Democratic debate winners and losers: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren
WASHINGTON – The 10 Democrats on stage were all hoping for and in need of a breakout moment.
But not every Democrat had one.
Here are the winners and losers for night one of the Democratic presidential primary debate in Detroit, Michigan:
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the two most progressive candidates on stage Tuesday night, were hit from all sides by the more moderate candidates starting from the debate’s opening statements.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was the first candidate to call out the two progressives by name. However, instead of crumbling under his and others criticisms, both Warren and Sanders each hit back and held their own in defending their policy positions and initiatives throughout the night’s discussion.
In a quotable moment, Delaney criticized Warren, saying that Democrats want “real solutions” and “not impossible promises.”
“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,” she shot back at the former congressman. “I don’t get it.”
Warren’s line was met with applause from the debate audience.
More: Elizabeth Warren slams John Delaney in Democratic debate
Key moments: Marianne Williamson on the ‘dark psychic force’, and other top moments of Tuesday’s Democratic debate
Analysis: Spineless moderates? Or fairy-tale progressives? The Democratic debate exposed an ideological rift
Sanders also fought off Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who tried to take the outspoken progressive senator to task for his Medicare for all plan.
Sanders noted that his plan would provide union members with better health care coverage than they have now because his plan would be “comprehensive.”
Ryan interjected, “You don’t know that, Bernie.”
“I do know that — I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders fired back, which was met with laughter and applause in the Detroit theater where the debate took place.
As the top issue on the minds of Democratic voters, health care dominated much of the first half of the debate. It was also discussed most substantively among the candidates — as they tried to distinguish their plans and policies from one another’s.
Sanders touted his Medicare for all plan. Delaney dismissed that plan, saying that he would keep private insurance instead. Ryan argued that Medicare for all would take away the plans that many union workers had specifically negotiated for in their collective bargaining agreements and sacrificed wages to get.
Sanders to Tapper: That question is a Republican talking point
No matter the stance, health care was a topic that was deeply discussed as the opening question in the debate — with the discussion revealing fine policy differences between the candidates and with Sanders and Warren defending their views.
Race relations and racial justice
Amid recent, continued racist attacks from President Donald Trump on Democratic lawmakers of color, issues of racial justice took center stage at consequential moments during Tuesday’s debate.
The candidates talked repeatedly about Trump’s rhetoric, labeling it as racist, before an audience gathered in a city that is overwhelmingly Black.
More: Trump says he’s ‘the least racist person’ in the world
O’Rourke was one of many candidates to call out Trump.
“We must also ensure that we don’t just tolerate or respect our differences but we embrace them,” he said, taking a dig at Trump’s impulse to engage in racial divisiveness.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has been repeatedly criticized for his past record on racial justice issues and who has had a difficult time gaining traction with Black and Latino voters, talked specifically about why African American voters should support him if he is the Democratic nominee.
He talked about how his community in Indiana has come together several times to try to “tackle challenges.”
“As an urban mayor serving a diverse community, the racial divide lives within me,” he said.
“Systemic racism has touched every part of American life, from housing to health to home ownership,” he also said.
Buttigieg is trying to make a comeback — and Tuesday night’s debate may help.
The South Bend mayor has plateaued in polling over the past couple of weeks, despite having the largest fundraising haul among Democrats for the second quarter.
During Tuesday’s debate, however, he had many lines, moments and policy points that seemed to resonate with the Detroit audience and those watching on TV and weighing in online.
Buttigieg highlighted his age and why that could be beneficial at this moment in the country’s political and policy discussions. He leaned on his background in the military to help explain why the United States should withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
He also had a strong message to take on Republicans and Trump on the issue of racism and racial rhetoric that has dominated national political headlines in the past couple weeks.
“If you are watching this at home, and you are a Republican member of Congress, consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story, of all the good and bad things you did in your life, the thing you will be remembered for is whether, in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him,” Buttigieg said speaking directly to the camera during the live broadcast, “or you continue to put party over country.”
CNN’s ground rules
Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate was as much about the candidates rushing to get their points across as it was about them debating each other.
The first question of the debate, which wasn’t asked until nearly 30 minutes into the broadcast, dealt with Medicare for all, one of the most contentious policy issues in the Democratic Party.
Sanders has championed that policy. However, the more moderate candidates on stage, such as Delaney, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, are against getting rid of private health care insurance and replacing it entirely with a Medicare-for-all system.
The issue took up the rest of the first hour of the debate but the constant cross talk between the candidates was repeatedly interrupted by the CNN moderators, who were strictly enforcing the cable outlet’s debate rules and time limits. Specifically, candidates were given 60 seconds to respond to a question from a moderator Tuesday night, and 30 seconds for responses and rebuttals.
