Absent any data just yet, the best morning-after reports on Tuesday’s presidential debate in Ohio can do is share impressions. Here’s mine.
The 12 Democratic presidential candidates on stage provided an impressively diverse, attractive and articulate field, once again a great ‘look’ for their party, in stark comparison to the GOP leadership. I kept thinking that any Democratic president could craft a damn good cabinet out of this group.
None of them set the debate ablaze last night. But there were no dumpster fires either, no gaffe’s or major blunders. The overall level of civility was good. Everyone was respectful this time. I hope Trump-fatigued voters compare, subconciously at least, these Democrats to Trump’s sour spirit, incessant whining and growing desperation.
Front-runners Warren and Biden had solid performances. Both showed they can handle the heat without bristling. They made their cases well enough, with an edge to Warren, who radiates a sense of earned confidence — she always does her homework. Biden handled the Ukrainegate questions adequately, which may be all he can do in the short time allotted in that debate format. Sen. Sanders, who is running a close third in many polls, appeared healthy, energetic and focused.
Warren and Sanders still have to make the sale on Medicare for All. Warren kept insisting that her plan would provide lower overall costs to consumers, when she was asked about whether or not it would be financed by higher taxes on the middle class. I don’t doubt that she is right. But a little more clarity, explaining the lowered “costs” to consumers, in light of insurance premiums and out of pocket expenses wouldn’t hurt.
The same goes for the timetable for securing Medicare for All. No telling how many voters think Warren and Sanders are advocating a sudden end for the private health insurance industry and the jobs of its millions of employees, when in reality, they are advocating a more gradual transition. It’s hard to do this in sound bites, but she and Sanders have to figure out a way to make it more clear than has thus far been the case.
More than any of the others, however, Klobuchar helped herself, and she may get a small bump in the polls. Her “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream” zinger targeting Warren was the sharpest cut of the evening. But Klobuchar was also lucid and compelling in her other remarks. If Biden sinks, it’s not hard to envision her winning a healthy portion of his centrist/moderate supporters.
Buttigieg and Harris also performed well. Both are adept at criticizing opponents and analyzing policies. But I wish Harris would roll out an overall vision statement, instead of just phrases hinting at it here and there. Ditto for Julian Castro. Really, all of the candidates could do better in terms of sharing an inclusive vision for America, and particularly the Rust Belt, where the 2020 outcome will likely be decided.
Tulsi Gabbard and Beto O’Rourke came across as serious, thoughtful and likeable candidates. A little seasoning could make them both formidable in future campaigns. Steyer was surprisingly tough on curbing corporate power, but it’s hard to see what he adds to the field that isn’t already there. Yang provided some interesting insights about automation, prompting a good discussion that added some weight to the debate. But getting more polling traction in such a large field is a tough challenge for all of the second-tier candidates.
Sharp and alert, Cory Booker may have scored some points with his positive appeal for civility and Democratic unity. He looks increasingly like a front-runner for the veep slot on the Democratic ticket.
Of course an upset win in Iowa or New Hampshire by any of the candidates would more than offset fading impressions from these debates.
The Democratic presidential candidate field is expected to narrow for the November debate, as the requirements get tougher. For now, Democrats can be proud of the choices their party offered in Ohio last night.