The Corner

Elections

Booker and Castro Thrive, Warren Coasts, and Beto Crashes

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro (left) and Sen. Cory Booker at the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami, Fla., June 26, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The short version: Elizabeth Warren treaded water, Cory Booker and Julian Castro found their grooves, Bill de Blasio vented his anger and may have created some buzz, Beto O’Rourke had a terrible night, and everybody else on the bottom stayed on the bottom.

Everyone expected Elizabeth Warren to be the big target of the evening, but it appears the rest of the candidates on the stage chickened out. MSNBC certainly gave her way more questions than other candidates early on, but she faded into the background as the night wore on. She’s gaining in the polls and Joe Biden is going to face some tough tests starting tomorrow night. She can play low-risk, ball-control offense until she’s up on stage with Biden.

Wow, does former congressman Beto O’Rourke look like the Lucent stock of the Trump-era Democratic party. He’s no longer in the top five, but several other candidates seemed to relish going after him tonight, particularly Bill de Blasio and Julian Castro. It’s time to call it – he’s thoroughly underwhelming as a debater and wildly overrated as a public speaker. Answering the first question in Spanish, unprompted, looked like a pandering gimmick. He had some better moments as the night progressed, but he was hit so many times by so many other candidates he must have felt like . . . a piñata.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker looked prepared. Maybe it’s those tough initial campaigns for mayor of Newark, or the never-quite-as-close-as-Republicans-hoped Senate races, but Booker knows how to hit the right notes in a two-minute window. I like to ridicule candidates who dodge tough questions by emoting for two minutes, but Booker does this maneuver well.

New York City Bill de Blasio took a shot at O’Rourke, jumped into conversations uninvited, tried to yell over the moderators as they cut to commercial, and overall just vented the spleen of an angry progressive. He even took a subtle shot at Pete Buttigieg over the police shooting in South Bend, and Buttigieg wasn’t even on the stage. Maybe his stock is a little undervalued . . . then again, that’s easy to do when you’re near zero.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro has to be hoping that people kept watching through the first half-hour, because he was barely visible for the first thirty minutes. But then he became invigorated when discussing immigration and the border and boy, did he go for O’Rourke’s throat tonight, at one point pointing out that the former congressman was talking about a separate provision of immigration law, and jabbed, “if you had done your homework, Beto.” He got more confident as the night wore on. Maybe the rest of the field has been sleeping on him.

After a surprisingly detailed and common sense answer on health care, it looked like Maryland congressman John Delaney would be the surprise of the night. I said he came across as the guy who actually knows the details of how to nail Capone on tax evasion. Then MSNBC decided they would stop asking him questions. By the end of the night, he was desperate to get a word in edgewise.

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard didn’t do herself any harm but she didn’t do herself that much good, either. Simply by being the youngest candidate, an attractive woman, a veteran, and “the surfing congresswoman,” she stands out in this crowd. But her rhetoric didn’t stand out, other than an exchange with Tim Ryan about Afghanistan – where she declared the Taliban would be in (or running) Afghanistan after our forces left that country.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar was thoroughly underwhelming, and perhaps nervous at first. The style of “Minnesota nice” really comes across as soft-spoken on television. She was asked about what she had done for African-American and Latinos in her state, and this moment called for that touching personal tale. Instead Klobuchar pivoted to talking about economic opportunity and then talked about the First Step Act.

Washington governor Jay Inslee was so little-noticed before tonight, he may get a little bump out of them. He came across as impassioned and as angry as the average progressive activist, which should help him some. But he declared he would “take away the filibuster” which is not a presidential power and will not occur without a Democratic-controlled Senate. He’s continuing to run a more-or-less one-issue campaign. Winning candidates in American history do not run one-issue campaigns.

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan didn’t get much attention from the moderators, and he came across as nervous at first and improved to cookie-cutter. In the exchange with Tulsi Gabbard about Afghanistan, I prefer his position on policy but she mopped the floor with him, drawing a hard distinction between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Ryan could have and should have challenged her by asking why the Taliban, having hosted terror groups that committed mass murder against Americans in the past, why they wouldn’t host terror groups that committed mass murder against Americans again in the future. Foreign policy was a car wreck for Ryan, as he contended the Iranians shot down a U.S. surveillance drone because “Trump was distracted,” that the drone was too expensive, and that life in Youngstown was suboptimal because we’re spending too much money on drones.

Most Popular

Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Culture

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More
Elections

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More