Grading Each Candidate in Tonight’s Nevada Democratic Presidential Debate
Here’s what one Nevadan thinks about tonight’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Anyone who says or believes tonight’s debate was bad for Democrats or harmful to party unity simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
That attitude smacks of someone with zero political instinct and no knowledge of American political history.
Fact: Debates are a pressure test and a cleanse. They are one of the best ways to reveal weaknesses, just as the questions and answers/give and take allows the best candidates to show strength. Moreover, instead of canned scripts and predictable stump speeches which are all too common nowadays, candidates were forced to engage and think on their feet. Some Democrats shined in their moment. At least one candidate melted under the spotlight left a puddle in the middle of the stage.
Party infighting is often good for the party and the eventual nominee. As evidence, I give you the following historical markers
2016 Republicans (won) — 21 candidates began, brutal personal attacks and infighting….resulted in Trump win
2008 Democrats (won) — Clinton, Edwards, and Obama were locked in a three-way dead heat early on. Debates got testy. Eventually, Obama got the nomination and won big.
2000 Republicans (won) — The McCain-Bush primaries got very personal. Things turned ugly. Result? Bush ended up winning a razor-thin victory.
1992 Democrats (won) — Clinton was hammered early on, and thought to be dead in NH. Other candidates piled on, and the party was divided until Clinton’s nomination. End result: Democrats won the election.
1988 Republicans (won) — Jack Kemp and VP Goerge Bush Sr. were in a knock-down-drag-out primary. Kemp forces did not like nor trust the Bush establishment. Outcome? Republicans won big.
1980 Republicans (won) — Reagan initially competed versus a dozen candidates and even had to face a split off wing led by John Anderson (Republican) who ran as an Independent. At one point during a debate, Reagan grabbed the microphone and said, “I paid for this microphone, so I’m going to speak!” Rival George Bush eventually took the VP slot. Divided party? Yes, in February. Then, they won big in November.
Sure, there have been divided parties that lost presidential elections a number of times. But let’s look at the actual historical record and agree with some balance. Again — tonight’s fierce debate is GOOD for the party and makes eventual nominee tougher. Politics isn’t softball. It’s hardball time. I want serious answers, passion, and pressure testing of candidates. I want to see which candidates can take and throw a punch because a cage fight is what’s going to happen in the general election.
Now, on to my grades for each candidate:
Elizabeth Warren: Grade — A+
I thought Warren might be finished. But she stole the show. Warren was on target all night long, had just the right tone, interjected herself into the debate at the perfect moments, and may have obliterated Michael Bloomberg in a 5-minute stretch that was cringeworthy for the New York billionaire. She destroyed Bloomberg, and that alone keep her in the race. I wish I had seen this fire earlier. Mad props to Warren tonight, the clear winner, by far.
Joe Biden: Grade — B
Biden did well by Biden standards. He didn’t knock anything out of the park, but he hit a clear single and then stole second base. Biden has been lagging on the campaign trail but we saw some fire from him tonight, persuasively arguing he’s been on the right side of many political battles and was there in the trenches with Obama. I didn’t expect much out of Biden, but this was one of his better performances and natural displays of energy. I also thought his command of subject knowledge and experience shined through tonight.
Amy Klobuchar: Grade — C+
Klobuchar needed to perform better but she got tangled up with Buttigieg and others and needed to be rescued by Warren at one point during the exchanges. Again, Klobuchar and/or her staff seem unprepared for questions and controversies certain to be exposed. Why not have a scripted response read to launch? This is the first class of Political Campaigning 101. Klobuchar was semi-effective when talking about her Senate record, but are her votes as a Senator really going to sway any votes? I did not see her connect with the audience tonight in the same way she’s done over the past week, which was effective. I call it a push for Klobuchar. But as the third- or fourth-leading candidate in the race she now needs to take some chances. Playing it safe isn’t a winning strategy.
Bernie Sanders: Grade — C
Since Sanders is the frontrunner, the fact he was only attacked by Bloomberg for the most part, is a win for him. He fought a draw, which is okay when the race remains so fluid. I think Sanders hurt himself somewhat with some fumbling and repetitiveness. Sanders has opportunities to connect with people on a more personal level but often comes across as angry and even militant. I personally like anger and militancy, but that won’t win a nomination or an election. I also think Sanders has to leave some things alone when he’s attacked. Let the desperate attack him, but stay on message. Sanders appears to get flustered on occasion, which is a concern. I tend to watch Sanders more closely for obvious reasons, so perhaps my critique is a bit more sharp towards him.
Pete Buttigieg: Grade — C-
First time we saw Buttigieg attacked repeatedly tonight, and while he remained very much in control, for the most part, we also saw some cracks in the emotional china cabinet. I didn’t think Buttigieg reacted well when pressed by both Warren and Klobuchar, and his anti-Washington bullshit is hick stuff. Buttigieg has been refreshing throughout the campaign, but tonight was his first miss. Nothing catastrophic happened But we might have seen Mayor Pete topping out.
Michael Bloomberg: Grade — F
I cannot fathom a worse more unprepared performance than we saw tonight from Mike Bloomberg. I thought these New York types were supposed to be smart and tough? Bloomberg was horrendous. He was utterly destroyed by Warren during one exchange and then made the controversy (about his background and treatment of women) worse with an answer that made the audience groan. His calling Bernie Sanders “a communist” at one point was straight out of the Republican playbook, and even the other candidates were shocked. The billionaire emporer has no clothes. As I said, thank goodness for debates. They exposed this fraud quick. He’ll be around for a while and might even be a force, but Bloomberg lost everyone’s respect tonight as a serious choice in the race. Just a horrific performance in every way.
Heading into Saturday’s Nevada caucus, my scorecard now reads:
KLOBUCHAR — 45
SANDERS — 45
WARREN — 10
* note: percent chance I will vote for the candidate in the caucus