Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Grading My Pre-Written Debate Recap

Last night at 7:00 p.m., approximately two hours before the debate began, I published my blog entry that I had written on Sunday as a pre-write for a debate recap. So, how did I do? I'm pasting the text below the jump, and I'll add commentary in (boldface type within parentheses):

Last night the Democratic Party got together for the first of six primary debates last night at the Wynn Las Vegas. It was broadcast on CNN and Facebook, and moderated by Anderson Cooper, with additional questions asked by Dana Bush, Juan Carlos Lopez, and by voters submitting questions on Facebook.

Going into the debate, the RealClearPolitics average placed the candidates as follows:

Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and former Secretary of State, 42%

Bernie Sanders, Independent Senator from Vermont, 25.4%

Joe Biden, Vice President (who isn't running), 18.6%

Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia, 0.9%

Martin O'Malley, former Mayor of Baltimore and former Governor of Maryland, 0.6%

Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican and former Governor of Rhode Island, 0.2%

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, completely ignored by the polls

So last night, with six announced Presidential candidates, five people took the stage. 

(This was totally correct, but also not a hard prediction. Biden wasn't going to make a last-minute announcement, and Lessig was booked to appear on MSNBC, taping in New York)

Hillary Clinton entered the debate believing that this is her election to lose. It was her election to lose five months ago, but the circumstances have changed significantly, and tonight she needed to do better than not lose. She needed to win. I'm writing this before the debate, so I'm not comfortable saying how well she did. Mrs. Clinton is a strong debater with an exceptional mastery of the issues, and she knows what voters want to hear. That definitely came out last night, and it will be interesting to see how the electoral landscape changes over the next couple weeks. Early reports are calling this a win for Mrs. Clinton. 

(I correctly noted that early reports would call this a win for Clinton, but it's worth noting that a lot of early reports also called this a win for Sanders. Clinton did an excellent job keeping her composure and answering tough questions, and if that's all she needed to do, then she won. But like I said before, this wasn't her debate to lose - she needed a solid win. And it isn't clear to me she got a solid win. Almost the entire thrust of the debate, even the brief period that didn't go well for him, seemed to be driven by Sanders's platform. That's huge)

Bernie Sanders took the stage in a very different position than he would have if the debates had begun a month or two earlier. He's been surging in the polls, and many articles have been describing him as the front-runner. He needed to win last night, too, but this was his debate to lose. Senator Sanders has a strong understanding of the compelling issues of our time, and the people of the United States tend to agree with his positions on those issues. Since Senator Sanders doesn't really care whether his positions are popular or not, it was easy for him to stay on message. He held his own well when challenged on gun control, and he never took the bait when the moderators tried to get him to attack his fellow candidates.

(I'll say it: Sanders did not perform well when he was challenged on gun control. I don't think he anticipated such a fiery assault from Martin O'Malley, and he seemed to get genuinely flustered. That being said, Martin O'Malley tried to demonstrate his understanding of rural issues by mentioning western Maryland. But come on, western Maryland is like eight square miles squeezed between Virginia and Pennsylvania. It basically doesn't exist. Still, on the whole I'd say this was an accurate prediction. Sanders refusing to take the bait was epitomized by the single most important statement of the night, "You know, I agree with the Secretary. I think the American people are sick of hearing about [her] damn emails!" Clinton seemed visibly relieved when he said that, and it cost him an opportunity to take an easy and effective shot at the frontrunner, but refusing to take that bait was classic Sanders, and I doubt anyone who saw the debate didn't have their opinion of him improved at that moment)

Vice President Biden sat out, but continues to assure us that he has not made up his mind about running. He isn't running.

(100% accurate - Following Clinton's strong performance at the debate, too, I'm even more certain now that Biden will not enter the race at all. By the next debate, we won't even be talking about him anymore)

Jim Webb, who has been getting basically zero press even though he's polling better than Martin O'Malley, spoke strongly about his military experience. He's the only Democratic candidate who served in the military, and he's clearly hanging his hat on his foreign policy expertise. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Jim Webb cannot effectively differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on his area of expertise, and he's completely out of touch with the Democratic Party on everything else, so we can't expect to see much movement on his poll numbers.

(I stand by this write-up. I wouldn't have written anything different if I'd written that this morning instead of last weekend)

Martin O'Malley heroically avoided saying "All Lives Matter," but he can't escape the perception of his record in Baltimore and Maryland, and the fact that he's basically just a watered-down version of Bernie Sanders on most major issues. Because civil forfeiture never came up at the debate, he wasn't able to talk meaningfully about any issue by which he could clearly distinguish himself from any other candidate. I don't think we can expect much of a bump for him, either.

(This prediction tracks the common themes I'm seeing in other people's responses to the debate, but I'm going to have to make an amendment here. O'Malley's eyes seemed to light up whenever he spoke about green energy, and even though I stand by the assertion that he's basically just a watered-down Sanders, I think he really did set himself apart from the other candidates in a good way. I think his poll numbers are going to shoot up in the next couple weeks, and he's going to start playing the John Edwards role from 2008. As long as he doesn't get caught cheating on his cancer-ridden wife, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets the running-mate nod, regardless whether Sanders or Clinton ends up the nominee)

Lincoln Chafee, who used to be a Republican, was always basically a moderate Democrat idealogically. and that's exactly what he showed us last night. The moderators were kind enough to throw him a bone by bringing up his signature issue, the metric system, but it's really not a big enough issue to get voters going. Don't expect a huge bump in the polls for him. In fact, he's probably going to announce he's dropping out before the next debate.

(The only change I'd need to make to this is to remove the reference to the metric system, which never came up, and add the fact that me and this guy on Facebook decided he kinda looked like a Welsh Corgi up on stage who was just so happy to be on television we couldn't help but go "Awww." He needs a meme, but I suck at photoshop. So mayor. Much governor. Wow.)

Lawrence Lessig wasn't there because pollsters refuse to include him in the polls and the Democratic Party refuses to acknowledge his candidacy. He tried to do a live-tweet of the debate, but he's basically only pushing one issue, so he sounded like a broken record.

(Lessig didn't live-tweet the debate, though he did make two personal tweets about the debate using the wrong hashtag "#DemDabate")

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