More: Democratic debate draws complaints
The moderators repeatedly interrupted candidates mid-sentence, which made it hard for candidates to openly debate and finish their thoughts. Some pundits also argued the format also didn’t allow for organic moments to happen as easily as they did in last month’s Democratic debate.
For example, Warren began speaking about why universal health care is important. She began telling the story of Ady Barkan, a 35-year-old man and well-known health care activist in progressive circles who has the nervous system disorder ALS.
“Ady has health insurance, good health insurance and it’s not nearly enough,” she said, as moderator Jake Tapper interrupted saying “Senator, senator.”
“No, this is important,” Warren replied.
“I’m coming right back,” Tapper said.
Warren was later able to finish her comments about Barkan.
Throughout the debate, the moderators continued to interrupt the candidates, asking them to “follow the rules.”
Decriminalizing border crossings
During last month’s Democratic debate, former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro had seemingly put a new item on the Democratic agenda for immigration policy: decriminalizing border crossings.
The issue took hold during last month’s debate, when Castro argued strongly in favor of decriminalization and challenged O’Rourke, who lives in El Paso, Texas, near the Mexico border, on the question. Then, on the second night of last month’s debate, moderators asked the second group of candidates whether they would decriminalize border crossings.
Fact check: Democrats trip on Detroit details
On the second night of last month’s debate, all candidates said they would be in favor of decriminalization, including Buttigieg.
However, on Tuesday night, Buttigieg walked back his response from last month, saying the legality of border crossing should instead be handled under civil law rather than criminal law.
Buttigieg wasn’t the only candidate to push back on the issue Castro had highlighted last month.
O’Rourke, who was criticized by Castro last month on his stance and asked to do his “homework,” on Tuesday night was able to succinctly articulate what he would do instead of decriminalization as Castro has advocated.
Among other things, O’Rourke said that he would waive fees paid to the government by green card holders seeking to become U.S. citizens and would put a stop to for-profit migrant detention centers.
“I expect people who come here to follow our laws,” O’Rourke said Tuesday.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
The Midwestern senator seemed unable to find her footing even while speaking to an audience of industrial Midwest voters in a city like Detroit — this despite having a resume and an electoral track record that would suggest Tuesday’s debate would be within her wheelhouse.
Throughout the debate, Klobuchar was given multiple chances to distinguish herself from her primary opponents on stage. The Minnesota Democrat, however, directed much of her rhetoric against Trump, a move that seemed to fall flat with the Detroit audience as Democratic voters try to parse the crowded primary field.
Klobuchar was one of several candidates that needed a moment Tuesday night. But she did not have any memorable moments while on stage. The moderators also did not direct many questions to her, which limited the impression was able to make with the audience in Detroit and with TV viewers.
At a time when she needed to have a breakout moment, she instead seemed to have a lackluster performance overall.
By contrast, last month she had some moments and some witty one-liners.
The issue of reproductive rights has been part of the national political debate — particularly among Democrats — over the past couple of months but was completely ignored during Tuesday’s debate.
Several states across the nation have passed laws recently that severely limit access to abortion, particularly during the early stage of a pregnancy. The newly passed legislation spurred a number of protests and has been widely denounced by many of the Democratic presidential candidates.
There is a record number of women candidates running for president in the 2020 election season. And some data suggest that women also vote at higher rates than men, according to the Pew Research Center.
Yet no questions on reproductive rights were asked during Tuesday’s debate. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-.N.Y., who will be on Detroit debate stage Wednesday, was quick to point out that the issue had been overlooked Tuesday night.
“2+ hours in, and not a single question at tonight’s #DemDebate about reproductive rights, paid leave, child care, or how we ensure women and families can succeed in America,” Gillibrand, who has made reproductive rights and other issues of particular interest to women a touchstone of her campaign, wrote in a tweet. “We need a president who will prioritize these issues—not treat them as an afterthought.”
What about Marianne Williamson?
Author Marianne Williamson once again made waves Tuesday, as the wild card candidate continues to stun viewers with her debate performance.
Williamson was one of the most searched candidates online during the debate and was still trending after the more than two-and-half-hour event was over.
‘Dark psychic force’: Marianne Williamson’s memorable moments from the Democratic debate
And Williamson gave a passionate statement about her support for reparations for African Americans — a speech that got some of the loudest applause of the evening.
“So many Americans realize there is an injustice that continues to form a toxicity underneath the surface,” she said moving her hands to show the “emotional turbulence” that she says only reparations can solve.
Like what you’re reading?: Download the USA TODAY app for more