experience showed through as she pressed her arguments and confronted Biden. Now, she has to harness the new attention she’s drawn and turn it into dollars and votes.

Pete Buttigieg: He’s had his share of problems over the past 10 days due to the police shooting in South Bend. Though he took some criticism, his handling of the issue last night was forthright and demonstrated a willingness to take personal responsibility. Whether his performance was strong enough to put the issue to rest remains a big unanswered question. Nonetheless, he presented himself effectively on most matters and projected reasonableness––which may help him regain a stronger footing.

Ron Faucheux

Dr. Faucheux is a nationally respected public opinion analyst with a unique background in public policy and legislative research, public communications and message strategies. He combines professional competence with pragmatic problem solving skills.