Second Dem Debate Becomes Bernie Show

The bizarre format meant an angry old man got the lion's share of air time.

Thirty-nine minutes into the first night of the second round of the Democratic debates, I tweeted in disgust, “None of these people are going to be able to beat Donald Trump.” While that may be right, it’s colored by my later observation, “This is the stupidest debate format of all time.”

Because there were ten candidates on the stage, the vast majority of whom simply have no business running for President, much less given equal footing with the serious candidates, everyone had to talk in incredibly short sound bytes.

Except, it seems, for Bernie Sanders.

For reasons I don’t completely understand, the moderators kept interrupting other candidates to give Sanders a chance to respond. And his rants always seemed much, much longer than the cut-off snippets to which he was responding.

While I can see the appeal of his brand of populism, I don’t see the appeal of him. He just comes off as an angry crank yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

Still, he sucked all the oxygen out of the room. I finally gave up an hour or so in, depressed that one of these people may be the alternative to Donald Trump.

The candidates who I barely knew before the debate I still didn’t know. But none of them gave me the slightest reason to think I was wrong that they shouldn’t have been invited.

I came away even less impressed with Beto than before.

I still like Pete Buttigieg but there’s no way he’s going to become the nominee.

Elizabeth Warren is by far the most impressive of the seasoned candidates on the stage. I’m not a huge fan of her policy prescriptions but, lordy, she has them in detail. She’s a much better representative of the progressive wing of the party than Sanders. Still, she hasn’t made the transition from policy wonk to executive.

Joe Biden seems much more inevitable after last night. He’s competent, calm, and decent. I think he can go toe-to-toe with President Trump better than any of other candidates. But a contest between two men in their 70s for control of America’s nuclear arsenal is rather depressing.

UPDATE: When all was said and done, Warren actually slightly edged Sanders for total speaking time.

Still, this points to the weirdness of the format. While the lesser candidates were appropriately given less air time, there was little rhyme or reason to the breakdown. I’m not sure what this was but I’m certain it wasn’t a debate.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teve says:

    Terrible format; Liz kicked butt.

  2. John Peabody says:

    I dream of a debate format where the candidates are in a studio, the camera and microphone are shut off after the allotted time, there are no interruptions, and (most importantly) no live audience. I dream, but I vote, too.

  3. Guarneri says:

    “I’m not sure what this was but I’m certain it wasn’t a debate.”

    An Introduction to Basic Yodeling Techniques

  4. Kathy says:

    I finally gave up an hour or so in, depressed that one of these people may be the alternative to Donald Trump.

    I’d take an inanimate carbon rod over Trump any day.

  5. Matt says:

    I still like Pete Buttigieg but there’s no way he’s going to become the nominee.

    I wonder why you believe that Pete has no chance to become the nominee. The fact that you like him surprises me.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, Bernie was obnoxious, but I just tune him out.

    This debate was all Elizabeth Warren. Imagine her, with her deep knowledge and education and genuine understanding debating the ignorant, hate-mongering, Putin-fingering fckwad currently occupying the White House. Roughly like a PhD arguing physics with a six year-old who’s wet himself.

    But of course she’s a woman, which is all it will take to bring out the juvenile misogyny of Trump’s brain-dead culties.

    Right, Drew?

  7. Jen says:

    It *is* depressing.

    Regarding Buttigieg, at least he’s visible and getting training, perhaps he’ll be the nominee in 2024.

    I understand the desire to shoot for the moon, but as someone who worked in Republican politics, there was an awful lot of campaign material for Republicans that was served up last night.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    BTW, the notion of ‘what it takes to be president’ is obsolete. It apparently takes nothing but ignorance and malice. The bar’s been lowered to somewhere around parking sub-level four. We Democrats will never match the depravity of the Trumpaloons. We are not a cult of personality.

  9. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I see the angry old men are up and at it.

    BTW – It’s amazing, what with all the concern over global warming (Snicker), that the gathering of Hollywood types, faux intellects and Obama, but I repeat myself, in Sicily at the Google summit to discuss, well, global warming received no attention from CNN or the candidates. Despite, heh, the mega yachts and the estimated 114 private jets to get there. I guess their globally warming is better than the deplorables global warming……….

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Hey, Drew:

    What is the innocent explanation for why #TraitorTrump refuses to allow any Americans to be present when he meets with Putin?

    What is the explanation for why that question terrifies you so that you can’t even try to answer it?

    Ignorant, gutless, racist trash.

  11. Jen says:

    @Guarneri: The biggest problem with climate-change deniers is that they are so convinced they are correct, they don’t bother to learn anything, they just disparage constantly.

    Which saves more on equivalent emissions: throwing away less food, switching to LED light bulbs, or flying less on more efficient planes?

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Hey, I found some help for you! I asked the question on Twitter and someone suggested Putin and Trump are planning a surprise party for Kim Jong Un and they want to keep it secret.

    Why don’t you try that out?

    Or just run away, like you do.

    When danger reared it’s ugly head,
    He bravely turned his tail and fled.
    Yes, brave Sir Drewin turned about
    And gallantly he chickened out.

  13. An Interested Party says:


    Question after question was framed up from the ideological perspective of a Heritage Foundation intern or otherwise crafted as a gotcha to generate a 15-second clip for Republican attack ads down the line.

  14. Monala says:

    @Jen: what’s the answer? Genuinely curious.

  15. Jen says:


    Reducing food waste would be the equivalent of taking 495 million cars off the road.
    Switching to LED light bulbs=54.8 million cars off the road
    Flying less/using more efficient planes=35.4 million cars off the road

    We tend to think of high-emissions activities as being the ones where we actually see carbon being burned, but one has to look at the entire chain to get the real footprint. Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful things we can do on a day-to-day basis because of the totality of impact (fertilizers, transportation, water use, impact on demand that generates even more waste, landfill use, etc.)

    CNN generated a very interesting quiz based on this data. I did better than many, but some of the answers were real eye-openers.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Warren is more of a policy wonk even than Hillary Clinton but the gap between them is tiny compared to the gap between either and Trump. I’m honestly not sure it mattered all that much in 2016.

    @michael reynolds: Likewise, I strongly disagree that Trump’s winning demonstrates that qualifications no longer matter. Certainly, it didn’t with Trump. But I think he’s sui generis. Indeed, Trump PROVES that qualifications very much ought to matter.

    Beyond that, as I kept telling my then co-partisan Republicans in the run-up to 2012, the fact that Obama was only minimally qualified by experience to be President in 2008 was going to make zero difference in deciding whether he should be re-elected. Four years experience AS PRESIDENT was more experience than any other possible candidate for the job (save George H.W. Bush, who could theoretically have run for a second term). Trump has been a lousy President but he’s now checked the appropriate box on the CV.

  17. Tyrell says:

    Senator Warren – too loud and offers nothing for the middle class working people.
    What happened to the “If you like your health insurance plan you can keep it” ?
    90% of the American people have health insurance (Stat news)