Eight takeaways from the eighth Democratic debate (and this wild week in politics)

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From left, Democratic presidential candidates entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., depart the stage after a Democratic presidential primary debate, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.   Photo by Elise Amendola/AP

From left, Democratic presidential candidates entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., depart the stage after a Democratic presidential primary debate, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

Photo by Elise Amendola/AP

The first week of February was an incredibly packed one in American politics. Never in our nation’s history has there been a presidential debate, a caucus, a State of the Union address and a final impeachment vote all within five days. 

So yes, I am going to cover the debate as usual. But because there are too many elephants in the room this time around, my coverage of this week’s debate would feel incomplete without mentioning everything. 

1. Iowa, there are no words…  

Everyone has heard the stereotype about America’s Midwest: Lots of farmland and a slow pace of life. Whether or not it intended to, the Iowa Democratic Party proved the latter half of this stereotype. Its attempt to implement a vote-counting app was such a fiasco that the Nevada Democratic Party has already promised it will not use any apps in its upcoming caucus. Though Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders came out on top, the bigger story was the IDP’s inability to administer an event it had years to prepare for. 

2. “Pete vs. Bernie” dominated the debate stage. Shifting gears to Friday’s debate in New Hampshire, it was quite apparent that an ideological clash became the conflict of the night. Buttigieg led the moderate coalition, but ultimately could not deliver a knockout punch to Sanders’ progressive proposals. Buttigieg’s answer calling for change in Washington was cliché, and Joe Biden’s takedown of his political inexperience may have actually helped the more experienced Sanders, who was content to sit back and articulate his classic campaign promises. I score this round as a win for Sanders. Buttigieg’s best option moving forward is to play for damage control in New Hampshire, where Sanders is very popular, and turn his attention to the Nevada caucus. 

3. I was wrong about Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps the Massachusetts senator is hurt just as much as Buttigieg by the others’ weak challenges to Bernie Sanders. After last month’s debate, I identified Warren as the frontrunner heading into the Iowa caucus. But Warren’s strong performance at the January debate seemed to mean nothing as she plunged in the polls and finished in a distant third place in Iowa. Friday’s debate was her chance to take back the party’s progressive wing, but Warren could not escape Sanders’ shadow all night. She must hope for at least another third-place performance (ideally, a second) in New Hampshire to avoid falling out of this race. 

4. Amy Klobuchar was better, but it’s too little too late. 

The senator from Minnesota continued her habit of attacking President Trump; her attacks came across as more relevant to the debate conversation this time. This was especially evident in her “newcomer” comeback to Pete Buttigieg. But the fact that Klobuchar came away with only a single delegate in Iowa leaves her with a big hill to climb.  

5. It’s time for “Sleepy Joe” to wake up. 

With Pete Buttigieg winning over the party’s moderates, Biden employed some odd tactics in his attempt to steal momentum. As I mentioned earlier, his misguided attack on Buttigieg’s inexperience was great news for Bernie Sanders, and he could have been a bit more subtle when talking about his role in the Obama Administration. Biden debated with an unusual desperation on Friday, which is likely because he needs to survive New Hampshire and Nevada before he is able to ride the “Obama wave” with minority voters in South Carolina. But unfortunately for Biden, that South Carolina primary is nearly three weeks away.

6. Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang’s days are numbered. Once again, Steyer’s time on the debate stage was limited; if you “blinked,” you might have missed it. However, his revival of Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid!” brought up an important issue that is rarely discussed in these debates. Still, Steyer will soon be eclipsed by the other New York billionaire in this race: Michael Bloomberg. Yang received even less airtime than Steyer. And the few times he did speak, it was clear that his absence from the January debate loomed large. Simply put, it is difficult for any candidate to gain momentum when their exposure to the public is so inconsistent. The fact that Yang’s ideas are all over the Democratic spectrum does not help him, either. 

7. In the midst of it all, a great week for Trump. The only 2020 candidate more scattered than Andrew Yang is our current president. Donald Trump’s tendencies need no introduction. But although he seems to lack a coherent plan much of the time, everything fell into place perfectly for Trump this week. After being acquitted on both articles of impeachment, the president seemed relaxed and relieved in his speeches. At the same time, Nancy Pelosi’s decision to tear up the State of the Union speech painted an ugly picture of Trump’s opponents, demonstrating that his actions had flustered Democratic leadership.  

8. The Democrats’ unsung hero: Mitt Romney. 

If someone told me in 2012 that Mitt Romney would one day be applauded by Democrats nationwide, I would not have believed them. His vote to convict President Trump on “abuse of power” article was as petty as it was powerful. Though his vote was meaningless to the final verdict, I hope Romney’s willingness to break from party lines becomes acceptable in American politics again—on both sides. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


 Carson Swick is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at carson.swick@uconn.edu.

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