I played a different drinking game than the ones Steve recommended for tonight’s Democratic debate. I filled my Power Line mug with tea and took a sip every time one of the candidates said something I agree with.
Had it not been for John Delaney, the former Maryland congressman, I would have ended up with a full cup of very cold tea.
But the question isn’t whether I agreed with what the candidates said. The question is how Democratic primary voters perceived the debate.
That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t perceive things the way Democratic primary voters do. Here, though, is my best attempt to assess the performance of the ten candidates who appeared tonight.
Elizabeth Warren: I thought she had a good night. She started out like gangbusters, but faded in the second hour. Then she finished with a closing statement in which she succeeded, for the first time, in sounding like a flesh and blood human being rather than a fount of left-wing policy prescriptions.
I can see Warren being a handful for Joe Biden when the two finally appear on the same stage.
Warren was one of only two candidates who favored doing away with all private insurance (Bill de Blasio was the other). I think that stance will hurt her if she’s the Democratic nominee.
Cory Booker: In my opinion, he’s the best natural politician of the ten (and probably the 20). He showed it tonight. I believe he had the best night of anyone.
Among other things, he was able to pander to African American voters — e.g. by constantly reminding them that he lives in an inner city neighborhood — without doing anything to limit his mainstream appeal. I think the debate will give him a needed boost but, again, I’m not well qualified to predict how Democrats react.
Beto O’Rourke: The opposite of Warren. He got off to a terrible start before rallying in the second half of the debate. By then, I think, it was too late.
O’Rourke began the debate by speaking in Spanish, which was weird. When he switched to English, he sounded a little off key. Then he was attacked by de Blasio (on private insurance) and by Julian Castro (on immigration policy). O’Rourke held on against the mayor but was trounced by the former cabinet secretary.
O’Rourke sported a 5:00 p.m. shadow the likes of which I haven’t seen since Richard Nixon. His candidacy seemed to be in trouble heading into tonight. If anything, it’s probably in more trouble now.
Amy Klobuchar: She came across as highly likable and, other than Delaney, was the most sensible candidate of the batch. I think nearly all Democrats except for the most radical ones will come away from tonight with a positive impression of Klobuchar. If Biden falters, she may get some serious consideration by voters who don’t want the party to veer completely to the left.
Julian Castro: He had a good night, maybe second only to Booker. He pitched shamelessly for the Latino vote and probably made some headway. As noted, he also schooled Beto O’Rourke.
Tulsi Gabbard: All “no more foreign wars” all the time. I don’t think she moved the needle much, but maybe her research or instincts told her she could stand out by running as the anti-war candidate while everyone else focused on domestic policy.
Tim Ryan gave her an assist by debating our presence in Afghanistan with her. I’m sure that, in the eyes of Democratic voters, Gabbard won that debate.
Jay Inslee: All “climate change threatens to destroy us” all the time. I don’t think he moved the needle.
Tim Ryan: All “forgotten workers of the Midwest” all the time, except when he defended our continued military engagement in Afghanistan. I don’t think he moved the needle.
John Delaney: A fairly sensible guy. He was the only candidate on stage whose presidency I wouldn’t greatly fear. Too bad he remains a no-hoper.
Bill de Blasio: He established himself as the most left-wing candidate on stage, even more so than Warren. As such, he produced some strong sound bites.
However, I think with Bernie Sanders and Warren filling the left lane, there isn’t room for de Blasio. He may have helped himself marginally tonight, but I’m pretty sure he’s still a no-hoper.
UPDATE: I’ve now looked at some internet polls. For what they are worth, they show Gabbard as the clear winner with Warren second. After that, it’s Castro and Booker, the two I thought were the winners.
O’Rourke is near the bottom in all of the online polls I’ve seen.