Democratic Debates, Day 2: Andrew Yang Won the Night, Castro Shined, Biden and Harris Didn’t Perform Well

Democratic presidential candidate former tech executive Andrew Yang speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019, in Detroit.
Democratic presidential candidate former tech executive Andrew Yang speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019, in Detroit.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

FLINT, Mich.—Just an hour away from the debate stage in Detroit where 10 candidates made their cases to the nation as to why they should be the next president of the United States, several dozen residents sat at the Flint Development Center waiting to see who would earn their support. They are still reeling over the fact their government did essentially nothing to protect them from the lead poisoning found in their water five years ago. During a pre-debate forum lead by Black Voters Matter, residents seemed to have lost faith in elected officials and had little hope that any of the presidential candidates last night would help them.

“We have to start taking care of ourselves and stop waiting on these politicians to do something,” one woman said during the discussion. It was a sentiment that was widely shared throughout the night and much of my day in Flint. During the debate, I spoke with Liberty Bell, a 29-year-old mother of two who said she broke out in rashes several years ago due to the water poisoning. She has taken her children to get tested, but results are inconclusive.

Bell pulls out her phone and shows me photos of her children, both under 4-years-old, filling bottles with filtered water. They were both born during the water crisis and know no other life than drinking water out of bottles, never the tap.


While Bell and others are looking inward to keep Flint afloat, most of the people in the room really liked Andrew Yang and believed he spoke to their issues better than the other candidates.

“His context sounds like President Obama. He’s talking about jobs,” Bell said. “He’s talking about opportunities. He was on The Breakfast Club talking about how, by 2025, the jobs for many African Americans will be gone if we don’t do something about our economy. I love what he has to say about the economy and financial literacy.”

Like Bell and most people at the forum, I think Yang won last night’s debate because of his clarity, lack of overcomplicated language and his messaging, which showed he cared about the people of Detroit and the rest of the state. He came across as very blue-collar—he is not—and resonated with the working class. Few other people on the stage pulled that off.

Here is my breakdown of the winners and losers last night.

Andrew Yang won. 

The Yang Gang should be very happy today, as Yang won the hearts of Flint, Mich., last night and is proving to be a formidable candidate as the number of people running for president will surely dwindle in the coming months. What won the debate for him was his plans to fix the working economy and discussing, in very practical terms, why employers are challenged with offering healthcare benefits and how the current system plays a role in hampering their efforts in doing so. As a business owner, Yang could break that down in ways other candidates could not. He talked about how his wife asked about healthcare when they discussed his run for president and how her labor as a stay-at-home-mom is not valued in our current economy. That resonates in Detroit.


He actually said the words “Detroit” and “Flint” like, you know, he was in Detroit and just an hour away from Flint. I was very shocked at how disconnected most of the candidates were from the people of Detroit.

(Well, actually, I wasn’t.)

Anyway, Yang was very in tune with Detroit and came out on top. Clear winner.

Julián Castro looked really good. 

Castro is the most underrated candidate on stage who should be a frontrunner. Much of the reason he is not getting attention is because the mainstream media is not covering him enough or particularly well. It is like they do not know how to handle a Latino man running for president without asking if he speaks Spanish and not getting weirded out by the fact that he is not particularly fluent.


(I think the coverage of him is kinda racist, but that’s another post.)

He has the boldest plan of all the candidates (some have no plans at all!) to address police brutality. He also called out New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his inaction against the cop who killed Eric Garner and repeated the names of victims of police abuse.


Another thing that Castro has is moral clarity and conviction. He said undocumented border crossings should not be illegal and had the courage to say that former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was wrong for disagreeing with him on that position. He also engaged Joe Biden on his criminal justice record and showed more presence on stage than before without moving away from his calm demeanor. I give him second place, but I can accept arguments that he won the debate.

Good for you, Julián!

Uncle Joe looked really bad.

It does not help that Biden talked about “cherry-picking” people who immigrate to America as if most of the white people who are here now descend from European immigrants who did not speak English, were undocumented and were unskilled. If you were not sick and could walk, you pretty much could enter the country during the mid-1800s and early 1900s. This is established fact.


That we would raise the bar for immigrants south of the border is pretty damn racist. Am I saying Biden is racist? Nope. Am I saying that he is very tone-deaf on how racist his “cherry-picking” comments came across? Yes.

Biden also did nothing to atone for his role in the 1994 crime bill (which several of the candidates, including Castro and Cory Booker, blasted him for). What really made him look bad was how he used Barack Obama as a crutch to justify why he is the best person to be president, but when pushed on Obama’s less-than-flattering record with deportations, Biden says, “I wasn’t the president.”


It truly is amazing to me how the CNN commentators did not ask him about Anita Hill. His treatment of her during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings were arguably the most humiliating acts towards a black woman the public has ever seen. He literally is onstage riding Obama’s coattails and is not doing much to prove why his brand of moderate “I-can-get-white-votes-and-you-can’t” politics will actually win.

Do better, Joe.

Also, sit down with The Root for an on-camera interview to address some of these issues.


Cory Booker raised his stock.

Cory Booker out here letting y’all know he can hold his own and showed he can withstand a one-on-one with Biden. In fact, he proved that he is the better candidate. Biden did have a moment when he challenged Booker on his leadership of the Newark Police Department. Indeed, the department had issues before—and during—his mayoral period, but Biden failed to argue, at least convincingly that, Booker was a propagator of stop-and-frisk.


Because it is not true.

He did resist the ACLU’s reform recommendations at first but has admitted that was a mistake.


Booker did a great job of refereeing the tone of the candidates on stage, whether it was the immigration debate between Castro and Biden or Biden and Harris’ debate over healthcare. He showed his executive leadership and looked very comfortable on stage. He looked like he could run the country.

And this is the quote of the night, directed at Biden: “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.”


My nigga.

Kamala Harris’ ‘Attack Biden’ strategy did not work.

She did not do that badly, but her stock dropped. Her first mistake was that she got too wonky about her healthcare plan. Strategically, Harris should have leaned into her strength on addressing maternal mortality rates among black women. Detroit, at least in 2014, led the nation in deaths of mothers who give birth. She should have spoken to black women here, directly, about how her plan would help them.


Harris did not do that and I have no idea why. She was in the blackest city in America and did not talk to black women about reproductive care, which is her strength.

Instead, she went after Joe Biden and they dragged on about the rollout of their healthcare policies that only an economist or a healthcare policy person could fact check on the spot. It was a waste of time.


Harris had a shot to speak to black Detroit—did I say that Detroit is the BIGGEST BLACK CITY IN AMERICA?—and squandered it by picking a fight with Biden that didn’t need to be had.

Tulsi Gabbard was right about Kamala.

Forget about the hoteps and the sexists on Twitter flapping their gums about Harris’ white husband and calling her a cop in the most simple terms. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard took a shot at Harris that she has been weak on: her time as California’s attorney general and as San Francisco’s top prosecutor.


Gabbard called her out for not using her power to reverse practices that negatively impact black people in the criminal legal system. She was right to do so. My colleague Michael Harriet broke down decisions by Harris that could have challenged bad cops and freed black people unfairly treated by the criminal legal system. In many cases, she chose not to.

Here are some highlights of his report:

She fought against forcing cops to wear bodycams across the state of California, saying it should be left up to leaders in individual agencies. As a prosecutor, Harris refused to hand over the names of officers involved in police misconduct. The then-San Francisco public defender argued that the DA shouldn’t get to decide what information should be released. But that was a long, long time ago...

In 2010.

Even though her detractors cast it as an example of how she was willing to protect law enforcement officers from scrutiny, the senator still maintains her legal position was and is correct—a district attorney cannot hand over personal information about police officers without court approval.

In hindsight, it seems as if Harris’ legal position was correct. In an eerily similar 2017 incident, a state appellate court blocked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from disclosing a list of police officers. That case has been appealed to the California Supreme Court, where it remains pending.

In one of her final cases before becoming a senator, Harris’ office decided not to prosecute the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, a woman who was found dead after she was suspiciously released from police custody. In 2015, a judge refused to indict a man facing life in prison after it was discovered that a California prosecutor had falsified the defendant’s confession. Harris appealed, arguing that falsifying the confession wasn’t necessarily prosecutorial misconduct. Harris only changed her stance after a judge threatened to “name names” and federal judges accused California prosecutors of engaging in an “epidemic” of prosecutorial misconduct under Harris’ watch as attorney general.


The Appeal has written about this and so has the New York Times and the Huffington Post, among others.

Gabbard was correct. How did Harris respond? By dismissing the congresswoman as making “fancy speeches” onstage and calling her a sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar Assad. (Well, Harris is correct on the Assad sympathizer part.) But Harris did not have a response to Gabbard’s charges against her record as prosecutor. And that is a very bad sign. If I were Booker or Castro or anyone else, I’d sink my teeth into that angle of Harris’ candidacy like a pit bull.


Kirsten Gillibrand is good white folk.

There is a lot to like about Gillibrand. One thing you have to give her props for is that she has a strong moral conviction. She also gets props for taking on Biden over his op-ed on childcare tax credit in 1981 where he argues, per NPR, “a recent act of Congress puts the federal government in the position, through the tax codes, of subsidizing the deterioration of the family. That is tragic.”


Biden was on his heels about it during the exchange. Gillibrand showed strength and persistence and Biden did not really have a good rebuttal. (As Vox reported, his views have changed but he did not explain why) She was solid but did not prove to the country why she should be president—which is the point.

But I like her.

Oprah often talks about her grandmother, who always told her to find her some “good white folks” to help her survive in the world.


Gillibrand is good white folks. That means something.

Everyone else...well, they were there. Good for democracy, I guess.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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KC Complains A Lot

My opinion was always going to be that Joe Biden was going to start looking bad the second he had to start talking, and...well...YUP! Soon as Joe Biden had to start speaking, everything crumbled away. He’s stumbling over his words. He doesn’t know the difference between a deductible and a premium. He seems out of his depth and various policy issues. Cory Booker posterized him when he said he loves to cling to the legacy of Obama when it’s convenient and then dismiss it when it’s not. The whole problem with being Obama’s VP (and I love Obama!) is that you don’t just have your own baggage to deal with, but Obama’s as well. And Joe had no answers for that. Hell, he could barely articulate his own ideas.

(Also, Cory, my dude; it’s “all up in the Kool-Aid and don’t know the flavor”, not “dipping in the Kool-Aid and don’t even know the flavor”. The line was fire, but if you’re gonna say it, say it right and say it with your chest.)

I’m surprised Kamala was as uneven as she was, almost like she didn’t expect anyone to come for her after she bodied Joe in the first debate and was caught of guard. The best possible answer she should say is “I’ve evolved on these issues and I’m not proud of some of the stuff I’ve done” (which is what Castro did when he bodied Biden and drew a distinction between himself and Obama), but instead she simply dodges the question. It’s her biggest weakness. Just say you did some wrong shit but you’ve evolved. Don’t pull a Biden and be like “I was right and still am but I guess I kinda sort want to almost make up for it”.

And dear God, can we treat Castro like a serious candidate, please, because besides Warren and (shockingly) Bernie, he’s like my third favorite dude out of this whole field of people.