2019 Democratic debate, round two: Joe Biden can't dodge his past policies: Today's talker

Ten Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Detroit on Wednesday for the second night in the second set of primary debates. The candidates included Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Vice President Joe Biden, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and businessman Andrew Yang.

Round two, night two: Who's out?

By Brian Dickerson, Nancy Kaffer and Kim Trent

Wednesday night's debate in a single headline:

NANCY: "Most voters still aren't paying attention"

KIM: "Candidates and audiences feisty in Detroit debate two"

BRIAN: "People who can’t win the nomination gang up on people who can"

Who won?

NANCY: Unlike Tuesday's debate (I'd say Elizabeth Warren's open and engaging way of addressing policy details made her the clear winner), this one was murky. If I had to pick, and I do, I'd say Kamala Harris.

KIM: Harris demonstrated that she is a tough and strategic thinker.

BRIAN: Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee made the most progress. Harris did the best job defending herself; Joe Biden is still standing.

Who lost?

NANCY: Tulsi Gabbard, Bill de Blasio, Michael Bennet.

KIM: Biden still seems indignant that candidates are criticizing his past words and actions. He’s got to defend his record without seeming defensive.

BRIAN: Julian Castro, Bennet, de Blasio, Gabbard continue to languish in anonymity.

Recap of night one: Democratic debate 2019: Winners, losers and who needs to drop out: Today's talker

Who else had a breakout moment?

NANCY: Cory Booker, who got a lot more airtime than in the previous debate, and who got after Biden hard on criminal justice reform. Castro continues to be thoughtful and competent, but I can't help but feel he's running for vice president.

KIM: Booker, with a brilliant framing of the real-life consequences of Biden’s championing of draconian crime bills.

BRIAN: Gillibrand clearly distinguished herself from other also-rans.

Rank Biden, on a scale of 'could be a viable consensus candidate' to 'Oh, Joe'

NANCY: Biden didn't mess up, but it wasn't a star turn, either. He stumbled several times, particularly when challenged on past positions that haven't aged so well. Still, he's a front-runner who doesn't have to do much but stay in the race.

KIM: It was a respectable performance, but as he's a lifelong politician, still not as sharp as he should be.

BRIAN: Still viable, but increasingly burdened by the longest record on the stage.

Did Harris’ performance live up to the expectations she set in the Miami debates?

NANCY: Yes — she's sharp and forceful. There wasn't a moment with the emotional heft of the busing exchange with Biden during the Miami debate, but she made her points and credibly rebuffed attacks from other candidates who clearly see her as one to beat.

KIM: As the breakout candidate from the first debate, Harris predictably found herself under fire, and she handled the heat fairly well while still effectively undermining Biden’s record.

BRIAN: She went from being the attacker to being the target and held her own.

Dems, focus on beating Trump: Democratic debates don't match the moment. Time to get serious about beating Donald Trump.

Best or worst response of evening

NANCY: Mine is a worst: "That was a long time ago." Biden has to say that about a lot of things he's supported during his decades-long career. Wednesday night, it was about a long-ago op-ed opposing a child care tax credit. Biden has a track record ... and that's not always a good thing.

KIM: Best: Gillibrand’s commitment to help white voters understand white privilege should resonate with voters in Detroit who didn’t vote in 2016.

BRIAN: Best: Inslee on how science is setting deadlines on climate change, Gillibrand on Cloroxing the Oval Office on Day 1. Worst: de Blasio pledging that “we’re going to tax the hell out of the rich.”

Weirdest moment

NANCY: This one was tedious but disappointingly normal.

KIM: When Biden misspoke, calling Booker the president, then the future president, then Booker embracing Biden’s “endorsement.”

BRIAN: Biden calling Booker “president,” then correcting himself by saying he meant to say “future president.”

Odd couple: Marianne Williamson, Bernie Sanders stand out

Who should drop out Thursday morning (and why)?

NANCY: Bennet, de Blasio, Gabbard and Andrew Yang. I just don't see a path forward for them.

KIM: Inslee. He’s great on climate change issues, but he’s not breaking through as a top-tier candidate.

BRIAN: Gabbard, Bennet. Neither is distinguished by experience, imagination or charismatic appeal.

