First Democratic Debate Grades

One Democratic debate in the books. The night’s biggest winner? Someone who has no shot at the nomination. The biggest loser? Someone who didn’t even show up. Let’s get to the debate grades.

Group 1: Um, Thanks for Coming?

Lincoln Chafee: You guys remember that time Lincoln Chafee admitted he didn’t know what he was voting for in the Senate because he had just shown up and didn’t read the Glass-Steagall bill so just voted with the majority? That was awesome. In his defense, there’s a chance he just showed up to the debate like five minutes earlier. He was unconvincing on most of his responses and mostly looked just happy to be there, the Ringo of the debate. Even his attacks on credibility and Clinton’s Iraq War vote fell flat. He might double his polling numbers thanks to some sympathy support. Unfortunately, that means he’ll go from about 0.3 to 0.6. Grade: D

Jim Webb: I think Jim Webb is still wasting time by complaining about his lack of it. Jim Webb was the kid on the playground who took his ball and went home when he was losing. Or maybe he was the kid in class who outworked everyone yet his classmates and teacher still didn’t like him. Or maybe… ahh, I could do this all day. If Chafee was just happy to be there, Webb was furious that elections come down to pageantry. His whining about time got annoying quickly, especially considering Chafee got a lot less of it but was still thrilled to be seen on national TV. I used to think Webb was the only declared candidate who could unite moderate Democrats and make a run at Clinton thanks to general election crossover potential. But hearing his answers on guns, Black Lives Matter, and climate change, I’m starting to think he’s just too moderate — and some might call it tone deaf — to gain traction in the Democratic Party. He was surely every Republican’s favorite Democrat on that stage, but that won’t help him in a Democratic Primary. Like Rand Paul with the GOP, he’s running for the nomination of a party that just thinks too differently, and he’s not changing minds any time soon. While he was predictably superb on foreign policy, he didn’t approach smooth anywhere else. Maybe if he had more time? Someone teach this droner the art of the soundbite. He’s the most likely candidate to drop out first.  Grade: C-

Group 2: Solid Job

Bernie Sanders: Bernie galvanized the base! But wait — the base was already galvanized. It remains to be seen whether he converted others, and I don’t think he did. He did not weather the surprisingly aggressive, two-pronged attack from Clinton and Sanders on gun control very well. I’m guessing most Sanders supporters did not know their progressive champion had this bullet-sized hole in his résumé. He did seem to have the debate’s best moment, though. Let the world know that Bernie Sanders is sick and tired of hearing about Clinton’s damn emails! I suspect the rest of the Democratic Party is, too. (His “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress” was a terrific soundbite, too.) He lacked confidence on all things foreign policy, which allowed Webb and Clinton to get a leg up. Still, when it came to social and economic issues, he was in classic Bernie form.  Grade: B

Hillary Clinton: That gust of wind you feel is all of Clinton’s supporters breathing a sigh of relief at once. She was good. Poised, rehearsed, relaxed, sometimes affable, rarely condescending, and as informed as anyone on stage. She’s happy with that debate, and if Biden never jumps in, I think most of his supporters will now feel comfortable turning to her. If he stays out, she could climb toward 50 percent in the next poll. Better yet, her solid performance might keep Biden at bay for good. Let the record show he probably peaked last week, and this debate may have made his decision for him. There will be a lot less clamor for him now. Joe Biden is the night’s biggest loser. Grade: B+

Group 3: The Winner

Martin O’Malley: No one on that stage had a better mix of likability, reasoned responses, and harnessed passion on the issues. He showed as progressive or even more-so than Sanders, especially on climate change and gun control. As I expected, he touted his history of getting things done as an executive. He had the best closing statement of the night, touting the night’s performances from Democrats as more impressive and respectable than what viewers have seen on the Republican side. That will play well across the party. I’m confident he’ll have the steepest climb in the polls, but considering he started the night with a 0.4 Real Clear Politics average, even a jump of 500 percent still keeps him at a couple of points. Still, he won this thing. Grade: A-

Poll predictions:

  • Clinton up a few points.
  • Sanders holds within a couple points.
  • Biden down a handful as people get impatient. He needs to jump in within a week or not at all.
  • O’Malley up a few.
  • Webb holds or even ticks up thanks to uniting all remaining conservative Democrats.
  • Chafee continues to poll a binary code.

10 thoughts on “First Democratic Debate Grades”

  1. I think the big winner is the Democratic Party as a whole. The Republican debates have been the equivalent of political SummerSlam cagematches. Last night we were watching an episode of Charlie Rose. How can moderates/independents not be impressed?

    Clinton won by not losing and O’Malley
    Agreed on Webb, his stage presence was awful.
    The status quo is preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting spin. At the same time, if the Republicans were more engaging and earned much higher ratings while Democrats put their few viewers to sleep, that might ultimately subdue the Democratic message in the end.


      1. Certainly not. But inertia might do the rest, not just with ratings, but with the Republican message that might saturate the national dialogue.


  3. What is the Republican message right now? Last night there wasn’t much difference in the policy positions of the Democrats (except for Jim Webb). That may be true of the Republicans eventually. Is it likely? Based on rhetoric, the difference between the messages of Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump versus the messages of Bush/Rubio/Fiorina/Christie/Kasich are far greater than any differences in opinion between Clinton and Sanders. There’s a genuine fight for the identity of the GOP going on. The only message they agree on is Obama is bad and Clinton is worse.


  4. Chafee admitting to not knowing what he was voting for in the Glass-Steagall bill was hilarious. I think he and Webb served as comic relief during the debate. O’Malley did come off looking good, though I think we quickly observed that his tricks for success were becoming repetitive: a huge smile, saying something like “clean nationwide electric energy grid by 2020!” very quickly, and claiming that he had already done everything in Maryland. I think the debate was a clear win for Clinton, and as you said, a breath of relief from her supporters.

    Liked by 1 person

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