One Democratic debate in the books. The night’s biggest winner? Someone who has no shot at the nomination. The biggest loser? Someone who didn’t even show up. Let’s get to the debate grades.
Group 1: Um, Thanks for Coming?
Lincoln Chafee: You guys remember that time Lincoln Chafee admitted he didn’t know what he was voting for in the Senate because he had just shown up and didn’t read the Glass-Steagall bill so just voted with the majority? That was awesome. In his defense, there’s a chance he just showed up to the debate like five minutes earlier. He was unconvincing on most of his responses and mostly looked just happy to be there, the Ringo of the debate. Even his attacks on credibility and Clinton’s Iraq War vote fell flat. He might double his polling numbers thanks to some sympathy support. Unfortunately, that means he’ll go from about 0.3 to 0.6. Grade: D
Jim Webb: I think Jim Webb is still wasting time by complaining about his lack of it. Jim Webb was the kid on the playground who took his ball and went home when he was losing. Or maybe he was the kid in class who outworked everyone yet his classmates and teacher still didn’t like him. Or maybe… ahh, I could do this all day. If Chafee was just happy to be there, Webb was furious that elections come down to pageantry. His whining about time got annoying quickly, especially considering Chafee got a lot less of it but was still thrilled to be seen on national TV. I used to think Webb was the only declared candidate who could unite moderate Democrats and make a run at Clinton thanks to general election crossover potential. But hearing his answers on guns, Black Lives Matter, and climate change, I’m starting to think he’s just too moderate — and some might call it tone deaf — to gain traction in the Democratic Party. He was surely every Republican’s favorite Democrat on that stage, but that won’t help him in a Democratic Primary. Like Rand Paul with the GOP, he’s running for the nomination of a party that just thinks too differently, and he’s not changing minds any time soon. While he was predictably superb on foreign policy, he didn’t approach smooth anywhere else. Maybe if he had more time? Someone teach this droner the art of the soundbite. He’s the most likely candidate to drop out first. Grade: C-
Group 2: Solid Job
Bernie Sanders: Bernie galvanized the base! But wait — the base was already galvanized. It remains to be seen whether he converted others, and I don’t think he did. He did not weather the surprisingly aggressive, two-pronged attack from Clinton and Sanders on gun control very well. I’m guessing most Sanders supporters did not know their progressive champion had this bullet-sized hole in his résumé. He did seem to have the debate’s best moment, though. Let the world know that Bernie Sanders is sick and tired of hearing about Clinton’s damn emails! I suspect the rest of the Democratic Party is, too. (His “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress” was a terrific soundbite, too.) He lacked confidence on all things foreign policy, which allowed Webb and Clinton to get a leg up. Still, when it came to social and economic issues, he was in classic Bernie form. Grade: B
Hillary Clinton: That gust of wind you feel is all of Clinton’s supporters breathing a sigh of relief at once. She was good. Poised, rehearsed, relaxed, sometimes affable, rarely condescending, and as informed as anyone on stage. She’s happy with that debate, and if Biden never jumps in, I think most of his supporters will now feel comfortable turning to her. If he stays out, she could climb toward 50 percent in the next poll. Better yet, her solid performance might keep Biden at bay for good. Let the record show he probably peaked last week, and this debate may have made his decision for him. There will be a lot less clamor for him now. Joe Biden is the night’s biggest loser. Grade: B+
Group 3: The Winner
Martin O’Malley: No one on that stage had a better mix of likability, reasoned responses, and harnessed passion on the issues. He showed as progressive or even more-so than Sanders, especially on climate change and gun control. As I expected, he touted his history of getting things done as an executive. He had the best closing statement of the night, touting the night’s performances from Democrats as more impressive and respectable than what viewers have seen on the Republican side. That will play well across the party. I’m confident he’ll have the steepest climb in the polls, but considering he started the night with a 0.4 Real Clear Politics average, even a jump of 500 percent still keeps him at a couple of points. Still, he won this thing. Grade: A-
- Clinton up a few points.
- Sanders holds within a couple points.
- Biden down a handful as people get impatient. He needs to jump in within a week or not at all.
- O’Malley up a few.
- Webb holds or even ticks up thanks to uniting all remaining conservative Democrats.
- Chafee continues to poll a binary code.