Kamala Surprises, Biden Flakes, and Dems Tear Each Other Apart in First 2020 Debate

In two marathon stretches on Wednesday and Thursday, 20 candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination fought for time and exposure on the debate stage in Miami, Florida. In the first night, former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (D-Texas) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) lost, but there was no clear winner. In the second night, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) emerged triumphant over the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The first debate round on Wednesday achieved the basic goal of a debate, allowing each candidate to define himself or herself as an option, distinguishing between the different choices. The second debate round on Thursday involved more acerbic attacks, pitting candidates against one another to yield clearer winners and losers.

On Wednesday, O'Rourke flaked when other candidates went head-to-head with him on various issues. Klobuchar lost because she did not stand out from the crowd. In fact, her performance was completely forgettable.

Other candidates, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) defined themselves well. Booker went out of his way to emphasize transgender issues, slamming Gabbard for not doing enough beyond supporting the radical Equality Act. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro performed well overall but made a fool of himself on transgender issues. Tim Ryan and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) emerged as moderates — unlikely to win but introducing alternatives besides the rush to the left.

Gabbard won the Drudge Report poll after the first round, and Americans Googled her and Booker most after the debate. The moderators gave Gabbard a really tough question on LGBT issues, and Gabbard shot at them, claiming that they were in the bag for Elizabeth Warren.

Perhaps the less aggressive strategy made sense for the first round of the debate. After all, only Warren is a key leader in the polls. Many analysts claimed that Warren won the debate round merely because she did not fail or fall to arguments from other candidates. None of the candidates targeted Joe Biden, the current frontrunner, for attacks.

On Thursday, however, candidates targeted one another. Harris went toe-to-toe with Biden on the issue of his record of treating segregationists with civility. While Biden was right to say he did not actually praise segregationists, as Booker had falsely claimed, Harris slammed him and emerged the clear victor in the exchange.

Harris also emerged triumphant in a spat early on. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) urged Biden to "pass the torch to a new generation of Americans." Biden shot back, saying, "I'm still holding on to that torch." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg tried to edge in, but shouted over one another.

Harris ended the episode with a line that found loud applause from the audience, though it shouldn't sit well with Americans. "You know what, folks, Americans don’t want to witness a food fight. They want to hear how we’re going to put food on their table," she said, shaming all her squabbling competition.

Harris did not necessarily have the stronger arguments, but she comported herself well, while Biden flaked under pressure.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg continued to show his unique strength to the religious left by chiding Republicans in the name of Christianity. Sadly, Democrats kept repeating, over and over again, the fake news about Trump's administration putting "kids in cages," and attacking Trump over immigration policies he shared with Obama.

Sen. Bernie Sanders dodged questions, merely repeated his old lines, and proved rather forgettable.

The first debate round featured more pandering to Hispanics in the form of candidates randomly breaking out their Spanish. This did not come across as genuine. The second debate round featured all ten Democrats saying they would extend government health insurance to illegal immigrants. In both debates, only two candidates supported eradicating all private health insurance. Interestingly, many candidates consistently argued for a compromise, moving in the direction of socialized health care but not eradicating private insurance.

Attacks on Trump came sparsely in the first round, but frequently in the second round. The two debates had entirely different spirits, and the first round was a better debate than the second. The clearest winners were Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. Notable mentions include Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The clearest losers were Beto O'Rourke, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.