Live-Blogging the December Debate (And Ranking/Grading the Candidates)

By | December 19, 2019

4:58 p.m….Are you ready for some debaaaaate! CNN literally says “Debate Pre-Show…Moments Away: Democrats Face Off in High-Stakes Debate.” Ohhhhh…dramatic.

4:59 p.m. We’re seeing live footage of the candidates scribbling notes at the podium. Riveting stuff

5:01 p.m. An introduction of the moderators, who I have never heard of…

5:01 p.m. Introducing the candidates–who are already at their podiums, thus sparing us the spectacle of seeing them strut across the stage. The NASCAR racers are fully strapped in and ready to go!

5:02 p.m. Weirdly enough, Andrew Yang received the loudest applause–although that may just be the handful of men we could hear the loudest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Yang get introduced without men saying “YYYYYYYEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH!” at the top of their lungs. “Something’s going on there.”

5:03 p.m. First question is about impeachment…naturally. This should be good.

5:04 p.m. “Why haven’t Democrats made a better case to get rid of Trump?” Uhhhh…because Republicans won’t vote against a Republican, and things have changed since the Nixon-era.

5:05 p.m. Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality. Whew… Question asked, question indirectly answered.

5:07 p.m. Elizabeth Warren focuses on Trump’s corruption. Okay, well at least they’re kind-of, sort-of getting to it…but Warren can’t help herself from linking that corruption to her fight against the wealthy.

5:08 p.m. Klobuchar makes a joke about James Madison’s height…too soon! But she makes the great point that Trump is not having his people testify, unlike Richard Nixon. “If President Trump thinks he should not be impeached, he should put forward his own witnesses.” Great point

5:09 p.m. Buttigieg talks about “giant businesses” paying zero percent in taxes…He’s clearly fed up with being labeled a corporate sellout, and is ready to counter that narrative, least he wind up in the “Kamala Zone” of someone unfairly labeled a DINO.

5:10 p.m. Tom Steyer jumps in when the moderator calls on Andrew Yang…seeing two men briefly squabble over who’s 6th and who’s 7th is pitiful.

5:13 p.m. Andrew Yang says Trump is President not because of “Russia, Hillary, racism” but because of lost manufacturing jobs. Okay, now I’m glad Steyer cut in front. Just like Sanders, Yang mostly uses this question as a springboard to get to his single issue. Why is he there again? Kamala Harris can’t raise the money to stay in the race, but Andrew Yang is able to?

5:14 p.m. Second question is about trade deals, and starts off with Bernie Sanders, who never met a trade deal he liked. Of course, Trump’s NAFTA re-working is about 25 years too late and too little, but let’s make the 2nd question about one of Trump’s chief “accomplishments” the day after he’s been impeached…that makes sense…

5:15 p.m. Amy Klobuchar does like the trade deal. Klobuchar liking a trade deal that Bernie doesn’t is surprising…if you died 10 years ago.

5:16 p.m. I’m wishing Tulsi Gabbard were here so the crowd would have someone to boo and throw tomatoes at.

5:17 p.m. More bullshit about how great the economy is doing. It’s amazing to me that Obama could never brag on the economy without the media tearing him apart, but they’re happy to spread Trump’s economic lies only because the stock market is doing great.

5:18 p.m. Biden and Buttigieg refute that the economy is doing great…convincingly. “People where I live don’t measure the economy by how the Dow is doing” which is the ONLY metric Trump seems to care about.

5:19 p.m. Andrew Yang mentions student loan debt in a way that looks like a DJ giving a literal shout-out. Predictably, his dogs bark.

5:20 p.m. Warren lists a bunch of shit that’s wrong, from private prison magnets to fossil fuel companies profiting off the Earth’s destruction. Preaching to the converted is great, but what are you gonna do about it?

5:23 p.m. Warren is asked about her wanted tax increases (the largest since WWII) and how would that not stifle growth? “Oh, they’re just wrong.” The crowd laughs…PBS humor. Watch your back Garrison Keillor! [I know he was Me-Tooed out of there, but he’s the only PBS “comedian” I can think of.]

