Last night was the fifth Democratic debate featuring the top ten candidates for the presidency. These are more “meet and greets” than debates, given the short time for responses and the sheer number of candidates, but they can be revealing. Rather than focusing on who “won” (here’s a typical “Who won?” article) or the best applause lines, I’d like to summarize each candidate in as few words as possible. Here goes (in alphabetical order):
1. Joe Biden: Fading. Biden often misspeaks and relies far too heavily on the dubious legacy of the Obama years. He has no apparent vision for the future.
2. Cory Booker: Wide-eyed. Booker tries to convey enthusiasm and optimism, but somehow it hasn’t worked for him. There’s a growing sense of desperation about his candidacy.
3. Pete Buttigieg: Salesman. To me, Mayor Pete looks like he should be going door-to-door, selling Bibles. The face of young milquetoast moderation within the Democratic party; unsurprisingly, he’s attracted a lot of establishment money.
4. Tulsi Gabbard: Composed. Tulsi is rarely flustered. Her poise and sense of calm come through in interviews and on the campaign trail, but doesn’t translate as well in debates.
5. Kamala Harris: Affected. Harris, a former “top tier” candidate (her words), has watched her support dwindle. Maybe that’s because there’s something scripted about her.
6. Amy Klobuchar: Establishment. She has positioned herself as a sensible centrist, which is another way of saying her positions are predictable half-measures that threaten no one in power.
7. Bernie Sanders: Passionate. Bernie has lost none of his outrage at a rigged system. He’s still calling for a political revolution. Good for him.
8. Tom Steyer: Billionaire. It’s interesting to see a rich guy espouse progressive ideas while vowing to attack climate change. I don’t think he has a chance, but he’s not your typical politician.
9. Elizabeth Warren: Prepared. Warren has a plan for everything. But will her professorial manner translate in a general election? Her crossover appeal seems limited.
10. Andrew Yang: Different. Yang thinks for himself and has an eye on the future. His out-of-the-box thinking adds some intellectual excitement to these often stale “debates.”
Of the ten candidates, Sanders and Warren are identified by the media as the “radical” progressives, whereas Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, and Klobuchar are seen as moderates or centrists. Gabbard and Yang are non-conformists but in different ways, and Steyer is anomalous in terms of his wealth.
For me, Bernie Sanders remains the clear choice for 2020.