KEY POINTS

  • In contrast to past debates, Biden's performace Thursday made him the likely standout
  • Biden's highlights include opposition to Afghanistan policy, approach to Medicare expansion
  • Biden says he will repair damage Trump has done to the U.S.' international reputation
  • Despite Republican focus on his son, Biden says he's open to reaching across the aisle

Thursday night was the final and, likely decisive, debate held among Democratic presidential nominee hopefuls. So who came out on top? By most estimates, former Vice President Joe Biden gave a showing that may serve to cement his position as front runner.

In the past, Biden’s debate performance has been viewed as tepid, at best. Coupled with perception that his campaign is lacking passion, this low bar for Biden made it an easy task for him to clear Thursday night.

Biden dismissed accusations that his son, Hunter Biden, had acted improperly in Ukraine; instead, he focused on how Trump has tarnished the reputation of the United States around the world. He put forth the promise that, under a Biden presidency, this would change.

“Is it any wonder that if you look at the international polling that's been done, that the Chinese leader is rated above the American president? Or that Vladimir Putin congratulated him, saying stand fast and that in fact it was a mistake to impeach him,” Biden said.

Although the former vice president went swinging at Trump, Biden made it clear that he would seek to reach across the aisle when possible.

“The fact is we have to be able to get things done. And when we can't convince them, we go out and beat them like we did in the 2018 election in red states and in purple states,” he said.

Biden has been criticized, especially by supporters of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), that his administration would mean a move toward achieving progressive policies would be delayed, and Biden let it be known this wouldn’t be the case. “I didn't say return to normal. Normal’s not enough.”

Addressing an explosive report this week that showed how both the Bush and Obama administrations realized the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was a fool’s errand, Biden had this to say: “I got in a big fight for a long time with the Pentagon because I strongly opposed the nation-building notion we set about. Rebuilding that country as a whole nation is beyond our capacity.”

For many Americans disillusioned about the country's seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East, this could well have been a key moment for Biden in the debate.

Biden also discussed his plans to expand Medicare access, one of the most contentious policy divides among the Democratic field. “A public option, Medicare if you want to have Medicare, reducing significantly the price of drugs, deductibles, et cetera, made by underwriting the plan to a tune of about $750 billion, and making sure we’re able to cover everyone who is in fact able to be covered,” said Biden.

There has been concern among voters about how expansive proposals like Medicare For All would be funded and Biden’s compromise likely came across as a pragmatic compromise for many.

Will Biden see a surge in polling? This weekend we will see, but all signs point to yes, it will.

Former vice president Joe Biden, pictured at the Democratic Debate on December 19, has struggled with stuttering Former vice president Joe Biden, pictured at the Democratic Debate on December 19, has struggled with stuttering Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN