November 20, 2019 is a day that will live in infamy: the day of the worst Democratic Presidential debate in human history. It was awkward, boring, and disorganized, a genuine struggle to sit through for its two-hour duration. The voting public was treated to plenty of questions about the impeachment proceedings — on which no candidate disagrees, and which no one is interested in except people who are already watching every second of them on C-SPAN — but nothing on, say, the coup in Bolivia, or immigration, or fair wages.
Everyone’s performance was bad, but let’s examine each of them in detail, because the future of the nation is at stake. Candidates will be rated on the quality of their answers, general demeanor, and evening attire.
Our boy played the hits. He called Trump a “pathological liar,” said the economy is “rigged,” and of course, reminded us he “wrote the damn bill” for Medicare for All. As ever, pundits are bored with these observations, in spite of them being true. At the New York Times, Republican consultant Liz Mair wrote, “Bernie’s so old he was the first person to do or sponsor whatever socialist-y thing is the new hotness.” OK.
The moderators subjected Bernie to some particularly weird questions — for example, whether it is acceptable to chant “lock him up” at Donald Trump — which he dodged and parried with predictable stubbornness. He frequently disagreed with the premise of the question he had been asked. His hands were sometimes seen gesticulating in front of Joe Biden’s face. He promised to prosecute the fossil fuel industry and to treat Palestinians with respect. Nothing unexpected here.
Bernie does seem to have stepped up from the Kohl’s suits in which he is typically clad, but we have not yet seen anything like the glow-up his British equivalent, Jeremy Corbyn, undertook in 2017. Note that Bernie wears a U.S. Senate pin on his lapel rather than an American flag.
The first thing you should know about Mayor Pete is that he was well-prepared.
Focused. pic.twitter.com/timse9YAWK— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) November 20, 2019
You’re ready. pic.twitter.com/mrS9QmKqgq— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chas10Buttigieg) November 20, 2019
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Pete is always ready for a debate.
That being said, Buttigieg got off easy. He should have been subjected to a thorough rinsing for his embarrassing debacle of faking black supporters in South Carolina, but no one really pressed him on it, except for one brief and hesitant allusion from Kamala Harris. His answers were so full of platitudes that at one point Rachel Maddow said to him, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I need you to answer the question.”
Strangely, Buttigieg continues to describe himself as an outsider, even though he is the most craven, aspirational Beltway motherfucker who ever lived. Since the last debate, he has begun to emphasize a trivial and tautological point, which is that the next president will be the president after Trump. I do not know how to put this in any way that will add substance. He constantly alludes to this mundane chronology as though it was somehow profound.
Buttigieg briefly tussled with Gabbard, arguing that she was overly friendly with foreign dictators. She was prepared for this line of attack and had a decent enough riposte: that a president would need to “meet with both adversaries and friends to ensure the peace and national security of our nation.” Mayor Pete could not stand it, sniping that she was no better than Trump for meeting with Kim. He pouted like a schoolboy.
His suit was well-tailored but not nearly enough attention is paid to his haircut. There is no joy in it. A little more length, just enough to create the slightest wave, would add substantial personality, and reduce his widely recognized resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman.
Uncle Joe made some strong statements. For example, on unifying the country:
I'm always told by everybody around here things have changed, you can't do that anymore. If we can't — I thought the question was initially asked of the senator, how do you unify this country? We have to unify this country. I have done it. I have done it repeatedly.
Look, we have to bring this country together. Let's start talking civilly to people and treating — you know, the next president starts tweeting should — anyway.
In addition to bringing up Barack Obama whenever possible, Biden tried to present his record as his best qualification. For example, he mentioned his participation in drafting the Violence Against Women Act. “No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger,” he said, as though there were clap emojis between every word. He then added a caveat that no one was waiting for: “other than in self-defense, and that's — rarely ever occurs.” He concluded with the following:
And so we have to just change the culture, period, and keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it. It will be a big — no, I really mean it. It's a gigantic issue.
A wider shot showed pursed lips from Sanders and Harris. Biden also claimed to “come out of the black community” and said there had only been one black woman senator in American history, when the other was standing right beside him.
His black suit, white shirt, red tie, and flag lapel pin were conventional and safe, which is how he wants you to see him in general. This time his eyes did not bleed.
Harris, despite her campaign being all but over, stuck to her trademark rhetorical devices: using feminine pronouns to refer to the next president and laughing at her own jokes. It seemed that she expected a great reception she did not receive for a clearly rehearsed line: “With all due deference to the fact that this is presidential debate, Donald Trump got punked.” It continues to be difficult for her to advocate for poor people against incarceration and policing in light of her punitive record as California attorney general.
Harris was wearing a very sharp gray suit jacket with a tasteful but eye-catching stitched trim, over a bold burgundy shirt with a knotted collar.
The Hawaii representative was generally accused of being a treacherous spy but managed to hold her composure — probably something she learned as a young member of the Science of Identity Foundation. She is not going to win, and is probably only still qualifying because prominent Democrats keep getting mad at her.
However, she was the clear winner in the outfit category with her daring all-white, Elvis-in-Vegas ensemble.
The billionaire entrepreneur has some surprisingly reasonable things to say about getting wealth out of politics, which is ultimately meaningless considering his wealth is the only reason he is onstage in the first place.
He wore a dreadful tartan tie, an ill-advised repeat from his previous and first appearance at a Democratic debate.
The vaper’s candidate, Yang somehow manages to be both charmless and likable at the same time.
He continues to make his lack of a tie work for him, but his lapel pin that says “MATH” is not doing his blatantly unserious campaign any favors.
New Jersey Sen. Booker’s best moment was implying that Biden was high for not agreeing to legalize marijuana. His worst moment was when he haughtily reminded everyone that, like Pete Buttigieg, he was also a Rhodes scholar. (Disappointing, after he had put forth this frankly exemplary jab at Buttigieg on Twitter.)
He did look good in his suit, however, but this is probably mostly to do with the fact that he is in the best shape of any of the men in the race. Score one for veganism.
Massachusetts Sen. Warren is one of the least pugilistic presidential candidates I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, which plays well among Democrats. Like Bernie, she also played the hits: a wealth tax of “two cents” on the dollar, and, you guessed it, “I have a plan for that.”
The red-pantsuit-black-top combo is a classic for women in politics. Warren added a fun twist with a jacket in a bright shade of eggplant.
Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar seemed both nervous and angry, literally trembling at times. She led with an uninspiring quote from an uninspiring politician, Walter Mondale, who lost the 1984 election to Ronald Reagan by the second biggest margin in the 20th century. She had prepared some jokes; for example that she “raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends.” She did also argue that some voters may be considering the wrong factors. “I don’t think you have to be the tallest person on this stage to be president,” she said. “I don’t think you have to be the skinniest person.”
Her all-blue outfit was rather like Biden’s: as conventional and boring as her platform.