The third debate is in the books. While neither the audience or the viewers witnessed new ground-breaking policy ideas, the race has begun to take shape.
Assessing winners of losers remains subjective. Depending on the news outlet and polling data, conclusions varied widely. With the race being decimated from more than twenty candidates to now ten, each of them saw an increased amount of screen time. It turned an already uneven playing field into a battleground of desperation on the one side and an exhibition of potential on the other.
The three frontrunners, namely Biden, Warren and Sanders, are almost solely judged on whether or not they lose a debate, while the rest enjoys the liberty of no expectations. But on the latter, Andrew Yang used the forum to announce a project that will provide ten families with $1000 a month. Not out of the goodness of his heart, but to promote his idea of universal income, or the “Freedom Dividend” as Yang has coined it. An idea that evidentially resonated particularly with under thirty-five-year-old voters. Here, Yang has become the third most popular candidate.
Julián Castro utilised a less subtle approach by insinuating Joe Biden was lacking the cerebral capability to even recall his own words. However, the use of this tactic to elevate his abysmal polling of 1.2 per cent turned out to be a mistake. Most mainstream Democrats criticised Castro for his move. Not because he attacked Biden personally, but due to adding to the Trump team’s Biden “highlight reel”. The message: Even your party believe you’re completely incompetent, why should anyone vote for you?
Beto O’Rourke committed the same mistake. When asked whether or not he would seek to confiscate weapons, his passionate response was: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15’s,” playing right into Trump message of “angry Democrats” who seek to deprive law-abiding citizens of their Second Amendment rights.
One of the most notable themes of the night was the paradigm shift on President Obama. He was put back on the Democratic pedestal. The same one, he got kicked off from during the first two debates, when all candidates not named Biden, attacked Obama and his track record, particularly on deportation. But it turned out that attacking the most popular Democratic president in modern history is not a winning strategy. Lesson learned.
Besides the course reversal on President Obama, the debate offered three additional takeaways.
First, the anti-Trump dogma all candidates continue to run on continued. Including the default position of responding to questions with: “I will do it differently than Donald Trump!”. It was such a repetitive occurrence that Trump appeared to be more present than some of the candidates on stage – despite being 1400 miles away. Given the resentment amongst Democratic voters, it might well be a winning strategy. Nonetheless, the lack of coherent political vision on many topics must have felt egregious to voters who are still undecided.
Second, the absurdity the hard-left in running on remains omnipresent. For the third time, Joe Biden had to defend Barack Obama’s immigration policies and millions of deportations of illegal aliens that were conducted during that time. What sounds like a horrendous crime against humanity to some is essentially the enforcement of the law. Moderates watching these scenes must rightfully wonder how much further to the left the party will drift if even the rule of law can be ignored whenever it suits a certain narrative.
Third, O’Rourke, Castro and Corey Booker were not able to use the third debate to their advantages. Instead, their mundane ineptness was brutally exposed during the three-hour-long broadcast, either through incoherent statements or ill-advised attacks.
The latest debate did not elevate an underdog, nor did it damage one of the favourites. What remains obvious is the ideological rift on stage. Those who are polling low will likely continue to attack Joe Biden in the next debate. They do not have anything to lose. The party, however, does. The harder Biden is attacked, the more damage it does for a potential run in 2020. For Republicans, the fourth debate is, therefore, must-see TV.