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Detroit Debate: Rapid-Fire Candidate Reviews and Overall Thoughts

Bernie: Even shoutier than usual.  He's got a solid base, but his loud, frenzied delivery is tough to stomach in anything other than very small doses.

Warren: Avoided the middle class tax cuts question (ahem) like the plague, but did well enough to remain a top contender.  Her look of indignant, shocked outrage over prosaic disagreements isn't appealing.  Also, pointing out simple mathematical and pragmatic realities is not a "Republican talking point," a claim she and Bernie Sanders used against numerous Democrats and even CNN's Jake Tapper.


Pete: Collected and thoughtful, but strays into off-putting self-righteousness too often.  This answer was disappointingly cheap and demagogic, playing the 'bad Christian' card over totally defensible economic disagreements over...the consequences of a federal minimum wage?  C'mon:

Beto: Better than last time, but hardly the big breakout he needed.

Klobuchar: Her messaging is smart, but her delivery felt sleepy and stilted.  She came closest to striking a moderate policy approach without really punching at Sanders or Warren.  I'm not sure that will help her galvanize support.

Ryan: Much better than last outing, landing a number of blows against the frontrunners on stage.  One of his 'reality check' moments was quickly shared by Team Trump as trenchant critique of where much of the policy energy is headed within the Democratic Party.  This is bruising on healthcare and immigration alone:

Hickenlooper: Stressed his executive experience and pragmatism, but didn't exactly shine through. The party will lean on him harder and harder to drop out and run for Senate.


Williamson: Wacky, full of nonsensical gibberish, but undeniably memorable.  Garnered a few of the biggest applause lines of the night.  And generated a lot of buzz and curiosity (#DarkPsychicEnergy):

Delaney: Cogent and crisp.  He made sense.  Frequently.  He was the foil for the socialists, and proved quite capable in that role, earning a lot of air time.  Is there any appetite for that among Democratic voters?  If he doesn't bounce out of this, he'll never go anywhere.

Bullock: A mixed performance, occasionally teaming up with Ryan, Delaney and Hickenlooper to criticize left-wing 'magical' plans.

Three other stray thoughts: (1) Some of the (relative) moderates came out swinging and really made aggressive cases against overreach and unrealistic promises.  Is Biden capable of doing the same tomorrow?  Does he have the clarity and desire to do so? (2) Two of the moderators acted as fair journalists. The other one sometimes felt more partisan than any of the actual declared Democratic candidates standing onstage. (3) The healthcare fight was real and quite interesting.  Please recall that even the "centrist" "compromise" approach is neither, and would both increase costs and erode private insurance.  (4) We waited two-plus hours before we heard a foreign policy question, a realm in which presidents wield significant unilateral powers.  Zero questions about Mueller or impeachment -- less than a week removed from the rocky hearings, and despite the premium many base voters place on the issue.  Interesting.  This was a very long debate, and now there's another one tomorrow.  Some major winnowing is coming, and not a moment too soon.



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