Which candidates should go on to the next round?

NANCY: Harris, Booker, Castro and Inslee — not all of them have a real shot, but I like the way they shape the conversation. And, yeah, Biden, who is certainly not inevitable, but barring a major screw-up, looks to be with us at least through the primaries.

KIM: Harris, Biden, Booker, Gillibrand, Yang

BRIAN: Biden, Harris, Inslee, Yang

Brian Dickerson is editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @BRIANDDICKERSON. Nancy Kaffer is a Detroit Free Press columnist. Follow her on Twitter @nancykaffer. Kim Trent was elected to an eight-year term on the Wayne State University Board of Governors in 2012. She previously served as the director of former Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm's southeast Michigan office. Follow her on Twitter @KimTrentDetroit. This column originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press.

What others are saying

Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "Unfortunately, CNN seemed to learn nothing from its horrendous reviews for Tuesday night. The same time-wasting, overproduced 25 minutes of blather at the onset, the same rigid enforcement of time constraints on candidates, the same lack of attention to foreign policy and the same crudely provocative style of questions reinforced the conclusion that not only CNN but also all of the broadcast news outlets and the (Democratic National Committee) need to rethink the format of these events. They are too long, too disjointed and too focused on creating made-for-TV conflict."

Jessa Crispin, The Guardian: "From the opening pomp — with Joe Biden mumbling through 'The Star-Spangled Banner' with all the energy of an old man in pajamas saluting a dusty old portrait of Richard Nixon in the nursing home cafeteria, and Kamala Harris drowsily serving 'yay America' platitudes in her opening statement as if her staff had sent dozens of SEEM NICE!!!! texts immediately before her entrance — the Biden vs. Harris Showdown Part Two was confusing and disappointing. The former vice president did have one smart strategy, though, which was to keep Harris on the defensive. Forced to defend her ideas and record as she attacked Biden’s, she showed the weakness of her policies, which are hard to distinguish from those of any of the other centrists in the race."

Liz Peek, Fox News: "Democratic Party leaders ... see this impeachment as a losing political proposition. But on the debate stage Castro, Harris, Booker and de Blasio, among others, pushed to impeach. Here’s where all the candidates agree: President Donald Trump poses an existential threat to the soul of the nation, as Biden put it, and must be evicted from the White House in the 2020 election. Because the candidates know that a thriving economy is Trump’s best weapon for reelection, the topic barely came up. There was almost no discussion of the low unemployment rate, record stock prices, accelerating wages for low-income Americans, and the huge recent rise in consumer sentiment."

Jason Sattler, USA TODAY: "Biden's responses were far from impressive. But ties go to the front-runner. Biden is nearly doubling his closest opponent in the polls and seems to have shaken off the 'Jeb Bush of 2020' sign that many commentators, including me, tried to pin to his back. ... The next Democratic debates are scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston. Only Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Booker have qualified so far. Let’s hope the DNC sees the wisdom of one debate with just the top contenders from now on."

Frank Bruni, The New York Times: "Biden hardly put the doubts about his sturdiness and stamina to rest. I so hoped and I so want to say otherwise, because I believe him to be a decent man, because he’s talking more sense than many of his starry-eyed adversaries, because it may well be that among the voters who will decide this election in the places where Trump plans to fight hardest, Biden is a better — or at least safer — bet than any of the other candidates getting more than 2% in national polls right now."

What our readers are saying

This debate was about whether Biden would survive Booker and Harris. It went as expected. I thought Yang stood out. I was especially impressed with Gabbard: both in her military service and her desperately needed takedown of Kamala Harris. Gabbard demonstrated bravery. If the vote were held today, I would pick Gabbard.

— Steven Arnold

It is both stunning and sad to see what the Democrats have to offer. What happened to their party? Their "ideas" aren't achievable and would bankrupt America, destroying a finally great economy after years of economic misery.

— William Goll

Yang was amazing in the debate Wednesday. Definitely the winner, and he can definitely topple Trump.

— Rachel Kaminer

Trump wins in a landslide in 2020 if this is all the Democrats have to offer voters.

David Groner

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2019 Democratic debate, night two: Joe Biden survived, but barely