In the second round of two-night Democratic debates, a group of ten candidates took to the stage on Tuesday. Much of the night was spent positioning between the low-polling moderates onstage against left-leaning Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The more progressive candidates and the more centrist were thus unfortunately pitted against each other with the CNN moderator’s aggressive framing of issues.
But several of the skillful politicians took advantage of the platform the debate provided to make incisive points about key topics in the Democratic primary that stood out above the rest. At the same time, the debate, naturally, had its low points.
Here’s a list — necessarily subjective, of course — of the night’s best and worst moments:
- Pete Buttigieg brought out one of his new lines in response to moderate Democrats’ fears that the party will be cast as “socialist.” “It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say.”
- Bernie Sanders shot back at Rep. Tim Ryan when he’s told he doesn’t know what Medicare for All will do. “I do know it, I wrote the damn bill!”
- Warren responded to John Delaney’s fearmongering about Medicare for All.“We should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other.”
- Buttigieg denounced GOP support for Trump. “Consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career,” he said, addressing Republicans directly, “the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him or you continued to put party over country.”
- Sanders debunked John Hickenlooper’s claim that being a “socialist” would hurt him in the general election. “Every credible poll I’ve seen has me beating Donald Trump.”
- Elizabeth Warren responded to the critics of her ambitious plans. “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. I don’t get it!”
- Amy Klobuchar pointed out that the debate should be more about beating Trump and less about tearing each other down.
- Williamson gave a forceful answer on why she advocates for cash reparations for African-Americans. “First of all, it’s not $500 billion in financial assistance. It’s $500 billion, 200-$500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is. We need some deep truth-telling.”
- John Delaney made the point that, despite their disagreements, all Democrats want the rich to pay more taxes and criticized the low capital gains tax rate. “We act like wealthy individuals are an endangered species.”
- The beginning. The debate was slow to start. The candidates didn’t begin on stage, so they each had to walk out. Then there was a ceremonial music interlude. Then there was a commercial break. Then there were opening statements. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes after the debate’s start time that the debate actually began.
- Jake Tapper cut off Sanders when the senator said the health insurance industry will advertise on CNN this very night. Let this stand in for the many times the moderators aggressively cut off the candidates, because there were many such moments, and this was one looked particularly bad. On the other end of the spectrum of poor moderation, the hosts let many one-on-one debates continue even once they had become repetitive.
- John Delaney claimed that, as a former health care company founder, Medicare for All will necessarily lower quality of health care. Criticizing Sanders’ health care plan, Delaney claimed that hospitals couldn’t survive on the lower rates paid in a single-payer system — despite the fact that many foreign countries are able to spend much less money on health care than the United States does. He cited his background in the industry to boost his credibility, but it just made him look biased, not informed. Fact-checkers have previously debunked similar claims of his.
- The whole “decriminalization of unauthorized border crossing” debate. The moderators set-up a dispute about a controversial proposal to decriminalize migrating without authorization, while still leaving it as a civil offense, but this debate provides more heat than light. While it’s an interesting topic worth consideration, it’s just far from the most important issue regarding immigration right now. But confusion around it feeds into right-wing talking points, which creates drama, which is why CNN loves the issue.
- Rep. Tim Ryan, attacking the decriminalization position, included a needless dig at vulnerable immigrants who are currently viciously targeted by Trump’s policies. “Right now, when you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell.”
- Marianne Williamson again said that debates about health care are beside the point but didn’t offer any positive account of how to improve the system — or, for that matter, what she’d do as president.
- Hickenlooper attacked the Green New Deal and offered no alternative. Warren rightfully called him out for criticizing some provisions in some forms of the Green New Deal — in particular, a proposal for a jobs guarantee — rather than offering his own productive policy. It was yet another example of Democrats pointlessly echoing right-wing talking points.
Moments that defied category
- Williamson invoked a “dark psychic force.” In the course of a rousing speech about the shameful government-triggered water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the author’s speech took a bizarre turn: “If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”