Of the 10 candidates taking part in Wednesday night's pointless gaffe-prone two-hour reality show of a presidential debate, the one who sounded the least ridiculous was John Delaney.
That's right, I said it. The retired businessman and ex-Congressman from Maryland who gave nearly $12 million of his own money to his campaign war chest in the first quarter of fundraising, a guy at 0 percent in virtually every major poll, won.
I hope it goes without saying that this tells us more about the debate format than it does about the merits — to say nothing of the chances — of Delaney's hopeless campaign. The only really sensible thing he said came near the end of the evening when he observed, eliciting zero reaction from his fellow candidates and drawing the ire of an otherwise absurdly patient Chuck Todd, that no one in America who is a journalist or a politician actually cares about Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation.
This comment came seemingly out of nowhere. Most of the candidates were not even asked to give their opinions about the largest news story of President Trump's first term. Most of the candidates were not asked to give their opinions about most of the things the other candidates were talking about. This is a problem.
Right-wing wags from President Trump on down will make fun of NBC for the technical difficulties that shut down the debate for a few minutes while some errant microphones were turned off. This is silly, though it does seem like the sort of thing that could and should have been prevented. The biggest problem with Wednesday's proceedings was the format. If it is not worth asking certain candidates for their views on a given issue, the candidate in question should not be on the stage. The haphazard method of directing a question to one or two people selected seemingly at random, pausing for some back-and-forth or an interjection from one of the candidates whose views were not solicited, before moving on to another topic is not conducive to actual debate. It's not conductive to anything, except pushing forward with the spectacle that is being mounted for its own sake.
This is not to say that amid all the noisemaking we learned nothing of interest about the candidates or the state of the Democratic party. Is it really the case that many of the people on that stage believe that entering a country illegally should not be treated as a, well, crime? Have they visited any other countries, including Canada and Mexico, to say nothing of Japan or the United Kingdom? For years now, Democrats have insisted that there is a great deal of daylight between the position of the nativist right-wing and open borders (which is itself a very different kind of right-wing, indeed, libertarian viewpoint). This is supposed to be the sensible middle ground they occupy. Ten people Wednesday night seemed to suggest otherwise, though only Julian Castro went so far as to admit that he does not believe there should be any criteria according to which immigrants are accepted.
These do not exhaust the questions lingering in my brain. Does Bill de Blasio really think that Russia is the greatest threat facing the United States? Are the '80s about to call him too? Is Elizabeth Warren right to pronounce "Latinx," a word that I did not realize was meant to be said aloud, that way? And what was the "plan" for defeating Mitch McConnell that she claimed to have but then failed to explain? It would have been so refreshing if even one candidate had had the courage — a throwaway word we heard many times over the course of the evening — to say that, actually, McConnell is unstoppable even if we have the presidency and therefore retaking the Senate is just as important for Democrats as winning back the White House.
Another one: Is Corey Booker a human being? I have always found him almost robotically affectless, but his actual status as a member of Homo sapiens was not in doubt until Wednesday evening when he responded to a question about health care by saying that "it should not only be a human right, it should be an American right." Is he saying that Americans are not, generically speaking, human beings, or just reminding us that he doesn't know how words and categories fit together perhaps because he himself is not a member of the only species that uses them? I was also curious about what Julián Castro meant when he talked about "reproductive justice," a word he defined as "abortion," in relation to transgender persons who identify as women. And why does Beto use Celsius?
The world may never know.