Ten hot takes on the first night of the first Democratic debate:
1) Warren dominated the first half of the debate. She had a clear and consistent anti-corporate message that she pounded relentlessly — and the moderators gave her disproportionate time to do it — and none of the others availed themselves of the opportunity to directly challenge her. They seemed more than a little cowed by her strength.
2) I am surprised none of them — particularly Warren — took a shot at Biden, even indirectly. This was a mistake on Warren’s part. The media is hungry to turn this into a two person race — Warren v. Biden, left v. center — and she had a golden opportunity to start to really frame the race that way. She didn’t take it. Big missed opportunity.
3) Of the vaguely plausible candidates, Beto was the biggest loser. I thought he was underwhelming, a generic pretty boy offering forgettable platitudes. Plus, stop it with the Spanish language pandering, compadre. However, a buddy texted me right after the debate ended that the three ladies he watched with were all impressed with Beto, and one of the ladies I was with commented on how tall he was, so there’s that. Life isn’t fair, and neither are campaigns.
4) I thought DeBlasio did better than anyone expected him to do. He certainly beat my expectations. Then again, I started with zero expectations.
5) Booker did okay, but his closing — about his parents overcoming discrimination in seeking the American Dream — should have been his opening. I doubt he did much to move the needle. I still think he should have challenged Warren directly, and created an exchange.
6) Klobuchar delivered a couple of good lines, but overall she came across like she needs a personality transplant. Barring a remarkable medical discovery in the next few months about how to do that, she is not going to be the American president (or the 2020 Democratic nominee).
7) I give Jay Inslee points for FINALLY talking about something besides climate change. Trouble is, he wasn’t as sharp as he should have been in his answers. Worse, his climate change comments didn’t really stand out, and he got his thunder stolen by Beto and Warren on the “biggest geopolitical threat” question, when he named Trump and they named (the right answer) climate change.
8) Warren was not nearly as visible the second half of the debate. You get the sense the hacks from the others campaigns must have been screaming a blue streak at MSNBC staff over the softball questions and air time she was getting in the early going, and as a result Todd and Maddow were told to cool it. Also, she disappeared on foreign policy, which seems to be a weakness for her (Biden campaign take note).
9) I thought it was weird that when Castro picked a fight on immigration, he picked it with Beto. I guess when you’re blind, punching the one-eyed man with a broken leg makes sense. The NYT tells me there’s prior bad blood between the Castro brothers and O’Rourke, so that probably explains it.
10) None of the candidates hit a home run, or even a triple. No truly big, memorable moments. I hate to say it, but I kinda, sorta agree with Trump’s admirably pithy tweet: “BORING!” Bottom line takeaway: tonight was a pretty good night for Warren, cementing her first tier status. Maybe, though, a better night for absent front-runner Joe Biden, who also went unchallenged. After all, when you’re winning, the status quo is good.