And the winner is …
She’s not my first choice on policy, but damn would I pay money to see Kamala Harris on a debate stage with Trump.
And what’s that noise about Joe Biden being the best person to take on Trump? I never believed it, but after last night you’d have to be a Biden cult follower to still think he’s the Only One Who Can Beat Trump. His affable Uncle Joe act was not working for him, at all.
Greg Sargent has an interesting analysis. Biden has simultaneously been selling himself as a champion of civil rights while, at the same time, signaling to white working class voters that he’s still the guy who fought busing.
When we discuss Biden’s electability in the industrial Midwest, race is central to what we’re talking about, and we all know it.
The most charitable way to put this is that Biden comes from a Democratic Party that precedes its new “wokeness,” so those voters might be more comfortable with him. A less charitable way is that Biden’s past association with things like his opposition to busing — which meant capturing the political energy of white racial backlash — carries an implicit racial and cultural signaling that will reassure them.
One key reason that Biden’s nostalgia over white supremacist senators blew up on him is that it ripped the lid off of all this. Just as Harris does, I believe Biden when he insists he was, and is, horrified by their white supremacy.
But what still remains ambiguous is whether Biden does or does not conceive the source of his claimed appeal to conservative whites as rooted in subtle appeals to blue collar white identity politics, as Jamelle Bouie has detailed.
This ambiguity was pushed forward when Biden adamantly refused to back off his praise for segregationist senators and, worse, when he dressed down African American Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) over the matter.
Harris put Biden on notice that he’s not going to get away with it. And he won’t, with younger voters, although I’ve seen polling saying that older voters are willing to give him a pass. Well, we’ll see what the polls do.
If Harris was the biggest winner and Biden — who had the most to lose — the biggest loser, what about the rest of the field? My impression is that it came down to who did and did not hurt themselves. For example, Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders, and if you love Bernie you still love him, and if you don’t, you still don’t. I don’t think he was much of a factor last night, but he didn’t hurt himself.
Likewise Pete Buttigieg, who is mostly getting good reviews, didn’t hurt himself, but I don’t know if he helped himself. I suspect he mostly reinforced the impression he had already made on voters.
Michael Bennet had little speaking time, but when he did have the mic he managed to not be obnoxious. He may have helped himself with moderate voters, for what that’s worth.
I’m not sure about Kirsten Gillibrand. She was working hard at being assertive and did more than her share of interrupting. I remember agreeing with a lot of what she said. But no one is talking about Gillibrand this morning. She didn’t “break out.”
Andrew Yang had nothing to lose and little speaking time. He is mostly remembered today for not wearing a tie.
Now, to the second-tier losers. The Mr. Obnoxious Award goes to Eric Swalwell for his repeated bellowing of “pass the torch!” at Biden and Sanders.
John Hickenlooper remains The Candidate From the Past Century. I might have given him a second look in the 1980s. Well, no probably not then, either.
And last and least, there is The Candidate From Another Galaxy, Marianne Williamson, whose performance last night deserves to be re-enacted in an SNL skit. Last night I posted “Marianne Williamson is annoying” on my Facebook page, and the first person who agreed with me is a Zen priest. Really. She must have some following or she wouldn’t have been on the stage, but I seriously hope she’s gone before the next round.
For those just tuning in, here is Debate Part I.
Update: Frank Rich, Kamala Harris’s Debate Performance Should Scare Trump