Debate recap: 12 angry, mostly unnecessary people

Tyler Sabloff | Senior Forum Editor

So, the Democrats just had another debate. Yes, another one. This is now the fourth debate in five months, with eight more scheduled going into the convention. If you aren’t already suffering from election fatigue, then I commend you for having a stronger will than I do. Nevertheless, it’s that time to eat our vegetables and dive into what semi-interesting things happened.

I actually started writing this article before the debate ever occurred. This is because I thought nothing would happen that would change what my initial thoughts were. Now that it’s over, I can confirm that I was right. My biggest take away from this 12-person debate is that most of the candidates had no business still being on stage. I’m sorry, but that’s just way too many people for how late in the game it is. We’re now about a year away from the election, and anyone who believes that the nomination is still a 12-person race is fooling themselves.

Until I saw the lineup for this debate, I had forgotten that Representative Tulsi Gabbard was running and that Tom Steyer was even a person who exists. According to a Quinnipiac poll on Oct. 9, Gabbard and Steyer were collectively polling at an impressive zero percent. At their best, according to The Economist, they each had about three percent of the electorate before this debate—that’s about half an Andrew Yang. When your best polling data is barely nudging above one percent, you don’t belong in this kind of national forum. You clearly have no shot and are just taking time away from the candidates people actually care about.

The one difference between this debate and the preceding ones—other than the growing impeachment inquiry—was that Senator Elizabeth Warren was perceived as the candidate to beat. This was especially clear with attacks on her coming from all ends, particularly from centrist candidates Mayor Pete Buttigeig and Senator Amy Klobuchar, while Vice President Joe Biden essentially blended in with the curtains. Despite dodgy responses on her planned funding for her Medicare for All plan, she held up well against the onslaught of attacks.

In every debate, there is a breakout star, and Tuesday night was Klobuchar’s time to shine. She capitalized on Biden’s relatively quiet night to come out swinging as the centrist candidate ready to take on the progressive wing of the party. Despite polling near the bottom of the list and having little to no presence in early debates, Klobuchar was able to fully make herself known and talk for a whopping 13 minutes and 14 seconds, the third-longest speaking time of any candidate.

Klobuchar definitely has a lot going for her as a Midwestern straight-talker that can appeal to working-class Americans, as well as being a younger alternative to Biden (there’s also that whole ‘being abusive to her office staff’ thing, but let’s not talk about that). The problem is that Klobuchar is another Democrat in the same vein of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who thinks the only way to win is to run as Republican-lite. Most of her capitalizing moments in debates have been telling other candidates that their plans are unrealistic and overambitious, providing little in the way of her own ideas. She comes off as a candidate who feels the best course is upholding the status quo.

Buttigieg also took a few shots of his own, firing at Former Representative Beto O’Rourke in a heated exchange over the latter’s proposed mandatory assault weapon buyback program. It was a new turn for Buttigieg who, up to this point, has claimed to be above the infighting, instead this time taking a much more angry and combative approach. Similar to Klobuchar, Buttigieg tried to position himself as a middle-of-the-road moderate with a no-can-do attitude.

Running as a moderate candidate to try to win over Republicans has historically not worked for the Democrats. This was the logic behind the nominations of both Kerry and Clinton, and we all know how that worked out. Candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg serve little other purpose than to try and win over independents and Never Trump Republicans, losing Democrats along the way.

The Democrats are at a massive point of rebranding, where who they nominate will define who they are as a party. To run as a candidate with no bold ideas whose only purpose on stage is to tell other candidates that their ideas are too bold is useless. Klobuchar is not a reality check. She’s the human version of the Magic Conch from Spongebob Squarepants. This is not a time to shy away from bold ideas; they should be embraced to prove the Democrats are willing to go to great lengths to help the American people. For how many times as candidates will invoke former President Barack Obama in these debates, you would assume they would remember that his slogan was “Yes We Can”, not “No We Can’t.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.