democratic debates

The Democratic Primary Debates: Snap Judgments of All 7,000 Candidates

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As scientists debate the precise number of people running in the Democratic primary for president, 20 confirmed candidates appeared onstage this week, over two different nights, to hash out their differences and explain their priorities in the Democratic debates. A two-hour debate with ten people participating is not, exactly, the best way to develop nuanced opinions about each candidate’s policy platform. But it’s plenty of time to develop totally biased, probably incorrect, certainly unfair, and completely individual assessments and understandings of each candidate. Which I’ve done. Below, the post-debate snap-judgment guide to the Democratic field.

Night One

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Julián Castro

Who he is: Former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio.
Where he’s been this whole time: Running for president!
This whole time? Yeah!
Speaks: Spanish, reasonably well.
Is feuding with: Beto O’Rourke, it seemed like.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren

Who she is: The senior senator from Massachusetts.
Overall vibe: College professor with a low tolerance for lateness and a very well-planned syllabus.
What was her plan on Wednesday? If it was nothing more elaborate than the excellent purple jacket, it succeeded.
Signature move: Watching as Castro and O’Rourke went back and forth while looking like a very stern spectator at a political tennis match

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Beto O’Rourke

Who he is: Vanity Fair cover star and former Democratic Senate candidate.
Overall vibe: Handsome desperation.
In a feud with: Julián Castro, expectations.
Speaks: Spanish, less reasonably well.
Oh? Oh, , habla español, and he’d really, really like you to know.
If he were an emoji: 🤠 + 😔

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cory Booker

Who he is: The junior senator from New Jersey.
Speaks: English.
In a feud with: The Spanish language.
Does: Talk a lot about his low-income neighborhood in New Jersey. (Search-engine-optimized articles about where he lives appeared very quickly last night.)
Does not: Blink.

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Amy Klobuchar

Who she is: The senior senator from Minnesota.
Overall vibe: Stingy tipper.
A pretty good moment: When one of the 40 men onstage, Jay Inslee, called himself the only candidate who had passed laws to protect reproductive rights and Klobuchar nodded to the two other women onstage: “I just want to say there are three women up here who have fought pretty hard for reproductive rights.”
And yet: Once she threw a binder at one of her staffers?

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Bill de Blasio

Who he is: The Mayor of New York City.
Knock knock. Who’s there?
Interrupting Bill de Blasio. Interrupting Bill de Blas-


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Jay Inslee

Who he is: The governor of Washington.
His issue: He’s the “climate change” candidate, so, you know, catastrophic climate change.
His chances: About the same as us avoiding catastrophic climate change. Seems like a nice guy, though.

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John Delaney

Who he is: Honestly couldn’t tell you.
I Googled him, he’s from Maryland: Sure!
I wonder what his deal is: Me too.
Isn’t this a candidate guide? This is a guide to my immediate reactions to and memories of candidates during the debate.
So what was your reaction to John Delaney: ??? Who???

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Tulsi Gabbard

Who she is: Congressional representative from Hawaii.
Her issue: Getting troops out of Afghanistan.
Her sister’s issue: MSNBC focusing way too much on Elizabeth Warren, as she tweeted from Tulsi’s official account.
How’d she do? She was the most-searched candidate on Google during the debate, which depending on how you look at it is either the “curiosity primary” or the “horny image-searching primary.”

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Tim Ryan

Who he is: I’m pretty sure that’s Tim Robinson, sketch comic and creator of the Netflix hit I Think You Should Leave.
No, that’s Tim Ryan. Preeeetty sure that’s Tim Robinson.
It’s Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman. There is no “Tim Ryan, Ohio congressman.” That’s definitely a Tim Robinson character.

Night Two

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Bernie Sanders

Who he is: The junior senator from Vermont.
In a feud with: Capitalism, systems of injustice, the premise of various questions.
His overall vibe: Like he was watching the debate on the couch and yelling at the TV like the rest of us.

Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg

Who he is: The mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Speaks: Spanish, Norweigian, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, Dari Persian, French, Klingon, Quenya, Wine Track, and Boomer.
Did not: Harp too hard on being the only candidate onstage with a military-service record.
Because: Rachel Maddow did it for him.

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Eric Swalwell

Who he is: Congressional representative from California.
His issue: Gun violence.
Future bumper sticker: “Breakin’ up with Russia and makin’ up with NATO!”
Climate change or climate crisis: Neither … [dramatic chord] Climate CHAOS!

Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Andrew Yang

Who he is: A living meme.
His issue: Giving us all $1,000 per month, no strings attached.
Why he should have stood out: He wants to give us all $1,000 per month, no strings attached! And also maybe ban circumcision?
Why he actually stood out: He was the only guy not wearing a tie.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Kamala Harris

Who she is: The junior senator from California.
Worst canned line: Harris called out her co-debaters for turning the night into a “food fight,” but honestly, that would have been more fun.
Speaks: With an accent when she says the word coyote.
Goddamn: Harris’s direct address to Joe Biden, who she, ahem, does not think is a racist, but thinks has made some pretty shitty decisions on race issues, including opposing integrated school busing when Harris was a child in California.

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Michael Bennett

Who he is: The senior senator from Colorado.
Brow game: Strong.
Greatest strength besides his eyebrows: His ability to create slowly mounting anger in a one-minute debate answer so that he ENDS HIS RESPONSES YELLING LIKE THIS.

Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Joe Biden

Who he is: Former vice-president.
His issue: His best friend Barack Obama, under whom he served as vice-president.
Genuine question: Can he raise his hand above his head? He seemed to have some trouble when the moderators asked if candidates’ health-care plans would cover undocumented immigrants.
Did you know: He was once Barack Obama’s vice-president?
If he were an emoji: 👴🏻

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

John Hickenlooper

Who he is: A journalist covering the debate.
No, he’s the former governor of Colorado. Ah, I see I’ve made the same mistake that debate security made.
If he were an emoji: 😔
What there is to say besides that: Nothing, really.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kirsten Gillibrand

Who she is: She was there?
Yes! Really?
Yes, she was talking about a family bill of rights! Huh.
Women: She talked about them.
New York: She’s from there!

Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Marianne Williamson

Who she is: Best-selling author of the “Advice, How To and Miscellaneous” genre.
Overall vibe: Active member, if not moderator, of multiple “alternative medicine” Facebook groups.
Her issue: Calling New Zealand to talk shit and tell them U.S.A. #1!
How’d she do: It seems unlikely that Marianne Williamson will win the real primary, but she’s definitely winning the “fuck it, I like the woman who believes in angels” primary.

Snap Judgments of All 7,000 Democratic Candidates