The DNC needs to winnow the field to half-a-dozen candidates, the sooner the better.
If it did nothing else, the first Democratic debate proved that brevity is no longer the soul of wit. Squeezing the answers of ten candidates, only four of them (Warren, Booker, and just maybe Klobuchar and O’Rourke) seriously running for president, into roughly 100 minutes yielded a few sound bites and, at a generous most, merely confirmed the basic contours of the race. Those contours pit an aggressive progressive populist left—Warren Wednesday, Bernie Thursday—against a stubbornly incrementalist center—Klobuchar Wednesday, Biden Thursday—with perhaps three candidates—Booker Wednesday, Harris and Buttigieg Thursday—floating between them and relying chiefly on whatever charisma they can summon. Booker managed to summon his share tonight; he certainly appeared the most conventionally presidential. Warren shone in the first hour and largely disappeared in the second, as the NBCniks, who’d steered most of the economics questions to her in the first hour, turned to other candidates and other topics in the second.
In this kind of format, what’s likely to stand out are the clearest statements of commitment, at which Warren and De Blasio excelled, and the gaffes, or even the non-gaffes, of the oddballs and the unprepared. Delaney provided a bumptious display of the thematics that Klobuchar and Biden offer in a far more serious and nuanced way: that ambitious, much less systemic, change is beyond us; that we can succeed by working with Republicans—a judgment that Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland would be happy to confirm if only there were one scintilla of truth to it. Ryan likely lost the support of the less than one-half of one percent he’s been polling.
The only serious takeaway from Wednesday’s presentation is that the DNC needs to winnow the field to half-a-dozen candidates, the sooner the better. Thursday’s session looks to be a little more fruitful than Wednesday’s, as it will provide the first real exposure for Joe Biden, and whatever septuagenarian sparks may fly between him and Bernie.