Winners and losers from the Democratic debates in Detroit

Democrats came to Detroit for their second round of presidential primary debates on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Who emerged as the winners and losers as the dust settled in the Motor City?

WINNERS

Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs MORE (D-Mass.)

The two leading left-wing candidates had a good night on Tuesday — and were helped along when the second night’s debate degenerated into a messy fight with more clear losers than winners.

On Tuesday, Sanders was the strongest candidate across the two hours, his performance including a memorable rebuttal when Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum MORE (D-Ohio) cast aspersions on his "Medicare for All" plan.

“I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders exploded. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Warren had the most striking single moment, telling former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin Delaney2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Bennet launches first TV ads in Iowa Trump campaign mocks Democratic debate: 'Another informercial for President Trump' MORE (D-Md.), “I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for.”

But it wasn’t just snappy one-liners that helped the two progressives. 

The various centrist candidates ranged against them never landed a strong punch. Warren and Sanders, who are personally fond of each other, didn’t rise to any bait encouraging them to attack each other, either.

They have every right to leave Detroit happier than any other candidates.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-N.J.)

Booker did well on Wednesday — something which was vital for a candidate who has struggled for traction and was overshadowed by Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-Calif.) in the first debates in Miami in June.

Booker sought at some points to cast himself as a unifying figure, lamenting that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE would be happy that Democrats were allowing themselves to be pitted against each other. 

But that appeal for civility didn’t stop him from mounting his own sharp attacks on former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE for his record on criminal justice. He also hit Biden hard for invoking President Obama at times, only to sidestep more awkward elements of the 44th president's record. 

“You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not,” Booker said.

The New Jersey senator did not have any single game-changing moment. But he at least finally asserted himself as a significant figure in the race, after months when he has seemed peripheral.

Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockGabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Partisan divisions sharpen as independent voters fade Jeff Bridges calls for donations to get his 'good buddy' Bullock 'up on that debate stage' MORE (D)

Every debate offers an opportunity for an obscure candidate to gain some visibility. 

In Detroit that was Bullock, who outperformed expectations in a big way on Tuesday evening.

Over the course of the two debates, Bullock was the only centrist, with the exception of Biden, to make his case with force and conviction.

It’s still very hard to see a path into serious contention for the Montana governor. 

But he couldn’t have realistically done any better.

Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Williamson urges followers to contact Senate, House over possible Bolton replacement MORE

Williamson is on her way to becoming something of a cult figure, helped along by her description of a “dark psychic force” she said had been loosed upon the nation by Trump.

That remark, on Tuesday night, went viral. 

Williamson is a rank outsider, but she is transcending much of the mockery aimed toward her, as when she drew praise among progressives for her comments on reparations.

MIXED

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Biden could not afford another misstep after his faltering performance in Miami, where he was the clear loser in clashes with Harris.

He was far better in Detroit. He rebuffed challenges from lower-tier candidates like Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions MORE (D-N.Y.) and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioGabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats New York City won't penalize students for skipping school for climate rally MORE (D) with relative ease. He also showed, for the most part, much more fire in his belly — an important mark for a candidate whose age, 76, is a concern.

But, for all that, it was far from a home run for Biden. There were still times when he seemed to wilt in the face of the sustained attacks on him and his record.

He also struggled or dodged on some issues, including whether he supported President Obama’s actions on deportations.

Right at the start of the debate, Biden was also heard telling Harris, “Take it easy on me, kid” — a suboptimal choice of words, even if delivered in characteristically affable style.

Biden steadied some nerves in Detroit, but he didn’t come close to answering all the questions that still hang over his candidacy.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (D)

Buttigieg outraised every other candidate during the second quarter of the year. For a while, he was the media flavor of the month too.

The question of how Buttigieg can really propel himself toward the nomination still has no real answer, however.

His performance on Tuesday night was steady and measured. But it also didn’t have any obvious moment of drama.

LOSERS

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris was the indisputable star of the first debates in Miami, but it was a very different story in Detroit on Wednesday.

The hunter became the hunted as Biden and Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate MORE (D-Hawaii) took particularly forceful shots at the California senator. 

Biden accused her of “double talk” on her recently released health care plan. 

Gabbard delivered the strongest critique yet of Harris’s record as a prosecutor in California, where she served as district attorney in San Francisco and, later, as the state’s attorney general.

Harris seemed wrong-footed by the attacks, with her answers often flat and lacking in specifics.

There was nothing truly disastrous in Harris’s performance. But it was not a good night for her by any stretch.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

O’Rourke has been the single biggest disappointment of the campaign so far among Democrats.

His bid was launched with much hype in March and has fizzled ever since. 

O’Rourke made almost no impact on Tuesday night in Detroit — another missed opportunity that he could ill afford.

He has qualified for the third round of debates, to be held in September, but there are now serious question marks over how long his campaign can last.

Centrists

The energy in the Democratic Party is very clearly on the left, and these debates didn’t change that.

On Tuesday, centrists like Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Democrats press for action on election security Antitrust enforcers in turf war over Big Tech MORE (D-Minn.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperLeft off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa Yang says he would not run as a third-party candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Hurricane Dorian devastates the Bahamas, creeps along Florida coast MORE (D) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) all floundered. 

Impeachment

Progressives are as adamant as ever that Trump should be impeached, but these debates underlined how far that has receded as a serious possibility.

Impeachment barely came up at all, save for a perfunctory exchange about 10 minutes before the end of the second debate.

It was a startling signal of how much heat has gone out of the issue.