Pundits say Amy Klobuchar and Donald Trump came out on top of the first Democratic debate of 2020 – an event one reviewer branded ‘the night of the living dead’. 

Six candidates took the stage on Tuesday night in Des Moines to face off for the final time before the Iowa caucuses on February 3. 

Analysts are largely in agreement that none of the candidates pulled off a runaway win, although Klobuchar took a commanding lead in a Drudge poll with 25 percent of the vote.  

The Minnesota senator was widely praised for her pragmatic presence on stage.   

Her strongest moment came when she sounded off on Medicare-for-all, pointing to growing concern among voters the Democratic nominee will need a more widely-supported alternative.  

‘This debate isn’t real,’ Klobuchar said. ‘I was in Vegas the other day, and someone said don’t put your chips on a number on the wheel that isn’t even on the wheel. That’s the problem. Over two thirds of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate are not on the bill that [Sanders] and Senator Warren are on.’

She went on to reference her list of 137 things she will accomplish in her first 100 days in office without going through Congress.    

CNN’s Chris Cillizza listed Klobuchar among his winners for the night, writing that she accomplished her goal of casting herself as a ‘pragmatic alternative to voters looking for someone other than Biden (or, to a lesser extent, Buttigieg) to vote for’.  

Trump was also branded a winner after escaping the debate largely unscathed compared to his would-be opponents, despite early attacks over last week’s assassination of a top Iranian general.  

CNN’s Van Jones remarked that he was dispirited by the debate because none of the candidates showed signs that they were strong enough to beat Trump.  

Pundits say Amy Klobuchar came out on top of the first Democratic debate of 2020 - a night one reviewer branded 'the night of the living dead'

President Donald Trump was also branded a winner after escaping the debate largely unscathed compared to his would-be opponents, despite early attacks over last week's assassination of a top Iranian general

Pundits say Amy Klobuchar and Donald Trump came out on top of the first Democratic debate of 2020 – a night one reviewer branded ‘the night of the living dead’

Six Democratic presidential contenders took the stage at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night. Pictured left to right: Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar

Perhaps one of the reasons the debate felt dull to some viewers was the lack of an anticipated clash between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. 

The pair had been engaged in a heated back-and-forth ahead of the debate over a report that Sanders told Warren in a private 2018 meeting at her Washington D.C. apartment that a female candidate couldn’t beat Donald Trump. 

Warren confirmed that report while Sanders insisted that he never said anything of the sort.

The pair calmly addressed the issue on stage but failed to come to an agreement over what Sanders said.  

Elizabeth Warren

Bernie Sanders

Perhaps one of the reasons the debate felt dull to some viewers was the lack of an anticipated clash between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Vox analyst Anna North concluded that the discussion benefited both candidates as they used it to focus attention back on their on their strengths.  

‘Warren made the point that when it comes to winning elections, she and Sen Amy Klobuchar actually have a better record than some of their male opponents: “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me,”‘ North wrote. 

‘Later, she noted the importance of female candidates and voters in delivering the House and state legislatures around the country for Democrats in 2018. 

HOW LONG EACH CANDIDATE SPOKE

Elizabeth Warren19 minutes, 11 seconds

Bernie Sanders18 minutes, 26 seconds

Amy Klobuchar16 minutes, 59 seconds

Pete Buttigieg16 minutes, 48 seconds

Joe Biden 16 minutes, 17 seconds

Tom Steyer12 minutes, 24 seconds 

Source: NBC News 

‘And she offered a clear and concise argument for herself as the woman and person to beat Trump in 2020: “We need a candidate who will excite all parts of the Democratic Party, bring everyone in, and give everyone a Democrat to believe in. That’s my plan, and that is why I’m going to win.”‘

North praised Sanders for how he handled the discussion, which put him in the difficult position of defending himself against sexism allegations while simultaneously arguing that he, a man, should be the nominee. 

‘Anybody who knows me knows it is incomprehensible that I would think that a woman could not be president of the United States,’ the Vermont senator said.

‘Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. How could anybody in a million years think a woman could become president of the United States? 

‘And let me be very clear, if any of the women on this stage, or any of the men on this stage, win the nomination – I hope that’s not the case, I hope it’s me – but if they do, I will do everything in my power to ensure they are elected in order to defeat the most president in the history of our country,’ he added to applause from the audience.

Elizabeth Warren refused to shake Bernie Sanders hand at the end of debate

Elizabeth Warren refused to shake Bernie Sanders hand at the end of debate

Pundits were also split over former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg's performance

Pundits were also split over former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg’s performance 

Some pundits disagreed over how successful Sanders and Warren were throughout the entirety of the debate.  

Another Vox analyst, Dylan Matthews, chose Sanders as one of his winners, writing: ‘He solidly owned discussions of health care and climate change, and he solidified his status, recently regained from Warren, as the leading voice of the party’s left.’