5:24 p.m. Tom Steyer makes the case that only a wealthy businessman can beat a wealthy businessman…This sounds suspiciously like Trump’s claim that only a businessman can understand what’s really going on in America.

5:25 p.m. Pete Buttigieg is trying to two the middle lane between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren (“we’re given a false choice that things even have to change radically or be business as usual”). Tricky business Pete, this is exactly what Kamala did, and it didn’t totally work…even though is exactly where I’m at on the political spectrum: a liberal, neither center-left wanting to keep things the same nor really thinking Sanders’s solutions are the be-all, end-all.

5:26 p.m. Commercial! Man…PBS has some sleepy commercials.

5:30 p.m. The first question back is to Amy Klobuchar about mass exodus from places hardest hit by climate change. But here’s the problem: by its own nature, climate crisis is completely unpredictable. What happens if you move out of one flooded coastal area only to wind up in a place bizarrely, and unexpectedly hit by extreme drought or blizzard?

5:33 p.m. Tom Steyer seems a little more credible on climate crisis–you can tell he prioritizes it more than Amy Klobuchar–and calls on Pete Buttigieg to prioritize more than he has.

5:35 p.m. Buttigieg talks about…something I guess…

5:36 p.m. Joe Biden is asked if he’d sacrifice good union jobs for a greener economy. “The answer’s yes.” See Pete, that’s how it’s done. He also calls out the false notion that you have to choose between job growth and a green economy, and that loads of good-paying jobs are being created by alternative energy. Surprisingly strong answer from Biden on this.

5:37 p.m. Bernie Sanders is strong on this one. “Paris climate agreement isn’t enough.” But he’s probably living in a dream that other countries will stop spending money on weapons to battle their common foe: climate change. Many of our antagonistic countries in the world have state-run oil or gas giants, meaning their economies are literally dependent on fossil fuels staying large and in-charge.

5:40 p.m. I wish I had a dollar every time Amy Klobuchar says “it’s not flyover country to me, I live there.” I’d make so much, Elizabeth Warren would hate me.

5:42 p.m. I don’t know if I’ve ever realized how much Andrew Yang sounds like Kermit the Frog.

5:43 p.m. This is a great debate so far…Impeachment and climate crisis in the first few questions. Rather than spending an hour on healthcare.

5:44 p.m. Also, I like that it’s been pared down to (mostly) the candidates who actually have a chance. Castro, Booker, and especially Tulsi Gabbard wouldn’t have added a thing to this…but I do miss Harris though.

5:45 p.m. Joe Biden “I refuse to give up on the notion that you can never, ever have consensus on anything again…If that’s true, we are dead as a party.” He then mentions the GOP’s attacks on Biden and his family, “I have no love for Republicans” but it’s worth trying to get consensus. Strong answer on Biden’s part.

5:46 p.m. Andrew Yang is asked about being the lone person of color on stage. Welp, you can thank Michael Bloomberg (who made it too expensive for Kamala to keep competing) for that…of course, the lone debate moderator of color has barely said a word, and I can bet you the white woman asking this question probably has her kids in a lily-white private school.

5:47 p.m. Amy Klobuchar is asked about race…hilarious.

5:48 p.m. “Let’s now turn to the issue of foreign policy and the Middle East” Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Biden breath a collective sigh of relief that they weren’t asked about race.

5:49 p.m. The question is about Israel and goes to Sanders…because why not piss off our last major ally in the Middle East? “Netanyahu is a racist” and American policy “must be pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israeli.” It is astounding to me that the far-left is softer on China (Uighur Muslims wish they were Palestinian) than Israel.

5:52 p.m. Pete Buttigieg makes the case that “the world needs America…” and the sad thing is that that probably makes some on liberal Twitter cringe. “But it must be an American President who’s right, not just any American President.” Yep…

5:53 p.m. Warren is asked about closing detention facilities. Nice softball. “I would treat our allies better than our enemies.” Good

5:55 p.m. Another strong answer from Biden.

5:56 p.m. “I want to turn to China…” YES! Our biggest adversary gets a shout-out.

5:56 p.m. Buttigieg has said he views China as more of a threat than his opponents do–because he’s actually living in this century, where only one country on the globe is a real threat.

