Post-Debate Analysis: Kamala Harris Did a Good Thing and Elizabeth Warren Held It Down

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) appear on television screens in the Media Center as they go back and forth during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Dude got to go,” Sen. Kamala Harris said at last night’s debate in Ohio when asked about Donald Trump and his mishandling of Syria and Turkey.

“What Donald Trump has done because of that phone call with Erdogan is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Harris said. “And you know who the winner is in this? There are four: Russia, Iran, [Syrian President Bashar]Assad and ISIS. This is a crisis of Donald Trump’s making and it is on a long list of crises of Donald Trump’s making and that’s why dude got to go. And when I am commander in chief, we will stop this madness.”

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On a stage with 12 candidates at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Harris put in some critical work to prove why she deserved to fight on into the primary season in 2020. Lagging behind in the polls, Harris came across as measured, self-assured and confident in herself and her skillset. While Ukraine did not dominate the night like I thought it would, questions over impeachment did. This is where Harris shined.

“We’ve got a confession. And it don’t take a prosecutor to see that was a confession,” said Harris, referencing Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked the leader to investigate his potential Democratic 2020 rival Joe Biden. “When people say, ‘how long do you think this impeachment process is going to be?’ Well, it shouldn’t take very long, because, I mean, he did it out in the open,” she added.

Harris’ breakthrough moments as a senator came during a 2017 Senate Intelligence hearing featuring then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and during the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Whenever there is a public senate hearing in which Harris is participating, Twitter goes wild in anticipation of what will surely be her viral quotes. And the thing about it is that she is very poised and it looks unforced. She is a natural, no-bullshit person. That is the Kamala that people fell for and one that fueled anticipation of her presidential run.

We saw that Kamala on stage last night and her supporters will appreciate it.

As for Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Welcome to the top of the mountain, homegirl!

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Harris popped caps at her ass like it was New Year’s. Joe Biden was talking much of the heat for assuming the top dawg role through the first three debates, but it was Warren’s turn to wear the crown. For her first go at it, she did very well.

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The biggest knock against Warren is that she has pie-in-the-sky visions for America that do not coincide with reality—like her Medicare for all plan, per USA Today:

“I understand that this is hard, but I think as Democrats we are going to succeed when we dream big and fight hard, not when we dream small and quit before we get started,” Warren declared. Klobuchar responded with a pointed “reality check” on Warren. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” Klobuchar said, although she didn’t really sound sorry. “I think we need to be honest here and tell the American people where we’re going to send the invoice.”

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Warren is perceived to be another version of Bernie Sanders, who is also accused of being too much of a dreamer. Mayor Pete dug in, per Vox:

Buttigieg, in particular, had been signaling for days he planned to hit Warren on Medicare-for-all, a plan he’s repeatedly called pie-in-the-sky. He quickly took his chance.

“This is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular,” Buttigieg said. “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion dollar hole in this plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”

After Buttigieg was done and Warren had panned the mayor’s “Medicare-for-all who want it” plan as “Medicare-for-all who can afford it,” Klobuchar stepped up to the plate for her go at Warren.

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This was expected, though. The frontrunner will always get piled on, but the real test is how well he or she handles it. It was a tough night for Warren, but, hey, heavy is the head... Warren proved she has a pretty strong neck.

As for the others….

Joe Biden handled the Ukraine questions pretty well. He did not do anything wrong as VP when he called for former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin to be sacked, and he sounded like an elder statesman in general. He kept his cool and gave the moderators no wiggle room to probe. He did not address whether or not his son should have joined the board of the Ukrainian gas company where he made $50,000 a month. This will come back to bite him when the primary race gets tight.

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New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is a really nice man and he came across as a unifier. He always does. But that has not helped him in the polls and it likely won’t help him win the nomination. Darren Sands at BuzzFeed touched on this last night.

Mayor Buttigieg got some decent time last night and made the best of it. He touched on his Midwest roots and pushed his moderate approach to politics pretty well. The real question is do Democrats actually want a moderate not named Joe Biden?

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Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro is the only person to consistently draw intersections between police brutality and policy. His response to Beto O’Rourke’s position of mandatory gun buyback programs and how police would be used to collect weapons taps into the fears of black and brown people around the country.

Castro is the most underrated and underappreciated candidate in this race by a country mile.

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Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has done little to gain any traction in this race and last night’s performance did her no favors.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the ultimate moderate who, at the very minimum, comes across as sincere. But she isn’t gaining any traction. That’s probably because she is not inspirational compared to Warren, who taps into our hopes and dreams. That means something to voters. Klobuchar doesn’t seem to appreciate that.

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Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke really did not make any waves last night, but he didn’t do too poorly.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanderswas Bernie. I will say that for a man who suffered a major medical condition to be on stage last night proves he really wants it and was brave for being there. He gets mad points for that.

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Billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer…he was there and didn’t fuck up. That’s a start.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang made sense last night with his responses to healthcare and struck a few nerves comparing Russian meddling with U.S. election meddling worldwide. A good performance that should keep him going into the 2020 primary.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

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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