(CNN) – Almost 24 hours after the US House of Representatives approved a political trial against President Donald Trump, the seven leading Democratic candidates seeking to succeed him debated among themselves in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
I watched the debate, tweeted and took a lot of notes. My conclusions about the best and worst of the night are below.
The Minnesota senator was the one who benefited most from the least number of candidates on stage. He was able to speak a LOT more than in past debates and used that time very, very well. He started strong, eclipsing his competitors with his response on how to convince the public that political judgment was the right decision. Again and again, response after response, Klobuchar left his basic message: I am from the Midwest. I'm a woman. I do things. And, indeed, he took it against Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for his disdain for Senate service. Excellent performance in the debate when Klobuchar really needed it.
I am not sure if it was the least number of candidates on stage or a renewed confidence in their status as a favorite in the race. But, what I am sure of is that, from beginning to end, this was the best debate of the former vice president, by far. His response to the need to build consensus and work with Republicans – noting that he more than anyone on stage had reason to dislike Republicans who have been attacking him and his son, Hunter, for months – was his Best answer in any debate. Biden's answer to questions about his age – he said that age brought him the experience and wisdom he needed so much – was safe and solid. Biden was simply safer and more competent Thursday night – just look at how he confronted Senator Bernie Sanders directly about "Medicare for all" – than he has been in previous discussions.
There were six politicians on stage in Los Angeles on Thursday night. And an Andrew Yang. Yang's answers to any question he was asked were miles away from how his rivals answered them. Hell, he talked about thorium! His response about being the only non-white candidate on stage – he called it "an honor and a disappointment" – was eloquent. He spoke from personal experience about the best way to address the challenges and opportunities of raising a child with special needs. (One of Yang's children has autism). And, talking about whether politics needed more women, Yang said this: "The fact is … if you leave too many men alone and ignore us for a while, we become stupid." Amen, Andrew.
The mayor of South Bend was the subject of more criticism on Thursday night than in all the previous debates combined, which made it a more rugged trip for him. But it is also all the evidence that is needed to understand that his rivals see Buttigieg as someone who needs to be stopped. Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, launched herself against Buttigieg for having private fundraisers with rich people, an attack she had been anticipating for weeks in the election campaign. And Buttigieg was ready: "This is the problem of applying purity tests that you cannot pass yourself," he told Warren, noting that she had transferred money from her Senate account that had been raised by large donors. It is by no means a perfect performance, but Buttigieg showed in this debate that he can also give and receive.
My problem with the Vermont senator in this debate is that, regardless of the question they asked him, he seemed to give the same answer: the millionaires and billionaires are destroying this country. Which, if you support Sanders, is very good for you! But, Sanders has to discover how to expand his coalition. And I don't think he did it in this debate. In addition, his attempt to joke in response to Barack Obama's assessment that the country needs younger and more diverse leaders – "and I'm also white" – fell into a vacuum. In addition, one of the moderators of the debate stopped him when he tried to move from a question about race to talk about the climate crisis.
Yes, he is a winner and a loser, mainly because I was very divided about this performance. I think that in the end, the good outweighed the bad. But not by much. Buttigieg, at times, seemed too rehearsed, a constant problem for him in these debates. He seemed upset by Klobuchar's attacks on his limited experience as mayor and his past failure to win the elections in which he competed. Given how much Buttigieg received, his campaign will be happy to have left (relatively) unscathed. But he did accept some blows for the first time.
The first hour of debate
This is a debate! Which means that the goal is to examine how candidates differ and why. The first 60 minutes of this debate did not show a single real explanation of the points at which the candidates had real political differences. Instead, the candidates simply delivered a series of short and well rehearsed speeches about their policies. It was decidedly "meh" and, more importantly, it did not shed a single light for voters on how, where and why the candidates choose different solutions for some of the main problems facing the country.