First, the usual disclaimer. No, I don’t like any of these people. Yes, Trump will win. The analysis below is meant to try to predict how this debate will affect each of the candidates. (Next debate I’ll try not to be so wordy…)
The debate itself was an organized mess, candidates talking over each over and ignoring the rules. Perhaps slightly tamer than last time, and fewer surprises. I get the feeling this produces better ratings though, so don’t expect future debates to change.
Here is how I score it:
Biden +5 Biden seemed to have new energy and new forcefulness in this debate. At one point, he got cheers from the audience after demanding to finish his answer. He managed to keep this energy through the debate, kept his sense of humor.
This was the first time that I have seen the audience get behind Joe in this way. This performance will likely help him win South Carolina by a wider margin than would have been expected before the debate. If anything can revive his campaign, a strong showing in South Carolina might do it.
Bernie Sanders – 5 As the frontrunner he was repeatedly attacked by everyone except Steyer. He managed to fend off the initial attacks with light humor and repetition of his normal rhetoric.
However, after a while, Bernie started taking damage. The social nature of the attacks (i.e. everyone piling on), made it so that an undecided person would have questions about his legitimacy (which I certainly have…). This really hit home with Mayor Pete’s comment on Bernie seeing the “bright side of the Castro regime.”
In earlier debates where criticisms came sporadically, Bernie was near teflon, using passion and repetition to defend himself. It did not work this time. Bernie has been damaged. This performance will likely cost him delegates on Super Tuesday. However, I still expect him to come out ahead, just by a lesser amount.
Amy Klobuchar +1 – Amy managed to get plenty of talking time, and has been able to maintain her credentials as a knowledgeable moderate candidate. She got in some good hits on Bernie.
This performance keeps her in the fight but does nothing to improve her position. If a deal is made by moderates, she will still be in the running, and that is all she can hope for. She has no reason to stay after Super Tuesday if her only win is her home state.
Michael Bloomberg +6 – This performance was clearly better than the last one. He was attacked frequently, but they were no new attacks or revelations, and he was not ambushed this time. He managed to fend off Warren’s attacks, repeats of those in the last debate, and perhaps even gain some sympathy.
Maybe this was just me, but I found myself very focused on his responses, as if, possibly, he might be the smartest guy on the stage. He appeared authoritative and authentic, and I could actually see some of the old Republican poking through.
Best I can tell, last week is largely forgotten. Much like Trump in the early parts of the campaign, Bloomberg can afford to weather a few mistakes because he is self funding. He doesn’t have to worry about large donors changing their minds and not sending money, he can wait for things to blow over.
In addition, Bloomberg ran ads all through the debate, promoting his campaign. This is a real advantage.
I believe Bernie will still do well on Super Tuesday, but this performance could land Bloomberg in a strong second place. This appears to be a complete recovery for Bloomberg.
Elizabeth Warren – 3 Warren got a lot of talking time, attacked Bloomberg again, and then Bernie. However, I didn’t feel like she was advancing her own candidacy much. Her rhetoric is stale, and while she spoke with passion, we really saw nothing new. I felt like no one was paying attention to her. We were all focused on Bloomberg and Sanders, with a minor interest in whether or not Biden would explode.
She did not do enough damage to Bernie to significantly help her campaign. She should probably make a deal with Bernie and drop out.
Tom Steyer +2 – Steyer got a lot of time to speak, and he did indeed speak passionately, but this performance did not help his campaign much. What it did do was solidify his fairly substantial support in South Carolina, where he has a shot at getting some delegates.
It is not much of a shot, but it is a shot. If he happens to win delegates in South Carolina, it could develop into something. This performance helped him but I do not think Steyer has the charisma to build from here.
Pete Buttigieg -1 Mayor Pete got his licks in, but he could not match the passion of the other candidates, not even Joe Biden’s. He needed a whole lot more to budge his campaign forward, and he doesn’t have the cash to compete well in Super Tuesday states.
I think Mayor Pete’s campaign deserves some respect, but this performance will not solve his problems. If he stays in after Super Tuesday, it will be strictly for pride’s sake.