NBC's technical difficulties were bad, but the debate's overall chaos was far worse, says Margaret Sullivan. The moderation was good, she says, but the debate format didn't work at all. "With 10 candidates onstage and five moderators in two shifts, the debate offered way too much — and yet, somehow, not enough," says Sullivan. "There was way too much of the candidates shouting over each other. Way too many unfamiliar faces who — because of the network’s failure to identify them repeatedly as they spoke — remained unfamiliar. At times, the whole thing felt like a nightmare version of speed dating. Yet, paradoxically, there was also not enough. Democratic voter’s minds: President Trump. Or a long list of other crucial issues from China to NAFTA. But mostly, the problem was the lack of depth resulting from the format. There were simply too many people. And all with the knowledge that another 10 candidates are on deck for Thursday night’s debate — though it will feature more of the heavy hitters."
Chuck Todd was Night 1's biggest loser: "The Meet the Press anchor was the clear loser of the first of the two debates this week, which is a bit of a shame, because he was so evidently excited to be there," says Justin Peters. "But excitement can easily transmute into disorder, and a stumbly, fumbly question-asker does a disservice to both the viewers at home and the candidates on stage. The moderator’s job, especially in crowded, early-stage debates like this one, should be to help viewers differentiate between candidates, ideally by asking clear, pointed questions that force the presidential aspirants out of their stump speeches and pin them down on issues and priorities. But as FiveThirtyEight noted, Todd himself uttered the fourth most words of anyone on the debate stage despite only being on camera for half of the event. That verbosity might not have been a problem if his questions had been great or even helpful ones. They largely weren’t."
Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro excelled by copying the Trump playbook: "Their approach wasn’t to emulate Trump’s winning Republican primary performances in 2015-16," says Lorraine Ali, "but to borrow from the former reality TV star’s playbook of tossing out the playbook, rolling over the stiff-suit tradition by showing up as themselves — or at least the carefully crafted 'genuine' self they projected to the audience watching them duke it out on host networks NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo."
Lester Holt and Rachel Maddow were winners on Night 1, Chuck Todd and Fox News were losers: Maddow "came off professional and invested, and in comparison to Chuck Todd, far more genuine," according to Mediaite. "A big win for the host who came in with points against her." As for Fox News, Mediaite says: "Everybody is going to realize that nobody misses them. The debate over a Fox News debate is pretty much over, there’s no reason to revisit it anymore."