Why the Fourth Democratic Primary Debate Will Tighten the Race for President

Why the Fourth Democratic Primary Debate Will Tighten the Race for President
Warren takes hits a new frontrunner while Biden fades in the background


Fresh after announcing that Democrats would launch an impeachment inquiry into the sitting President of the United States, one would expect Joe Biden to establish himself as the man who is the complete opposite of the type of corruption Donald Trump embodies. The debate performance delivered by Joe Biden was at best milquetoast, and at worst, unflinchingly cringeworthy. Biden decided to defend one of the most controversial topics about his son's role in the impeachment scandal, stating that he believed Hunter had made the decision to serve on the Board of a Ukranian gas company during his vice presidency with good judgment. It seemed that Biden had not been following the national discourse surrounding his family’s role in the Ukraine scandal; one of the most controversial areas around the inquiry on behalf of Biden is that of his son's judgment. Biden’s chance to prove to Americans that Donald Trump’s role in exploiting Biden for political purposes was not accentuated enough at the debate by the former vice president. Biden seemed to get off of the topic easily - with the candidates not mentioning his name, coupled with the moderator's timid questions.
While Biden struggled to give a stellar performance, Elizabeth Warren’s role on the debate stage was that of a punching bag. Lower tiered candidates shamelessly attacked Warren’s integrity, giving voters the impression that she wasn’t honest when describing Medicare for All. Amy Klobuchar had one of the strongest performances of the night, not withholding any chance to challenge Warren on her policies. Pete Buttigieg hardened his tone when challenging Warren, and also staked out his ground as the compromise candidate should Joe Biden fall. Warren held firm to defending her positions and focused on her campaign’s message rather than fighting with those who challenged her. Joe Biden failed to do this during the first three debates, making his candidacy look as strong as a coastal house on stilts during hurricane season. Contrasting Biden’s shaky performances, Warren proved on Tuesday night that she could hold her own as the party’s frontrunner. Warren didn’t moderate her message so that her policies could be more palatable to a wary public- she defended policies that she thought served the public’s best interest.
Bernie Sanders came out swinging, having one of the best performances of the night, and hitting Biden over the head at the end of the debate. The mention of Sanders's name in the mainstream media in the previous two weeks had been surrounded by tropes of ageism and health concerns following his heart attack. Bernie was impassioned as always, and one might have forgotten that the man on the stage had just recovered from a heart attack. Sanders defended Medicare for All, while Warren was pressed for not admitting that her plan would raise taxes on the middle class. Warren and Sanders both worked as a team on the issue; Bernie’s role is the explainer, while Warren’s is the messenger. Bernie understands that while writing the legislation, taxes had to increase on the middle class. He doesn’t hide this fact when speaking about the legislation to the public. His credibility on defending Medicare for All comes from the fact that he, well, should we say, “wrote the damn bill.” Elizabeth Warren gets to play the role of the articulate messenger, accentuating why overall costs will go down. Warren didn’t specifically write the legislation, but her credibility comes from a long career of teaching economic law courses at Harvard and researching middle-class issues. Warren’s role in explaining Medicare for All is to make the public feel comfortable about the issue, while Bernie lays out the practicalities.
While Warren and Bernie delivered their progressive messages, lower polling candidates tried to take shots at the newly minted frontrunner. Beto O’Rourke seemed to believe that calling Warren’s wealth tax punitive, and rhetoric of unity would put his campaign in a better position- ironic for a man whose candidacy centered on calling for an assault weapons ban and buybacks to remain relevant. Kamala Harris also failed to square her attacks properly on the frontrunner, believing that challenging her on whether or not Donald Trump’s Twitter account should be banned would raise her poll numbers. Instead, Kamala’s attacked seemed so thoroughly rehearsed that Warren brushed off the questioning from the prosecutor and refocused the debate on issues that mattered. Tulsi Gabbard had one of the sloppiest debate performances of the night, which consisted of minimizing Bashar al Assad’s role in the Kurdish crisis, and failed attacks on Warren. Buttigieg and Gabbard got into a heated exchange when she questioned the United State’s role in the middle east. Buttigieg was taken aback and gave a thorough and clear defense as to why the role of the United State’s military placement in Syria was crucial to the survival of our allies. Gabbard’s other lines were forgettable, and if she were to drop out of the race after this debate, most of the public would probably not be surprised.
One of the most significant changes in the debate was that of a refocused policy on Universal Basic Income. Julian Castro stated that his administration would look into implementing the issue as President, and Gabbard delivered full-throated support of the policy. Andrew Yang’s candidacy may not be incredible posturing to clinch the nomination, but Yang’s outlandish policy proposals have become a topic in the mainstream. Yang had a weak performance with little speaking time and came off as arrogant when trying to explain manufacturing. Yang needs to realize that having a proposal on an issue doesn’t make one the master of the issue.
The debate signified that the autumn winnowing had picked its victims. Cory Booker and Tom Steyer had weak performances because they were so forgettable. Cory Booker seemed to believe that his impassioned rhetoric about women's rights would expand his support, but the comment about establishing an office for reproductive protection seemed to be a trivial pandering to women. Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro, and Andrew Yang failed to have performances that would give fuel to their pace in the primaries. Below I have ranked the candidates based on performance from A-F.

Bernie Sanders: A
Intense and passionate, put questions about age to shame, clear policy message, strong attacks on Biden.

Elizabeth Warren: B+
Held her own as the frontrunner, strong messenger, refocused debate on issues, defended herself strongly against attacks, still needs work on Medicare for All.

Pete Buttigieg: B
Articulate moderate messenger seems to be the more mature version of Joe Biden, intelligent defenses of issues, which makes audiences think.

Amy Klobuchar: B-
Intense moderate, challenged Warren, had a viral moment, put candidacy in a better position, best performance yet.

Julian Castro: C+
Adequate and forgettable shifted tone, strong message on criminal justice issues, seemed to disappear in the debate.
Kamala Harris: C
Canned lines yet again, living up to Maya Rudolph’s impression, passionate when provoked, odd exchange with Warren, performance not significant enough to shift poll numbers.

Cory Booker: C-
Adequately forgetful, no clear campaign or policy message, acted like having arguments at the debate would put democrats in bad general election position.

Andrew Yang: D+
He doesn’t present himself as a serious candidate, takes ownership on artificial intelligence issues and manufacturing, annoyingly smug, forgetful performance.

Joe Biden: F
The messy performance came across as old and simplistic, weak defense against Trump's message, wall street has coupon books? Taking credit for Warren’s work on the CFPB backfired.

Beto O Rourke: F+
Contradictory and trivial, Buttigieg probably ended his campaign.

Disqualifiers:
Tom Steyer: Bought way into debate, awful tie, not significant at all.
Tulsi Gabbard: Would have been better if she boycotted debate, hates Hillary more than Trump. Next time can we buy her a plane to Russia and connect her with Assad on Facetime, so she feels comfortable? Tulsi, Democrats, will not miss you.