democratic debates

Was Joe Biden Really the Winner of Tuesday’s Debate?

Before the cross-talking began. Photo: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Intelligencer staffers Irin Carmon, Benjamin Hart, Sarah Jones, Ed Kilgore, Ezekiel Kweku, and Margaret Hartmann talk through the highs (Bernie) and the lows (moderator interruptions) of Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.

Ben: Who performed best tonight?

Sarah: I would split my vote with Warren and Sanders if I could. I think she had a really good night.

Eric: Bernie. Warren did well too — I thought she did a good job of integrating some appeals to normie Democrats into her populist shtick (calling out “Republican talking points,” emphasizing that everyone onstage would make a better president than Trump, etc.), but she got kind of sidelined for longer, I think.

Irin: It felt like Warren was oddly recessive in the first one and she brought necessary fire to this one.

Josh: Joe Biden.

Jon: How could you vote for anybody but Delaney? He was on camera half the debate.

Josh: The Times counter says Delaney didn’t actually talk that much, it just felt like he did.

Ben: Did the relentless centrist criticism of Bernie/Warren do much to dent their image, or did it only make them appear stronger?

Margaret: I think they both defended themselves really well, so it’s not going to hurt their image at all.

Sarah: No, it’s not going to hurt them. the criticism gave them an opportunity to articulate real differences between their approach and more moderate visions of progress.

Ezekiel: I think the primary thing that it revealed is that the debate format is flawed — the contrast that we needed was one between Biden and Warren/Sanders. The one we got was between John Delaney and Warren/Sanders.

Ben: Presumably, we’ll get that contrast in September and beyond.

Ezekiel: Some of the tactics, like Delaney tying his policies to Obama, might be more effectual coming from Biden in the future.

Ben: To Josh’s point about Biden being the real winner of this debate — do you think having other moderates attempt to beat up on the structural-change candidates leaves him in a better position?

Ezekiel: I think we’ll have to see what happens in the next debate to evaluate where it leaves Biden. If he sucks, nothing that happened tonight is going to help him.

Josh: I’m not sure it matters that much. He’ll face the inverse situation tomorrow. But I think there is evidence this primary electorate is risk averse, and I think it can be very misleading to look at these exchanges and see who gets cheers for saying “We shouldn’t be afraid to be bold.”

Benjamin: In terms of coherence, which debate was worse, this one or the first one in June? I think the beginning of this one was weaker than anything from that night, but it then improved, at least a bit.

Josh: This debate was definitely better. It was good even!

Ben: Ah, the debate defender has logged on.

Ezekiel: Your natural contrarianism has led you to stake out a ridiculous position, Barro.

Ben: Seriously — occupational hazard.

Josh: CNN did what you’re supposed to: drawing out distinctions among the candidates. This annoys partisans because it inevitably demonstrates that the candidates have weaknesses.

Ben: I’m not annoyed from a partisan perspective! I just thought it was a drag to watch! Way too much interrupting from Jake Tapper was my central problem.

Ed: I hate all debates as a rule. This one wasn’t that much more excruciating than many others.  That’s my “defense.”

Margaret: It’s a hard call for me. This one was better I guess, but not good.

Eric: I think I’ve come around to the position that CNN’s approach would be preferable to NBC’s if Democrats had done the sensible thing and put up five candidates, so the answers could be longer and John Delaney–less.

Margaret: Indeed.

Was Joe Biden Really the Winner of Tuesday’s Debate?