Meanwhile, Cillizza put Sanders in his ‘losers’ column, writing: ‘Sanders’ dismissiveness about Warren’s statement that he had told her a woman couldn’t win the White House in 2020 — “I didn’t say it,” he claimed — bothered me. 

‘Sanders tried to portray the issue as immaterial — hatched by Republicans and the media to distract voters. But it’s not. Warren herself said — on the record! — that when she told Sanders she thought a woman could win, “he disagreed,” (Warren reiterated that stance in the debate.) 

‘Sanders did effectively contrast his record on the war in Iraq and on trade with Biden. But he was somehow on the outside looking in when the subject turned to ‘Medicare for All’ – it was mostly Warren vs. Buttigieg – and never had any sort of even decent answer to the question of the actual costs of his programs.’

Warren, however, made it into Cillizza’s “winners” column.  

‘The Massachusetts senator delivered the line of the night, noting that the four men on the stage had lost 10 races while the two women on stage — she and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — had never lost a race. 

‘And wasn’t just a zinger that will be quickly forgotten, either; it’s an effective pushback against the idea that she is too liberal to beat Trump.’ 

Pundits were also split over former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg’s performance. 

Cillizza and Matthews both ranked Buttigieg among the winners – noting that he is currently leading many polls in Iowa. 

Cillizza wrote that Buttigieg ‘proved Tuesday night that he is the best debater in this field. But he also did something more important than that, too: In the first 30 minutes of the debate, Buttigieg showed a competency, steadiness and depth of knowledge coupled with personal experience that should help him pass the commander-in-chief test in the eyes of voters.’ 

Matthews praised Buttigieg for how he handled an early discussion of foreign policy, arguably his weakest area.  

The analyst wrote: ‘Buttigieg more than held his own, deftly reframing his lack of experience with a more forward-looking response: “The next president is going to be confronted with national security challenges different in scope and in kind from anything we’ve seen before. Not just conventional military challenges, not just stateless terrorism, but cybersecurity challenges, climate security challenges, foreign interference in our elections.”

‘Translation: Your experience is not relevant, or at least not more relevant than mine,’ Matthews added.  

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post, however, was unimpressed by Buttigieg’s performance.  

‘For arguably the first time on one of these debate stages, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was something of a bystander who didn’t really add much,’ Blake wrote.

‘He hit many of the same notes he has in previous debates, including by criticizing Medicare-for-all as being unrealistic and knocking a “Washington mentality.” He at one point emphasized the national debt and deficit — one wonders whether these are huge priorities for Democratic voters right now. 

‘Iowa is so important for Buttigieg, because it’s such a good constituency for him. He wasn’t bad Tuesday, but it may not help him address some of his arrested momentum.’  

Former Vice President Joe Biden didn't fare well with analysts, who placed him either in the middle or on the bottom

Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t fare well with analysts, who placed him either in the middle or on the bottom 

There was little doubt among analysts or Drudge poll voters over the night's biggest loser: billionaire Tom Steyer

There was little doubt among analysts or Drudge poll voters over the night’s biggest loser: billionaire Tom Steyer

Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t fare well with analysts, who placed him either in the middle or on the bottom.  

Cillizza was in the latter category, writing: ‘If Buttigieg is the best of the debaters among the top six, then the former vice president is the worst. 

‘On Tuesday night he consistently seemed to forget or misstate a point, forcing him to go back and restate it to make sure he got it right. It made for a halting performance, in which he came across as less forceful and sure of himself than others on the stage.’ 

Blake called Biden’s performance ‘just okay’, emphasizing the fact that the front-runner wasn’t in desperate need of a big night given his strong poll numbers in Iowa.    

There was little doubt among analysts or Drudge poll voters over the night’s biggest loser: billionaire Tom Steyer.  

CNN’s Cillizza summed up Steyer’s performance by writing: ‘Simply put, the billionaire businessman looked badly out of his depth. 

‘He struggled badly to make the case that he was better equipped than his rivals to manage the country’s foreign policy – his answer amounted to the fact that he has traveled a lot internationally (and, no, I am not kidding) — and things didn’t get much better for him from there. 

Cillizza added: ‘For most of the debate, it felt like the Top 5 were involved in one conversation and Steyer was just, well, there.’ 

Vox analyst German Lopez agreed, writing: ‘There is one question surrounding Tom Steyer’s presence at Tuesday’s debate: Why?’

Lopez continued: ‘Steyer isn’t going to win the nomination. He’s polling in the single digits nationally, and there isn’t a single state, based on the RealClearPolitics polling average, where he breaks the top three. 

‘He only clinched the polls he needed to qualify for this debate in the past week. After multiple debates — most of them with Steyer participating — his poor support has shown few signs of changing.’ 



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