5:57 p.m. Buttigieg threatens China not to kill Hong Kong protesters…as far as I know, the first major politician to do so. Good for him

5:58 p.m. Tom Steyer is asked about Hong Kong protesters…he’s clearly out of his element. A very, very bad answer from Tom Steyer on this. Candidacy-ending bad…

5:59 p.m. Joe Biden brings the foreign policy heat. THIS is why you need real politicians (Biden, Buttigieg) over pretenders like Yang and Steyer.

6:00 p.m. Amy Klobuchar doesn’t totally answer the question, instead talking about “standing with our allies.” Uhhh…what allies? France is chicken-shit, England is a mess, and we haven’t seen Europe lead a war since they fought each other.

6:02 p.m. Buttigieg and Klobuchar get into a mild squabble…almost too mild. Pure, passive-aggressive Midwestern.

6:03 p.m. to 6:11 p.m. …Seems like a very long commercial break.

6:11 p.m. A commercial for Spectrum Cable’s “Mad About You” reboot makes “Grace and Frankie” look like high art.

6:12 p.m. They mention Barack Obama’s comments about how the world would be better if women ran things, and most of the world’s problems are old men not wanting to get out of the way.

6:13 p.m. “Senator Sanders, you are the oldest candidate on stage” “And I’m white as well!” …Strange boast.

6:14 p.m. Sanders goes into his stump speech. And when Biden is asked, he mostly ducks the question, but scores “Politico doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.”

6:15 p.m. He won’t answer if he’ll commit to only running for one-term. “No, I haven’t even been elected to one term yet.” Biden is feisty tonight.

6:16 p.m. Klobuchar “Thank you for asking a woman this question.” Klobuchar has religiously avoided being labeled “a female candidate” but now that Kamala is gone, and she’s still low in the polls–maybe she’s finally ready to court identity politics? It’ll be a strange fit.

6:17 p.m. “Senator Warren, you would be the oldest President ever inaugurated as well” “I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.” Thunderous applause….Damn, this dude might wish he’d never asked this question.

6:19 p.m. Buttigieg says he can’t help but feel Warren’s “5K selfie” barb was directed at him. “I’m not going to turn away anyone who’s going to help us defeat Donald trump” damn right…Purity police like Warren and Sanders don’t seem to understand the massive tsunami of cash Trump has raised.

6:21 p.m. Warren calls out Pete for having…a nice fundraiser? Kind-of lame really…

6:22 p.m. Pete “I’m the only person on this stage who isn’t a literal millionaire and billionaire….This is the problem with having purity tests that you yourself cannot pass.” HELL YES!

6:24 p.m. Pete and Warren go at each other, and Pete really scores on her hypocrisy. “You transferred money from your senate campaign to Presidential campaign…and you took money from those same major donors.” GOOD…Warren was a Republican until late-middle age and Bernie is an independent who has never been a real Democrat, and we’re letting them put real Democrats under a purity test.

6:27 p.m. Bernie can’t keep himself out of this one. Calling Joe and Pete out for taking money from billionaires, saying he never has…well, there’s the money Vladimir Putin spent to help him hurt Hillary in 2016. I guess he doesn’t count that.

6:28 p.m. Tom Steyer interjects himself…for some reason. He has zero credibility on this issue, but none of the “Big Dogs” care enough about him to go after him.

6:29 p.m. “I want to turn now to immigration” …If you have to.

6:29 p.m. Andrew Yang is being asked about immigration…for some reason. He spends most of his immigration question talking about misogyny, even though every YangGang member I’ve ever seen is a man.

6:32 p.m. Bernie is asked about immigration, and leans toward the moderators as he seems to have a hard time hearing them. No surprise, Bernie is going to help DACA kids…nice softball for him. Possibly his only answer of the night that won’t deal with race.

6:34 p.m. Amy Klobuchar brags on herself and her loooong record in the senate (you would think she’d been there for decades). I’d like to see Amy Klobuchar tell a story that doesn’t sound like inside-baseball for political junkies.

6:36 p.m. Tom Steyer calls out Trump’s racism…and then rides his pet rhino off the stage.

