Culture

The Biggest Moments You Missed From The Democratic Debates


UPROXX / Getty Images

On July 30 and 31, CNN hosted the most recent round of Democratic debates in the long (long, long) journey to the 2020 general election. If you forgot they were on or decided to see Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood instead or just drove into the middle of a field to scream for a couple of hours rather than watch, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Here are the big takeaways from the latest Democratic debates.

1. Elizabeth Warren went hard on John Delaney.

On the first night of debates, Former Congressman John Delaney, who is positioning himself as a refreshing middle-of-the-road option in a sea of rabid leftists, used his opening statement to go after Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He told the audience:

Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us, which is with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected. That’s what happened with McGovern. That’s what happened with Mondale. That’s what happened with Dukakis. Or we can nominate someone with new ideas to create universal health care for every American with choice, someone who wants to unify our country and grow the economy and create jobs everywhere. And then we win the White House.

He then called Warren’s policies “fairy-tale economics.”

So how did that go? His plea for reason in the face of the insane fight for things like “people not having their lives destroyed for getting sick” or “not having their lives destroyed for trying to get an education” did not land well. Warren responded, “You know, 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.”

Delaney has been polling poorly thus far, but this might be the moment his campaign officially died — especially given his half-hearted “the jerk store called, they’re running out of you!” rebuttal almost 24 hours later.

To rub salt in the wound, later in the night, when Delaney was asked what he thought about Warren’s proposed ultra wealth tax (a 1 percent tax on every household worth more than $50 million and an additional 2 percent “billionaire surcharge” for every household worth over $1 billion), she gleefully rubbed her hands together, and he — a man worth an estimated $65 million — tried to keep it together long enough to respond.

2. Tulsi Gabbard went hard on Kamala Harris.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is, to say the least, an enigma, and most pundits (and, hell, voters) don’t really know what to do with her. She’s polling between one and two percent (aside from an easily gamed Google Trends poll that has listed her as the most searched candidate after both rounds of debates). But during the second night of debates, she had a stand-out moment when she went after Senator Kamala Harris’s record as former Attorney General of California.

She said:

I want to bring the conversation back to the broken criminal justice system that is disproportionately, negatively impacting black and brown people all across this country today. Now, Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president. But I’m deeply concerned about this record.

There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep a cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.

When Harris rebutted that she had worked hard to “significantly” reform the criminal justice system, Gabbard hit again:

The bottom line is, when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not and worse yet in the case of those who are on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. There’s no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor — you owe them an apology.

Harris has often been criticized by leftists for her record as a prosecutor, but it hasn’t really shaken mainstream voters’ opinions of Harris, who has, thus far, been doing well. Gabbard’s criticism could change that or at least put Harris in a position where a strong response is necessitated.

3. Everyone went hard on Joe Biden.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, as former Vice President Joe Biden has consistently maintained his position as the frontrunner (with a slip here and there) since he announced his candidacy in late April, but much of the second night’s debate was spent on Biden. All in all, he did not have a good second debate. He started the night by asking 54-year-old elected official and fellow presidential candidate Harris, “Go easy on me, kid.”

…And it went downhill from there.

Let’s start with Senator Cory Booker: he criticized Biden for his criminal justice record. He turned to the former VP and, smiling, said, “If you want to compare records — and I’m shocked that you do — I am happy to do that.” The two politicians went tête-à-tête, but ultimately Booker came out on top, just by citing Biden’s record on sentencing laws and telling him, effectively, you can’t talk about criminal justice reform without copping to the fact that you built the current system.

Mr. Vice President has said that since the 1970s, every crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it. And sir, those are your words, not mine, and this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws. And you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire. We have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform, like having true marijuana justice. Which means that we legalize it on a federal level and reinvest the profits in communities that have been disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee also took on Biden’s milquetoast view on climate change — which is the center around which Inslee’s campaign orbits. Inslee told Biden, “Your argument is not with me, it’s with science. We have to get off coal in 10 years. Your plan does not do that.” Biden answered that he would “work it out” and Inslee got visibly heated, responding, “We cannot work this out! The time is up. Our house is on fire!” Inslee said. “Get off coal. Save this country and the planet, that’s what I’m for.”

