Foresight 2020: Spiced Reacts to Round 1

The first Democratic Primary Debate has happened and boy was it a doozy! Within 26 hours twenty candidates spent four hours debating each other, and providing political junkies with more than enough to talk and think about for the next week.  Rather than provide a substantive analysis of anything that happened, I drafted a series of hot takes for each candidate on the stage.

Before the takes, I have a few promises:  All of them are pretty short, averaging 60 words each.  None were drafted sober and all edits were for readability. All were finalized within 24 hours of the conclusion of the 2nd night’s debate. A few may even be right.

So here they are, in alphabetical order, my reaction to the next Democratic nominee and 19 also-rans:


  • Amy Klobuchar
    • She did a good job sounding more progressive than she is without straying from her personal brand, or committing to anything substantial. A forgettable performance from someone who probably can’t afford to be forgettable.
  • Andrew Yang
    • He had by far the fewest words spoken of all twenty candidates and he didn’t use them well. His core strategy involves scaring people about automation and connecting it to his universal basic income plan. He neither did a great job of that nor did he do much else. That said, he could use the debate to push a “look at how the media and establishment want to ignore me” line.
  • Bernie Sanders
    • Though Biden, one of his chief rivals, looked to have a bad night, I’m not convinced this debate was great for Sanders. He didn’t have a bad night but he didn’t pick up any ground or even stand out. Then again, that may have been his strategy—a high floor gives one a bit more flexibility early in the campaign. That said, he needs new talking points.
  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Bill de Blasio
    • Bill “Bulldog” de Blasio showed up to interrupt others as far as I could tell. I enjoyed some of it, and he won in the sense that he is probably less underwater in national favorability ratings. But he’s still a generic bald white man who no one will remember ran for president.
  • Cory Booker
    • Booker had a good night on Wednesday, and he is poised to gain a lot from not just Biden falling but from being able to make Biden answer the busing question to another black candidate. The charismatic man has been preparing to run for president for a long time and it showed. That said, even though he often models himself as a poor man’s Obama I still think he’s a poor man’s (2016) Biden. Even so, he’s clearly one of the winners of the week.
  • Elizabeth Warren
    • Warren failed to surprise me because she was as phenomenally competent as I expected. Her campaign is spending more money on staffers, faster, than anyone else and her performance made it clear that is money well spent. Additionally, she benefited from not being in the midst of the slugfest that was night 2. Though I made a profit selling my Warren shares on PredictIt, I really wish I hadn’t.
  • Eric Swalwell
    • He had some great moments, and I imagine he will get a bit of viral traction for his hammering on Pete on not firing the South Bend police chief. But for all Swalwell’s demands that Biden pass the torch, he sure as hell wasn’t the one that took it.
  • Jay Inslee
    • I will admit to being disappointed by Inslee’s performance, but I’m also a fan of the man (and fighting climate catastrophes). He didn’t have a bad night, but if he doesn’t have a great night in the second debate I am unconvinced he’ll make the third.
  • Joe Biden
    • Oh old boy’s club. As Galen Druke of FiveThirtyEight said, it’s hard to defend 1970s positions in 2019. The exchange with Harris is one of the most memorable primary debate moments I can think of, and Biden lost like hell.  Not just in that exchange but in the fact that it happened in the first round of debates. Biden is running against two black candidates who will absolutely attack his State’s Rights position every time they share the floor. Beyond his unwillingness to apologies, Biden’s inability to recover and general look of misery for half the debate makes me doubt he has the stamina to run a year-long mega campaign versus 19 people.
  • John Delaney
    • Who? The crappy de Blasio?  Maybe if I wrote something down about him on Wednesday this would be longer. Or maybe it wouldn’t—we’ll never know.
  • John Hickenlooper
    • He stands to benefit from Biden supports switching to him for ideological or electoral reasons, but he needs to go on the offensive with his electability arguments if he wants to stick around. I didn’t see much evidence he’ll be more than an “also also ran.”
  • Julián Castro
    • This man had a good debate. Getting in a fight with Beto allowed Castro to solidify himself as The Immigration Canddiate and, unlike a few other single issue candidates, he held his own well on other issues. He is fluent in the language of the Left but does not speak it as explicitly as Warren—I suspect this will be to his benefit if he can stick around for a few more debates.
  • Kamala Harris
    • Does anyone think she didn’t have the best week? Heading in, I was expecting her and other former prosecutors to show off their skills in these debates, and Harris did just that when she crushed Biden on civil rights. She proved she is a skilled debater, a good speaker, and made one hell of an argument that she’s the one best posed to debate Trump. She also clearly won the post-debate narrative.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
    • She said she’s a fighter…and then never really proved it in the debate. I expected the former attorney to show more debate prowess than she did. Her performance leaves me thinking I am losing all the money I put on her in PredictIt.
  • Marianne Williamson
    • She failed to really articulate her message, or broaden it to anyone who hasn’t read her books. But she didn’t lose ground and did a good thing by bringing up reparations. So yeah?
  • Michael Bennet
    • Within four hours of the second debate ending I couldn’t remember a thing he said. So technically it could be worse.
  • Pete Buttigieg
    • He survived a series of attacks on policy brutality in his town; the irony is that that conversation happened right before the Biden/Harris exchange, and the way he survived those attacks is how Biden should have responded to Harris. Otherwise he had a good performance. The man is charismatic, has positions that make him stand out from the crowd, and is perfectly poised to ride the waves of Biden’s collapse or become VP this year—not to mention his growing prospects for 2024 or 2030.
  • Tim Ryan
    • If you represent a conservative district you can lose lot by running in the Democratic presidential primary. Ryan is learning this the hard way. He wants to be more than “just a congressman” but he looked trapped and miserable up there. Overall, a mediocre white man and the most likely to drop out before Iowa.
  • Tulsi Gabbard
    • Generally good on foreign policy, she dealt with the critiques on her history on LGBTQ issues well. I think she gained a bit in the polls, so she’ll stick around but she needs a stand out performance to achieve anything this year. Then again, she may well be running for name recognition more than anything else. She is only 38 years old.

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