Based on a lineup that included only a sole candidate that could boast of having double-digit support, night one of the Democratic Party presidential primary debates was considered the Taaka Vodka to tomorrow night’s top shelf.

I wish I could report that there was a plot twist and the night proved itself more exciting than initially anticipated, but no, it was a bit of a bore. I don’t want to fixate on who “won” the debate though I can speak to who performed better than much of the pack: Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro. 

As the lone candidate considered to be top tier, all Warren had to do was not embarrass herself and hit all her marks. That she did. And thankfully, she didn’t fall for the bait in one question that was a thinly veiled attempt at discussing “late-term abortion.” Instead, Warren offered an answer steeped in protecting the health and safety of women in all circumstances. 

Warren shined maybe not quite like a diamond but at least a really cute cubic zirconia mainly in the first hour of the debate (due to the banal questions she was asked and had to turn around in order to make more substantive) and made the most of her closing statement in the second hour — where she was asked far fewer questions. And no one took shots at her, so equitable taxation’s new bestie had a good night. 

As for Castro, he effectively proved that much of the attention lavished on Pete Buttigieg should be his. He was both impassioned and detailed on immigration policy, his plan for police reform, and at least for television’s sake, willing to call out his peers.

Rachel Maddow, who was a much better moderator than Chuck Todd whose questions were drowning in the kiddie pool, asked Senator Amy Klobaucher what had she done to convince Black and Latinx voters to stand with her. She answered with “economic opportunity” which sounds as all lives matter in tone as you suspect it does. When asked if the alleged binder throwing senator’s response was enough, Castro said no, invoking the importance of pursuing racial justice as he named those Black and brown people who have died at the hands of the state.

And then there was his more direct call out of Beto over Section 1325 in Title 8 of the United States Code. The provision, as Mother Jones explains, “The provision makes it a misdemeanor to illegally enter the country. Castro challenged all other candidates on stage to stand with him in repealing the provision so that coming into the country without authorization would be a civil offense rather than a crime.”

Castro called Beto out and during their back and forth, told him that he hadn’t done his homework. 

Bless Beto O’Rourke’s heart. You knew it was going to be an interesting night for him after he broke into Spanish randomly while answering a question. Well, he said words, but he wasn’t answering the question directly in either language. His Tim Kaine homage was noted but not appreciated as Savannah Guthrie informed him he had another chance at answering. 

In Guthrie’s hour, she moderated like Andy Cohen with a centrist bent who has been here all day into the night and needs some spark to salvage this reunion.

In any event, Beto was targeted sharply (Joe Biden and Donald Trump were not) and is prone to be graded harshest, but frankly, while there were moments he came across a little out of his depth/doing Obama in drag, he wasn’t bad. He may have actually fared better with viewers than his critics will give him credit for.

To Beto’s credit, he was one of two white men who were not annoying. The other is Jay Inslee, who doesn’t want climate change to kill us all. As for the other white men — let the record show all debate interruptions came from white male candidates.

Leading the charge was Bill DeBlasio, who made his presence felt, but since he can’t fix the subway or take care of public housing in the city, ultimately no one gives a damn. John Delaney was more frustrating, however, because at least DeBlasio managed to insert some nominal level of substance when he decided to compel another solo performance from him. All Delaney did was go into run on sentences themed around being a moderate. Yawn.

Tim Ryan and his shtick about the forgotten white male working class voter go back to the November 2016 op-ed from whence it came.

Tulsi Gabbard didn’t sound as much of an outlier as she normally does, but do not be fooled. P.S. Her sister is a hater.

Lastly, Cory Booker had good moments, but while I’ve already saved the GIF made of him looking at Beto when he decided to break into Spanish, that doesn’t lead to a surge in polling. By the way, most of Booker’s responses involved him making a point to share that he lives in the hood. Thank God he didn’t bring up his longtime associate T-Bone. More importantly, he spoke of the Black trans women being murdered in America. If Joe Biden talks about missing more segregationists tomorrow, maybe Booker will get a boost.

 In summary, Elizabeth Warren proved why she’s ahead while Julián Castro illustrated why he warrants greater consideration. And while some were okay, and others, utterly forgettable, my biggest feeling after the debate wrapped was that most of them just need to go ahead and get out of the way. 

The views above are of the author and not Essence.

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