democratic debates

Did Kamala Harris Have the Worst Debate?

And then there were ten. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Ben Hart: Who impressed you tonight?

Margaret Hartmann: Elizabeth Warren. I thought she did a good job of giving smart, coherent answers with charisma.

Josh Barro: Amy Klobuchar was most improved. I thought Warren and Biden were both strong. But I don’t think the debate moved the needle much on the whole.

Margaret: Yeah, I think the only likely change is that Harris drops in the polls.

Josh: Even more than she already has?

Margaret: Yeah, I think she went from “meh” to people actively disliking her.

Ben: She and Castro, with his misguided attack on Biden, were the only candidates I could see really hurting themselves (with the caveat that any predictions about this kind of thing are suspect).

Josh: I did think Harris seemed shallow tonight, which has been an issue for her. Like when Biden pointed out you can’t ban assault weapons by executive order and she basically told him to stop being such a negative Nancy.

Ben: And her tone was all over the place, which was unsettling at times — like when she went from raucous laughter to talking about autopsy photos.

Margaret: Yeah, exactly. if you read a transcript of Harris maybe it wasn’t that bad, but her affect was memorably strange.

Ben: Lotta people making weed jokes about her on Twitter.

Margaret: Haha.

Ben: Cory Booker got a lot of speaking time and did pretty well throughout, I thought. Any chance he improves his position after this?

Josh: I’m trying to remember who made this observation on Twitter: The thing about this primary field is it is a strong field, especially at the top. Biden, Warren, and Sanders are all strong candidates. This is why it’s so hard for anyone else to break through.

Margaret: I thought several people in the lower tier had some good moments, but not good enough to suddenly jump into the top three. I don’t know if there’s any way someone could jump into the top tier at this point actually.

Josh: Klobuchar and Booker were both good tonight. (Even Beto, LOL, was good tonight.) But most voters have reason to be satisfied with one of the top three candidates. Why would a moderate voter who’s satisfied with Biden switch to Klobuchar? Etc. His answer about … what was it about? The one that somehow got back around to Maduro.

Ben: Record players and Nicolas Maduro.

Josh: I don’t think this sort of thing matters. It’s late in the debate. Viewers are tired too, and paying less attention. You can’t turn it into a good sound bite for replay on cable precisely because it’s so rambling. And word salad is sort of priced in with Biden.

Margaret: He’s just got to count on all his supporters tuning out by the time he becomes incoherent.

Josh: You can look at transcripts of how Trump talks in debates. He’s all over the place, too. Didn’t seem to matter. As with Trump, Biden gets across how he feels. He connects with his voters. The specific words are less important than maybe they should be.

Margaret: What are the sound bites from this debate on cable news tomorrow?

Josh: Castro haranguing Biden like Bill de Blasio at the last debate.

Margaret: Did Warren have a sound-bite moment?I thought she was great every time they came to her but I guess it wasn’t really anything different from what she’s said before. But I don’t think this was a key debate for her anyway.

Josh: Not that I can remember. Partly because these debates have gotten repetitive. They had the came health-care conversation they’ve had several times before. A lot of her strong bits I think were from her stump speech, which she can do in part because she has a cohesive story on the stump that connects her biography and her policy vision. So it’s effective and probably new to a lot of the debate viewers, but it’s not newsy.

Josh: By the way, I hate talking about Andrew Yang, but I do want to note that when he got a straightforward question about Afghanistan, his answer was just total air.

Margaret: Yeah, his money-giveaway stunt was the only thing I saw with a ton of Google search traffic that wasn’t a somewhat offensive personal question about Biden, but I don’t think that’s going to make any difference. We’ll forget about it in a few days, unless the FEC really goes after him.

Josh: I don’t buy the claims that it’s illegal; I think it’s legal and tacky. But it probably will also get a ton of people to sign up for Yang’s email list and to visit his website even if they’ve never really thought about him, so it was actually pretty clever.

Ben: The moderators generally got good marks from observers on Twitter. How did you think they did? I think they were impressive, but, as Josh mentioned, wish we didn’t have to exactly the same health-care conversation for the first 40 minutes of every debate.

Josh: If Elizabeth Warren would answer the question about who would pay taxes to finance her single-payer plan, maybe the moderators wouldn’t have to ask her over and over.

Margaret: I can’t recall a time when I was less offended by the debate format and moderators, so good job, ABC.

Josh: Yeah, I thought they did a good job. And not in the sense of serving up the softballs that the partisans who complain about questions feeding “Republican talking points” would like. I thought the questions reflected a range of possible critiques of the candidates’ positions, from the left and the right.

Margaret: Huh, did no one complain about GOP talking points this time? Felt like they got that accusation repeatedly in the last debate. But this one featured little to no media attacks.

Josh: I don’t remember hearing any of the candidates say it.

Ben: I also appreciate that ABC didn’t do an elaborate national anthem/color guard routine to start things off, the way CNN did last time.

Josh: I do want to note, it’s bizarre this debate didn’t give us any of the Biden-Warren showdown we were looking for, except on health care, where we’ve seen the arguments already.

Ben: Yeah, that didn’t happen in the slightest.

Margaret: That was our very own Gabriel Debenedetti’s prediction.

Ben: If only he’d predicted Julián Castro going after Biden, he’d get a raise.

Josh: I think Biden has correctly complained that a lot of the critiques against him from the field are opportunistic. They raise whatever objection they can because he is in their way. Harris attacked his position on busing and then after the debate took the same position he has. But Warren has a genuinely longstanding and substantive beef with Biden that gets at a real difference in their views about what government is for. I would like to see that hashed out. I want them to talk about the bankruptcy law.

Margaret: I think it’s going to come out eventually, it’s just too early.

Ben: It’s sometimes hard to remember how long we have to go in this slog.

Margaret: She’s saving it for second half of the Warren-Sanders-Biden debate, when Joe is sleepy.

Ben: We may have two debate nights in October (thanks, Tom Steyer!) after just one this time around. Is there any way that will improve anything?

Margaret: Oof, no. it was a relief to not have to sit through the other ten, as much as I enjoy Marianne Williamson’s weirdness.

Josh: No, and I think they should just extralegally bar Steyer from the debate. What’s to stop them? Who would care except Steyer?

Margaret: They’d be national heroes.

Ben: No jury in the land would convict them

Margaret: Taking on the billionaires!

Ben: Ok, let’s call it there.

Josh: I thought this chat was going to go for three hours.

Ben: No. Unlike the DNC, I’m reasonable.

Did Kamala Harris Have the Worst Debate?