As if that weren’t enough, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also took Biden to task for his record. She focused on a 1981 op-ed he wrote in which he argued that childcare tax credits shouldn’t go to higher-income families, because women working outside of the home would lead to the “deterioration” of the family. (According to the Washington Post, he called day care centers “monuments to our growing unwillingness to accept personal responsibility.”) Despite his assertion that it was only for families making high wages, it wasn’t a good look (not even back in 1981, when he was the only Senator to vote against expanding the tax credit).

His exchange with Gillibrand was heated, and he asserted that he understands what the cost of childcare is (he was a single father to three children). Further, he did assert in the op-ed that he didn’t care which parent stayed home to take care of the children, though inarguably women disproportionately bear the brunt of childcare. Still, it was a brutal moment to watch, and it doesn’t bode well for future debates with Biden and his decades-long career on stage.

When we say everyone on the second debate stage handed him his ass, we mean everyone, including Joe Biden. After a long night of slips and bungles, he ended his closing statement with, “If you agree with me, go to Joe 3-0-3-3-0 and help me in this fight.” (He meant that you should text 30330 to get involved, but hey. The malarkey-filled memes.)

4. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Andrew Yang made solid showings.

On night one, Warren and Sanders often worked in concert (and shared a few glances throughout the night). Highlights include the aforementioned Delaney beating and Sanders responding to Congressman Tim Ryan.

When Sanders was discussing what and who Medicare for All would cover, Ryan interjected, saying, “But you don’t know that. You don’t know that, Bernie.” To which Sanders responded, “I do know it. I wrote the damn bill.” The moment quickly went viral — along with Sanders directly addressing moderator and CNN anchor Jake Tapper for using “Republican talking point[s]” to frame the debate.

As for Booker, not only did he shine during his exchange with Biden, he also blew up on Twitter. Biden had supported harsher punishments for crack cocaine than for powdered cocaine in the 1980s, which he later admitted disproportionately harmed the African American community, despite the fact that crack and powder cocaine are essentially the same thing. Booker told Biden, “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.”

Obviously, as this is 2019, this did not go unnoticed by Kool-Aid, which tweeted about it.

And then, of course, there was entrepreneur Andrew Yang. He’s a dark-horse with a platform based on developing a Universal Basic Income to ensure the safety and well-being of Americans as our economy relies more and more on automation. And while he has been popular with the Reddit set for a while, his showing on the second night was impressive. Two moments stood out. The first: when he discussed immigrants in the U.S.

“If you go to a factory here in Michigan, you will not find wall-to-wall immigrants,” he said. “You will find wall-to-wall robots and machines. Immigrants are being scapegoated for issues they have nothing to do with in our economy.” This assertion has been backed up time and time again by numerous studies throughout the years, but it was a powerful moment to hear a son of immigrants talk about the dangerous scapegoating and othering of people not born in the U.S. at a time when there are thousands of human beings in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The second: when he took the media and politics as a whole to task for how these debates have rolled out and where we are as a nation. In his closing statement, he said, “We’re up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show. It’s one reason why we elected a reality TV star as our president. We need to be laser-focused on solving the real challenges of today.”

5. Pete and Beto who? And the other white men we already forgot.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who saw a big bump in the polls after a watershed appearance at a SXSW event in which he addressed Vice President Mike Pence, didn’t really make much of a splash when he was on stage, nor did former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Though one moment did help Buttigieg, and that was Biden’s 3-0-3-3-0 gaffe. Buttigieg supporters quickly scooped up joe30330.com — which goes to a fake page for Josh For America, a Gen Zer whose donate page actually recommends interested parties donate to Buttigieg — and joe3030.com — which redirects to peteforamerica.com.

All-in-all, it was a blah night for Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper (who reportedly has only 13,000 donors — a far cry from the 130,000 threshold needed for the next debates), and the rest. What were their names again?

6. The next round of debates will be much smaller. Thank god.

So far, only seven candidates have qualified for the next round of debates, which will be held on September 12 and 13. Those candidates are: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren. (That said: Yang tweeted on July 29 that he had also met the threshold for the September debates, which would mean eight have qualified.)

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Senator Amy Klobuchar are reportedly close to qualifying, and there’s still over a month until the next round, but still: it’ll be a far cry from the packed stages of the last two rounds. Thank god for small miracles.

×