Sanders, Clinton, and O’Malley proved throughout the debate that they deserve to move forward. Webb and Chafee? Not so much

The first Democratic Party debate of the 2016 presidential race is over, and one thing is resoundingly clear: Bernie Sanders came away from tonight’s debate with a huge win.

The five candidates faced off on numerous subjects, most notably climate change, immigration, and education. For the most part, the debate was as cordial as one might expect from an early Democratic debate, with Clinton hitting Sanders occasionally, and the other candidates piling up on Clinton every so often, but everyone staying respectful, polite, and grown-up throughout. But each of the candidates did have their moments to shine, as well as their fumbles. In this article, we’ll briefly discuss how each candidate performed, and their strengths and weaknesses throughout the debate.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders rather easily won this debate, pulling well ahead of Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley by staying focused on the issues, driving home his populist message, dodging CNN’s sillier questions, and doing it all without either engaging in cheap mudslinging or falling back on lines of pandering.

Sanders won the biggest applause line of the evening when he came to Hillary Clinton’s defense, blasting the media for focusing so heavily on the Republican-made scandal involving Clinton’s emails. He also got big laughs when he told Hillary that “the American public are sick of hearing about your damn emails,” a line Clinton herself chuckled to.

Overall, Sanders was presidential, energetic, passionate, and fiery. He refused to play CNN’s ratings game, dodging opportunities to lob personal attacks at his opponents and swinging back on topic when even CNN went off the rails.

It isn’t just me who felt Sanders won tonight, either. CNN’s live polling during the debates had Bernie Sanders obliterating Hillary Clinton, 70% to 75% to Clinton’s 10% to 15%, near the close of the debates.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton finished in second place, in my opinion anyway, but by a respectable margin. She was easily the most aggressive of the candidates early on, seemingly going after Sanders however she could, but over time, and particularly after Sanders leapt to her defense regarding the email scandal, that aggressive tone subsided.

Clinton spent a good deal of the evening defending her positions against an almost constant onslaught of criticisms that she flip-flops on issues and realigns her beliefs according to polling data, rather than emotional morality. But she did a decent job in that defense, making a point of turning each of those attacks into an opportunity to discuss her platform. She was also the most aggressive candidate in going after Republicans, though much of this came in the form of statements geared toward applause lines, while avoiding serious discussions about how and why the GOP are setting America back.

Like Sanders, Clinton came across as presidential and mature. But she lost tonight’s debate because she lacked a real sense of passion, and failed to deliver any sense of urgency for her platform, which came across as “what Sanders wants, only more complicated.” She came across as overly pragmatic and unwilling to take political risks to ensure a better future for the nation, and that’s probably why she was performing so poorly in the live polls.

Martin O’Malley

If any one candidate stands to gain in a major way from tonight’s debate, it’s Martin O’Malley. The former governor finished in a very close third place by my count, but very well could have won tonight’s debate if he could master the one thing he really falls short in: fire.

O’Malley was the most emotionally passionate of the candidates, nearly finding himself driven to tears as he recounted the story of a family of seven being brutally murdered in Baltimore. But he kept his composure and established himself as a viable leader and a worthy candidate moving forward. Tonight’s debate should genuinely put Martin O’Malley on the 2016 map.

Lincoln Chafee

If Lincoln Chafee really wants to contribute to the country, he should quite frankly drop out of the race and endorse either Sanders or Clinton. Chafee utterly failed to make a case for why he should be president, and despite his efforts to pitch himself as a “block of granite,” he couldn’t take tough questions standing up and failed to deliver his ideas in a way that sets him apart from the other candidates. Chafee didn’t even seem vice presidential, let alone presidential… I honestly expected more out of him tonight, but he failed epically to deliver.

Jim Webb

From nearly forgetting his daughter’s name, to his constant complaints about CNN being unfair with each candidate’s time, to being the only candidate to say “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter,” to his awful joke about killing an enemy combatant in Vietnam, Jim Webb came across as a bumbling figure with no legitimate reason to even be on CNN’s stage tonight. He was the most conservative of the candidates, and did more to inadvertently highlight Clinton’s progressiveness by contrast than he did to prove to the American people that he deserves to poll with a whole number. Jim Webb was tonight’s biggest loser, and if he does manage to stay in this race, networks would be wise to give his podium to Lawrence Lessig, a Democratic primary candidate who deserves to be up on that stage a whole lot more than Webb does.

Photo by DonkeyHotey

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