The Story from the Democratic Primary Debates
by Omkar Ratnaparkhi
Staff DNC Analyst
The Democratic Party kicked off its quest to find a challenger to President Trump over the summer. In total, four debates took place over four days due to the large number of candidates. The first two of these debates took place on June 26-27 on NBC, and the second two debates took place on July 30-31 on CNN. Key topics in each debate included healthcare reform, immigration, gun control, race relations, and U.S. foreign policy. Many controversies surrounded the debates, including comments made by former Joe Biden about working together with segregationist Senators. NBC and CNN have also come under fire for the manner in which they have organized the debates and the amount of speaking time given to each candidate. Punches were not pulled by candidates on stage as they attacked each others voting records and various political stances.
The first day of debate took place in Miami, FL and featured candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, and John Delaney. The debate began with questions on the topic of immigration reform and Castro immediately discussed how he would repeal the federal statute which criminalizes border crossings and challenged all other candidates to also pledge to end the criminalization of border crossings. This proposal would still make crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegal, but individuals who do so will only face civil instead of criminal penalties. Wealth inequality was another topic discussed during the debate and candidates were asked whether or not they would support a 70% marginal tax rate on income over $10 million. When O’Rourke was asked this question, he did not answer the question and instead decided to speak in Spanish and not answer the question properly or discuss any substantive policy. Sen. Booker joined in on the immigration discussion in Spanish later; unfortunately, O’Rourke and Booker’s Spanish speaking did not seem to pay off, as many people viewed this as politicians dodging questions and hoping to virtue signal to Latino voters. When discussing healthcare, Sen. Warren made it clear that she was in favor of abolishing private health insurance and stated that she would not back down to big corporations or back down when it came to fighting for a Medicare-For-All system. When the discussion shifted to foreign policy, Ryan incorrectly claimed that the Taliban was responsible for 9/11 and was immediately corrected by Gabbard, who said that Al-Qaeda attacked America on 9/11. Gabbard, an Iraq war combat veteran, also made a compelling argument about why America needs to withdraw from Afghanistan to reduce the loss of American life and instead invest money in American communities.
The second day of debates in Miami featured candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Micheal Bennet, Marianne Williamson, and Eric Swalwell. The key takeaway from this debate was that Biden has a fairly large target on him. The first attack came from Swalwell when he used Biden’s own words from the past to criticize his age. Sanders defended his own age by saying the age of the candidate didn’t matter; instead, what matters is whether or not as President you are capable of taking on the fossil fuel industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and other powerful corporate interests. Biden was criticized by many candidates on a variety of issues; however, the most impactful blow was dealt by Sen. Harris when Biden was questioned on his opposition to federally mandated busing in the 70s. In the 70s, Biden worked in a bipartisan manner with segregationists to oppose federal busing programs designed to forcefully integrate schools. The controversy started days before the debate when Biden touted his record to work with politicians who he disagreed with. Unfortunately, the politicians he referred to built their entire careers on opposing civil rights for people of color. Biden didn’t apologize for his statements before the debate and even doubled down, claiming, “There isn’t a racist bone in my body!” Although Harris admitted she didn’t believe Biden was a racist, she asked him how he could continue to defend such anti-busing policies when she herself was a child whose elementary school was only integrated after busing was enforced. Race continued to be discussed as Buttigieg’s policing strategy came under scrutiny by Swalwell. Swalwell believed that as mayor, Buttigieg should have fired his police chief and taken more direct action instead of only doing a protocol investigation of the shooting of a black male by a white police officer whose body camera was turned off. The candidates also heavily criticized President Trump’s hardline “zero tolerance” immigration policies. The most controversial of the President’s policies was the separation of children from their parents after they crossed the US-Mexico border illegally. One of the most entertaining parts of the debate was when spiritual advisor, author, and vaccine skeptic Marianne Williamson claimed that the complex policy proposals by her fellow candidates were too “superficial.” Williamson claimed that the policies were not as in-depth as President Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” (a plan which in her own words only involved stating “Make America Great Again”).
The second set of debates took place on CNN during July 30-31 and involved a few new candidates, as well as different candidate matchups. Many political commentators have claimed that Elizabeth Warren’s surge in the polls has been caused by favorable debate drawings which have allowed her to artfully advocate progressive political positions. Many believe that this is the reason that she has passed fellow progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders in the polls. Both CNN and NBC have been criticized for not giving entrepreneur Andrew Yang more speaking time. Yang spoke the least words out of all candidates in the first two debates, and also spoke the third least out of all candidates in the second two debates. This comes as a shock, due to the fact that Yang has consistently polled in the top eight in nationwide polls throughout the summer, and 20+ candidates were featured in both sets of debates.
Former Vice President Joe Biden still maintains his lead in the polls and also continues to have the greatest support of any candidate from African-American voters. The top five standings in the Real Clear Politics average of various polls is as follows: Biden 30.4%, Warren 17.1%, Sanders 16.3%, Harris 6.6%, and Buttigieg 4.6%. Polls of Democratic voters have shown that the party’s base is prioritizing electability in the general election against President Trump as the deciding factor for their primary vote.