6:38 p.m. Buttigieg talks about immigration and reparations…sure.

6:38 p.m. Buttigieg really is the new Obama, someone with soaring rhetoric that is also more pragmatic than just hot air.

6:40 p.m. Amy Klobuchar is trying very hard to score on Buttigieg, but nobody really cares. Amy gives a nod to Biden’s “cancer moonshot” but Biden looks like even he’s not really paying attention.

6:41 p.m. A Buttigieg/Klobuchar fight is the definition of bringing a covered dish to a gun fight. The Great American Bake-Off looks like a gang feud compared to this.

6:43 p.m. Buttigieg calls Klobuchar out for constantly saying she’s won hard races. “Nothing like winning as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.” Klobuchar mentions “that would be one thing if you’d actually won” she’s referencing Pete losing his statewide race by 20 points. Kind-of makes her look bitter, and there’s not a lot of applause.

6:46 p.m. Another Warren/Buttigieg fight. Damn, what is this–“Get Pete” night?

6:48 p.m. “Should College Be Free for wealthy kids?” is the question…Is there anyone out there who cares about this? I just can’t imagine poor kids being like “it’s great that I got free college, but bullshit that someone rich is here!” Poor people don’t think that way, they’re used to seeing rich people get free stuff.

6:49 p.m. I could be wrong, but it seems like Tom Steyer is being asked if he can help someone named Kyle get a job.

6:52 p.m. Andrew Yang says “special needs kids will become special needs adults…in many cases” what happens in the other cases?

6:54 p.m. Elizabeth Warren gives an impassioned plea for the rights of disabled Americans…giving it her best Maya Angelou.

6:54 p.m. Amy Klobuchar is asked about judges…gives another answer revolving around her time in the senate and more inside baseball about the senate. God, Klobuchar is full of herself.

6:56 p.m. Buttigieg gives a clear, personal answer on how he would shape the judiciary. Buttigieg talks about reforming the judiciary, and since he’s mentioned this before anyone else, this seems like a stronger suit for him.

6:57 p.m. “Senator Sanders how would you stop violence against transgender Americans?” Sanders astoundingly makes this about healthcare and single-payer health insurance.

6:59 p.m. Warren says that she’ll go to the Rose Garden and read the names of all transgender people killed. …Uhhhh, sure, I guess that’ll help…

7 p.m. Biden is asked about misleading people on Afghanistan (and the white female moderator pronounces it in the strangely “authentic” Af-gah-knee-stan way that nobody uses so that Biden doesn’t understand what she’s saying).

7:02 p.m. Sanders mentions Biden voting for the Iraq War…because of course he does…this time saying “you’re also the guy that helped lead us into the disastrous war in Iraq,” like Biden was personally pushing for it.

7:03 p.m. Sanders says again “I would not make foreign policy by tweet” which isn’t really saying what his actual foreign would be. So far it looks like building a time machine and going back in time to not fight Afghanistan and/or pissing off Israel.

7:04 p.m. Buttigieg seems to be the only one advocating for keeping a limited troop presence in Afghanistan. He doesn’t finish that argument which is troops are in Afghanistan because we don’t trust Pakistan or Iran, and Afghanistan just happens to be the dump between them.

7:06 p.m. Bernie is asked what he would do if congress rejects his single-payer system–as they surely would–and he keeps up the delusion that they’ll pass it. He does not say if he’ll accept more modest changes if he can’t get his first choice.

7:08 p.m. Looks like we’re about to have another Biden/Bernie/Warren fight on healthcare, but at least they waited until near the end to have it vs. leading the debate with it…as all other debates have started with.

7:09 p.m. Biden asks Bernie (who has had his hand up his entire answer) to put his hand down. “Just waving at you Joe.” Lemmon and Matthau would be proud.

7:10 p.m. In the primary, I would not prioritize voting for Joe or Bernie, but I would absolutely watch them in an off-Broadway revival of The Odd Couple.

7:12 p.m. Klobuchar chimes in on healthcare…even though it’s not a strong issue for her.

7:15 p.m. Oh boy, a crazy question…it’s asked “is there a candidate on stage tonight that you’d like to ask forgiveness or give a gift?”

