Columnist: The biggest Democratic debate loser was Joe Biden

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 17, 2015

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

Vice President Joe Biden is either playing coy with his intentions, or is genuinely torn about whether he wants to run in the 2016 election. But after a good showing for all of the Democratic candidates in the first debate, the party demonstrated they don’t need Biden to rescue them.

Each of the candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee gave better-than-expected performances, even under withering questions by Anderson Cooper (more about him later), who seemed determined to play gotcha or get the candidates to start fighting among themselves. Each time they received one of these media questions, the candidates attempted to pivot to issues Americans care about, which resonated with the students watching the debate on our campus.

After initial stumbles, Clinton found her comfort zone and her pace, attempting to work in her college education plan so many times. Her terse “no” response to Cooper’s attempt to bait her with a reply to Chafee got the biggest laughs of the night. It was, dare I say, Reaganesque.

Sanders sold his brand of Social Democrat Party very effectively, making us forget how few Americans say they would vote for a self-described socialist. His defense of Clinton over the emails led a Huffington Post writer to give him the win on the night.

Martin O’Malley is always good on a scripted performance, on a History Channel appearance, but had been known for making gaffes on the campaign trail. His debate performance was not only an effective audition for a vice presidential spot, but even gave the impression he would fill in nicely if other candidates stumbled.

Webb was a little stilted, but showed an earnest commitment to his issues that don’t always resonate with the true Democrat, which could give him points toward being a vice president, cabinet-level official, or even a future Virginia governor.

Chafee was effective at parrying tough questions about his party affiliation. He seemed the most committed to carrying out Obama’s policies.

The second biggest loser was CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The moderator demonstrated the part of debates Americans don’t like. Everything was an attempt to show how a candidate’s views changed over time, or a plan to make the candidates start fighting each other, which never happened.

I know there’s an attempt to boost ratings, but these questions, like the ones asked by CNN of the Republicans, and even Fox News questions of the GOP, showed how both channels were more out of touch with the American people than the candidates themselves.

Luckily, they occasionally let a real voter ask a question or two, which turned out to be the best of the night. The average American wants to know what the candidates will do as president in 2017, not what they did years ago, or whether they ever changed their minds or disagreed with a fellow candidate.

The final loser was the Republican Party. More students of mine showed up to the GOP debate, and more students on our campus identify as conservative, according to polls. But they were frustrated by the Republican candidates bickering at the September debate on CNN (they were more entertained by the Fox debate over the summer, but the act is wearing thin).

Only when Gov. Chris Christie demanded the questions and answers shift to the issues did any student clap or cheer, but that was when the GOP debate was almost over. Couple those petty arguments with the House Republican in-fighting, and Democrats look like the competent ones.

There’s still time for the GOP to recover, but they could learn from the Democratic Party performance in the October debate.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at