Tonight was the third round of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate schedule, and the first time that the top ten candidates were all on the same stage together. It proved to be enlightening on a number of levels, if not necessarily clarifying. Here’s a look at tonight’s winners and losers – and yes, we put five people in the “winner” column tonight, as there was no definitive single winner.
Winner: Joe Biden. Because Biden is definitively in first place in the polls, all he has to do (for now) is to survive each debate without losing support. Tonight he inadvertently suggested that no one should go to prison for nonviolent crimes of any kind, and he wants to see more record players in homes. But what matters is that no one did any damage to him that’ll cost him in the polls, which makes him one of the winners.
Winner: Elizabeth Warren. She put in yet another solid, invigorating performance. She keeps coming off as a smarter, less apoplectic version of Bernie Sanders, which is what she’s always been. Look for her to keep quietly climbing a bit in the polls after this.
Winner: Beto O’Rourke. His passionate, to-hell-with-it-all response to the El Paso mass shooting has resonated so deeply with Americans, the other candidates on the stage tonight all found themselves praising and thanking him. We still don’t know if he has any chance of winning the nomination, but at this point he no longer seems to care about that. He’s carving out a future on the national stage of some kind.
Winner: Kamala Harris. Yes, there were a lot of winners tonight. Her strong first debate performance was followed by a second debate performance that didn’t stand out. But tonight she came out firing on all cylinders, taking on Donald Trump directly, and we suspect she’ll now climb a bit in the polls.
Winner: Pete Buttigieg. Don’t worry, this is our final “winner” of the evening. He came off confident, cool, and let’s just say it, presidential. He was originally supposed to be the zero-chance underdog candidate, but now he’s quietly climbed into fourth place in the polls.
Loser: Bernie Sanders. It’s not his fault that he had laryngitis this evening. But Bernie sounded even more angry and irritable than usual, and it just didn’t click. The more time Bernie spends on stage alongside Elizabeth Warren, the more her poll numbers climb – which says a lot.
Loser: Julián Castro. There’s a lot of disagreement as to whether Castro or Joe Biden won their ugly face-off. But the bottom line is that if Castro was going to take a big swing at the frontrunner like that, he was going to have to win it definitively in order to benefit from it – and he didn’t.
Loser: Andrew Yang. We praised Yang’s debate performance last time, as he seemed to have seriously brushed up on the issues. But tonight he opened by announcing he was giving free money to ten random people, and he sounded like a cross between a guy trying to buy votes, and the new spokesperson for the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. We were half expecting him to bust out the t-shirt canon.
Loser: The other ten candidates. The ten lowest-polling candidates were all left out of this debate. Almost no one missed them, which tells you all you need to know.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report