7:16 p.m. Andrew Yang is totally stumped on this question. Eventually, he uses this as an opportunity to plug his book.

7:17 p.m. Pete says he’d like to give the country the gift of a President other than Trump.

7:18 p.m. Warren says she’ll ask for forgiveness…someone there’s a Twitter user fuming that Warren (the first woman asked this question) chooses to apologize.

7:19 p.m. But if you watch what she actually says…it’s more a humble brag about how passionate she gets.

7:20 p.m. Now Joe Biden is bragging on his own selfie record, and not really answering the question.

7:20 p.m. Bernie mentions that he’s written four books he can give as gifts.

7:21 p.m. Why is it so hard for these candidates to admit forgiveness or give a damn gift?

7:22 p.m. Amy Klobuchar also asks for forgiveness…Twitter is probably apoplectic that the only two women picked forgiveness, and no one else did.

7:23 p.m. Tom Steyer didn’t really answer the question.

7:24 p.m. Why would it be so hard to just say “I’ll give my opponents the gift of credit” and list a couple of nice things? It’s not so bad to be generous.

7:27 p.m. Tom Steyer is back to being the “I’m the only one on this stage” guy.

7:28 p.m. Andrew Yang “I know what you’re thinking America, how am I still on stage with them?” Yes, yes we are…Maybe even Yang is ready to get booted from the island so he can go work on another book to sell.

7:30 p.m. Amy Klobuchar “It’s been a great debate, but I want to debate Donald Trump.” Well, I want to fuck Serena Williams…

7:31 p.m. Buttigieg, all smiles after taking it from multiple fronts tonight.

7:32 p.m. What unites Warren’s family? Amazon…specifically, fury over how little taxes it paid.

7:34 p.m. Bernie Sanders says the greatest threat to America is a predatory China and their exporting of civil rights abuses and technologically sophisticated dictatorship tools…I’m just fucking with you, he talks about how he’s broken the record for small donors.

7:35 p.m. Biden thanks people for watching so close to Christmas. I could be forgetting someone, but I believe he’s the only one to even acknowledge the holiday.

Grading/Ranking the candidates…

7. Tom Steyer…There is no logical reason to keep Tom Steyer in this race. He’s been in several debates, and hasn’t made a real impression in any of them. Tonight’s answers on China and several serious issues show that Steyer is simply out of his depth. Tonight only proved that Steyer should have been giving money to the real candidates rather than spending it on himself. Grade: C-

6. Amy Klobuchar…Her typical self-satisfied, somewhat smug self. No matter what you’ve done, Amy Klobuchar created a senate subcommittee with John McCain and Ted Kennedy to do it better and longer. Her repeated attacks on Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg especially, were more than a little desperate. Grade: C

5. Bernie Sanders…Red-faced and sweaty for most of the debate, Bernie is not exactly inspiring confidence he’ll even live through the 2020 election, let alone win it. And his content was the same stuff he’s said dozens of times. Grade: Grade: C+

4. Andrew Yang…Funny, but he’s totally out of his element. It shows in dozens of ways, and one of the best lines of the night was actually against himself by saying “I know what you’re thinking–why is he still up there.” His debates always seem like warm-ups for TED talks. Grade: B-

3. Elizabeth Warren…Scored some great lines (“I’ll be the youngest woman President”), but I don’t think she won over anyone that wasn’t already with her. Warren is still her morally strident, puritan police self, and that wins over ideological diehards and maybe not many others. Grade: B

2. Pete Buttigieg…Mayor Pete took it from all sides tonight (Warren and Klobuchar and Sanders–even Tom Steyer tried to engage him at one point), and stood strong. He was ready for Warren, and flustered her in a way I haven’t seen anyone else. And he’s the single best, smartest candidate on several issues most candidates aren’t fully talking about (like China). Grade: A-

And tonight’s winner…Joe Biden. Trust me, no one is more surprised than me, but he delivered his best performance tonight. Strong, authentic, and mostly lucid. Not bad at all, but that may very well be because the slings and arrows he usually gets were going to Buttigieg instead.

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