March 11, 2019

The CNN Town Halls: Delaney, Gabbard, and Buttigieg

debate hall

I got my political fix last night by watching all three of the Democratic candidate town halls on CNN: John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, and Pete Buttigieg. I knew very little about the three prior to watching, but I was expecting to like Gabbard the most based on what little I knew of her. I was surprised that it did not work out that way. At the end of the night, I thought she was the least impressive of the three.

To be honest, I did not get much of a sense for each candidate's policy positions from these town halls. Each was clear about some positions and fuzzy about others. I suppose that is to be expected when we are this early into the process. What I did get was a general sense for what each candidate was like as a political candidate. That made it worthwhile. I'll leave the in-depth analysis of policy statements to others and just comment on my general impressions of these three candidates at this point in time.

John Delaney

Of the three, Delaney was clearly the more moderate/centrist/establishment candidate. He was also the one who came across as being the most comfortable in this setting. He seemed like such a natural politician that it was easy to imagine him on a debate stage with other Democratic candidates. I thought he had some good things to say, and I appreciated his strong expression of support for separation of church and state. He's Catholic, but he went out of his way to say that he does not believe the dogma of his church has any business driving public policy. That was nice to hear.

How will Delaney fare, as a wealthy White male, in the Democratic primary? I think it may depend on whether Joe Biden gets into the race. Since Biden is likely to position himself as more of a moderate/centrist/establishment candidate too and since Biden's main strength is his appeal to White working-class voters, it is tough to imagine Delaney being able to stick around if Biden were to get into the race. Even without Biden, it seems like there are other moderate/centrist/establishment candidates who bring more name recognition (e.g., Amy Klobuchar) than Delaney. On the other hand, Delaney may have enough money to stick around for a while if he is willing to spend it.

Overall, I thought Delaney did well. I found his performance to be impressive enough that I'd like to learn more about him and his stance on the issues that matter.

Tulsi Gabbard

As indicated above, I went into this assuming that I'd like Gabbard the best. I was wrong. I thought she turned in the weakest performance of the three candidates by a long shot. She did not seem comfortable on stage. I am not familiar enough with her to know whether this reflects her personality and is consistent or whether it was just a bad appearance. In any case, I found it hard to picture her doing well in any sort of debate. She seemed guarded at times and evasive in some of her answers.

I did appreciate Gabbard's comments about religious discrimination and how she mentioned atheists alongside other minority groups that regularly face it from the Christian majority. This was at least the second time I've heard her reference atheists, and it is encouraging to see that she is aware of us.

Overall, I'm still inclined to give Gabbard a chance even though I was disappointed with her performance. In the end, I found myself thinking that she might be better as someone's VP pick than as a top-of-the-ticket candidate; however, I'd need to see more of her before I'd rule her out.

Pete Buttigieg

The more I see Buttigieg in action, the more impressed I am with him. He came across as more thoughtful and genuine than either of the other two. While he didn't radiate career politician in the same way that Delaney did, he also seemed sincere in a way Delaney did not and comfortable in his own skin in a way that Gabbard did not.

While listening to Buttigieg field questions from the audience, I thought it sounded like he really meant what he was saying. At no point did I have the sense that he was telling someone what they wanted to hear or being less than honest about his thoughts. I found this sincerity to be quite appealing.

The worst thing I could say about Buttigieg was that there were a couple of times when I found myself thinking that he reminded me a little bit of Al Gore. I'm not talking about contemporary Al Gore but the Al Gore who lost to George W. Bush, at least in part, because voters had a hard time relating to him. While I thought Buttigieg came across much better than the Al Gore I remember (he demonstrated a sense of humor and was not nearly so wooden), the fact that Al Gore popped into my mind a couple of times probably wasn't a great sign. Hopefully, he will continue to improve with experience.

Overall, I found Buttigieg to be the most impressive of the three. I am not optimistic that he will fare well against the other better-known candidates, but he's one I hope more people will get to know. I'll certainly be interested in hearing more from him.