Last night’s first Democratic primary debate gave us the first look at the candidates vying for an opportunity to take on a Republican from the shit show that has been the GOP primary debates.
The first thing that struck me was the tone. Martin O’Malley, though entering a fringe player and probably remaining so, was precisely right in his closing statement when he made the point about the tone of the debate. It was refreshing after having to endure the GOP debate reality TV series. OK. OK. I didn’t have to watch them!
Having finally gotten a look at the full slate of candidates for the Democratic nomination, here are my thoughts in order of my judgement on how they did last night:
Hillary Clinton – Hillary was solid. She’s tacked to the left and will continue to no doubt take some heat from some of her more moderate positions of the past, but so far she’s answered them in a way that appears genuine and not overly politically calculating – something else she’ll get hammered for surely. The problem with hitting the Clintons on being overly politically calculating is that they are overly politically calculating so it’s tough to beat them long term in the game of politics.
For me, Hillary came away from this debate looking the most Presidential. She was tough when she needed to be, quick witted with her repartee, laughed when she needed to laugh, and quiet when she needed to be quiet. In all, a really solid performance from a candidate with pretty high debate expectations. The thing that makes Hillary Clinton such a viable candidate at this stage of her career is that she just seems solid and grounded and ready for battle. She was, to me, clearly the most poised candidate on the stage last night. The heat will obviously increase over the course of the next weeks and months, but she seems ready for it. It feels like Hillary’s time.
Bernie Sanders – Bernie had a good night and probably the best moment in the debate when he defended Hillary over Email-gate. You could argue this was a great moment for both of them. It bolstered Clinton while showing the true nature of Bernie as a stand up guy who isn’t overly political.
The problem I have with Bernie is while I love a great deal of what he has to say, he comes off more like a professor than a President. Really smart guy with lots of great ideas, but a bit aloof. There is an uneasy feeling I get when watching him debate. Something I simultaneously like about his nature, but at the same time in the back of my mind I’m thinking he doesn’t LOOK Presidential. That is worrisome when compared to Clinton who does. Of course, a Donald Trump opponent makes much of this moot for him, but the problem remains for me at this point.
It just feels like he’s a candidate that may push the Dem frontrunner to adopt positions they may otherwise not, but despite polls he just feels not very electable. Unfair? Maybe. Reality in POTUS elections nonetheless.
Martin O’Malley – O’Malley came off more Presidential and solid than I thought he would, but didn’t really have the commanding performance he needed to break through the Clinton/Sanders clutter.
His standout moment to me was the closing arguments, but I’m not sure it was enough to boost his 1% status in the polls.
I came away liking him. He was relatively polished and solid, but for me it was more “I like this guy” rather than “This guy can win!”
Jim Webb – Webb’s performance to me was essentially a flop. He came out slow and never picked up any steam. Of all the candidates he seemed stuck on talking points and not really engaged in the debate in a free flowing manner. He didn’t seem to have much command of what was being discussed and his performance was just overall very awkward.
He belabored what should have been a small quip about getting enough time, making him look more like a whiner than a show of strength. Again, awkward.
He turned what was a pretty light-hearted question about political enemies the candidates have made over the years into a story about him killing a man in Vietnam. His military record is impressive and Jim Webb is basically a badass, but this was poorly timed and not the right context to make the point. It came off as a bit odd.
Lincoln Chafee – Speaking of awkward, there is Lincoln Chafee. He had the worst night. He seemed mentally disjointed and flustered for most of the debate. I can’t think of a single good moment that sticks out for me. He just looked awkward. When asked why he voted in 1999 to repeal Glass-Steagal, Chafee gave a bizarre rambling answer about his father dying and it being his first day. Anderson Cooper jumped on it and it got even worse.
If he had a run in him, it ended last night.
Chafee also gave Hillary one of her bigger moments when discussing the email scandal situation. Chafee agreed it was a huge issue and went on for a couple minutes about it. Cooper turned to Clinton to ask is she’d like to respond to which Clinton answered, “No.”
I don’t think that much changed in the landscape for the Democratic nomination for President. Clinton is the clear front-runner. Sanders will make noise and probably get some things co-opted, but if Hillary can tap in to any of the energy he’s creating she’ll win going away. No other candidate is even really worth mentioning, as was expected.