Here Are the Winners and Losers of MSNBC’s First Democratic Primary Debate

Here Are the Winners and Losers of MSNBC’s First Democratic Primary Debate

First, let us stipulate that Wednesday night’s event was not really a debate. These tilts never are. They are a series of 45-second campaign ads delivered at subsonic speed by candidates desperate to make an impression before the moderators move on to the next person. Canned answers memorized during debate prep with staff and spat out like checking items off a grocery list.

The overall effect was a sensation of having been gently pummelled in the face with a garden hose for two hours. Which I suppose is an improvement from the Republican debates of 2016, each of which I came away from feeling as if the Hulk had just spent two hours pounding my head with a school bus.

No one really wins these events, not with ten candidates on stage. But to the extent we can evaluate such an event, here is my attempt.

Winners – Elizabeth Warren, I guess, if only because she got in some nice moments and didn’t do anything to hurt her status as one of the front-runners. She not-so-artfully dodged and obfuscated on a couple of questions, particularly (and surprisingly) on abortion rights. But overall she did fine.

Julian Castro had a decent night. He’s a good politician but gets a little too deep in the weeds, as the saying goes. (If you are reciting the numbers of sections of the U.S. Code or other laws, you need to take a step back and re-evaluate your life choices.)

Jay Inslee spoke less than anyone else but made effective use of his time. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar both held their own — nothing memorable, good or bad.

John Delaney was a winner only because people now know that a former Maryland congressman named John Delaney is running. Did you know that? I didn’t even know that, and knowing that is my job.

Losers – The MSNBC technical crew. There were broadcast issues throughout, with the signal dropping out for a few seconds at a time on multiple occasions. The network had to go to commercial at one point to deal with a Naked Gun scenario, when the first hour’s moderators  ceded the spotlight to Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd and went backstage to kibbitz while their mics were still on.

Other losers: Beto O’Rourke just seemed out of his depth. He stumbled, he stuck to rehearsed answers no matter the question. The bloom is way off that rose.

Tim Ryan came off as an angry suburban dad-slash-football coach. He doesn’t know much, but he can see when someone isn’t giving one hundred percent effort on the field, Colin. How bad was Tim Ryan? Tulsi Gabbard got the better of him during a brief argument over Afghanistan and the War on Terror, and Gabbard generally sounds like she’s beaming in from the Kuiper belt.

Speaking of Gabbard, her sister was running her Twitter account during the debate and managed to run away with the Jim Webb Would Like More Time to Speak Memorial award:

The go-to complaint of “corporate media hates us” will excite Gabbard’s fans. It will not expand her appeal, and considering where she’s polling in this field, expanding her appeal should be a priority if she genuinely wants to win.

Bill de Blasio might have impressed Chris Matthews somehow, but otherwise the love child of Al Gore and a yeti did nothing to advance his barely sentient candidacy.

Oh, one final winner: my nearly-79-year-old dad, who fell asleep for a nearly hourlong nap right in the middle of the debate. Can’t wait for the second one, with another ten candidates, on Thursday.

Gary Legum

Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.