Dem Debate: The Top Ten — A Wrapup

Ken AshfordDemocrats, Election 2020, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I did not the see the ABC Democratic Debate last night, so I have no original impressions. It was billed as a matchup between Biden and Warren, which struck me as a bit unfair to the others.

But this seems to be a good substantive summary:

The top 10 Democratic presidential candidates sparred on health care, criminal justice, gun control, immigration, trade, the military and climate change in the third debate. But 3 contestants have clearly become the top contenders: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The big picture: The 3 are firmly divided, with Warren and Sanders residing far left of Biden on issues including Medicare for All, college tuition and views of the overall “system.” Warren and Biden faced off for the first time in Houston.

Warren has steadily risen in the polls to second place. But she still trails Biden, who’s consistently led the pack since joining the race.

Health care
Sanders and Warren support Medicare for All, while Biden would expand Obamacare. Medicare for All would virtually abolish private insurance, while plans like Biden’s often rest on providing a public option while allowing citizens to keep their private insurance if they’d like.

What they’re saying:
Biden: “[Sen. Warren] has not indicated how she pays for it, and [Sen. Sanders] has in fact come forward and said how he pays for it, but it only gets him about halfway there.
Warren: “The answer is on Medicare for All… for hard-working families across this country, costs are going to go down.”
Sanders: “Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing health care to every man, woman and child in this country. I wrote the damn bill, if I may say so.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also took a bite at Sanders’ for his authorship of the Medicare for All bill: “On page 8 of the bill it says we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. … I don’t think that’s a bold idea, i think it’s a bad idea.”

Criminal justice
Many candidates have released criminal justice plans that address mass incarceration.

What they’re saying:
Biden would release nonviolent drug offenders: “Nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime… nobody should be in jail for a drug problem… and so, we have to change the whole way we look at this.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) also took some heat for her previous roles as a prosecutor and California’s attorney general — a pivotal issue for many black voters. In her criminal justice plan, Harris said she no longer opposes the legalization of marijuana and outside investigations for police shootings, going against her prior positions.
Harris argued that she’d actually enacted a series of progressive criminal justice initiatives, including body cameras for police officers and racial bias training for law enforcement.
“I was born knowing about how this criminal justice system in America has worked in a way that has been informed by racial bias.”

Gun control
With mass shootings increasing in regularity, gun control has played a central role in several Democratic candidates’ campaigns.

What they’re saying:
Biden: “I’m the only one up here that’s ever beat the NRA.” Biden also sparred with Harris over enacting gun control by executive order, with Biden arguing an executive action could be the wrong path and Harris saying it could be a viable one.
Warren: “I like registration, want to see us do background checks, want to get assault weapons off the streets.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) recently embraced gun control as a key issue following 2 mass shootings within weeks of each other in his home state of Texas, stating, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

The Trump administration has drastically hardened immigration policy, with child separation and the proposed wall along the southern border as legacy issues of his presidency.

What they’re saying:
Biden: Questioned on the Obama administration’s record 3 million deportations, Biden said: “We didn’t lock people up in cages. We didn’t separate families. We didn’t do all of those things”
Castro criticized Biden for embracing his time with Obama when it is favorable and shying away it when it’s not.
Biden rebutted: “I stand with Barack Obama all eight years. Good, bad and indifferent,”
Warren: “A system right now that cannot tell the difference in the threat posed by a terrorist, a criminal and a 12-year-old girl is not a system that is keeping us safer and it is not serving our values.”

An intensifying trade war with China has affected American consumers and industries alike.

What they’re saying:
Warren said she wants to bring unions, environmentalists, small farmers and human rights activists into the discussion on trade.
“We have the capacity to say right here in America, you want to come sell goods to American consumers? Then you got to raise your standards.”
Sanders: “What we have got to do is develop a trade policy that represents workers, represents the farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere who are losing billions right now because of Trump’s policy.”
Biden: “We’re in a position where if we don’t set the rules, we, in fact, are going to find ourselves with China setting the rules. And that’s why you need to organize the world to take on China.”

The Afghanistan war is the longest in United States history, and the controversial vote for the Iraq war took place while both Biden and Sanders served in the Senate.

What they’re saying:
Warren says she would bring troops in Afghanistan home, even without a deal from the Taliban: “What we’re doing right now in Afghanistan is not helping the safety and security of the United States.”
Biden stood by his role in withdrawing troops from Iraq, adding “I should have never voted to give [President Bush] the authority to go in and do what we said he was going to.”
Sanders: “I never believed what [Vice President] Cheney and Bush said about Iraq, and I voted against the war in Iraq and helped lead the opposition.”

Climate change

What they’re saying:
Warren argued for focusing foreign policy around climate change: “It is the threat to every living thing on this planet, and we are running out of time.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said his plan for “democracy dollars” would allow citizens to support their candidates of choice and eliminate lobbyist influence on fossil fuel companies.

The candidates offered their takes on education as the final policy-focused segment of the night.

What they’re saying:
Warren, a former public school teacher, would ensure the Education secretary was a public school teacher and impose a wealth tax to fund universal childcare and pre-kindergarten.
Sanders said he would cancel the “incredible burden” of student debt by placing a tax on Wall Street speculation.
Biden would “triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year” for the poorest schools and “give every single teacher a raise to the $60,000 level. 

A full transcript of the debate is here.

What 10 pundits are saying about who won and lost:

  • The Fix’s Aaron Blake calls the Democratic Party the night’s biggest winner for finally being able to get all its leading candidates on one stage. He says Warren, Buttigieg and Obama also won while Castro’s attack on Biden, Harris’s zingers and Yang’s $120,000 gimmick made them losers.
  • The New York Times’s opinion desk ranked Warren as No. 1 and Yang as the worst debater.
  • CNN’s Chris Cillizza thinks Biden, O’Rourke, Obama and Harris’s opening statement won while Castro, Yang, Warren and the U.S. economy lost.
  • Politico’s Steven Shepard was impressed by O’Rourke, whom he called “the most improved debater.” Biden, he believes, was the “Most Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” candidate and Harris was the most eager to fast-forward to the general election. Klobuchar and Yang took home awards for “cringiest lines.”
  • The New Republic’s Alex Shephard argues that, while most of the attention was focused on Biden, Warren and Sanders, the second tier of candidates actually fared quite well, bringing big ideas to the table.
  • Vox’s team says O’Rourke, Castro, American foreign policy and the 10 random families who gave Yang their emails are the night’s winners. As for losers: mid-tier candidates like Harris and Buttigieg, American courts and free trade.
  • Fox News’s Doug Schoen thinks Warren fell short of expectations while Biden – though not perfect – exhibited strength and preparedness.
  • USA Today’s David Mastio gave Biden an “F” for being “feeble” while Jill Lawrence gave him a “B ” for giving an energetic performance. O’Rourke was the only candidate that got “A’s” from both.
  • Business Insider crowns Castro and Buttigieg the winners and Biden and Harris are losers.
  • Conservative opinion writer Ed Rogers ranked Warren as the very best and placed O’Rourke last in his ranking.

It seems that Julian Castro really hurt himself by a vicious low-blow attack on Biden’s supposed “dementia”, but other than that, I get the sense that the dials did not move that much.

Interestingly, Trump’s handlers kept busy and off Twitter by having him give a speech in Baltimore to the GOP faithful — it was, by all accounts, crazy and rambling:

While ten Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls battled it out on a Houston stage Thursday night, President Donald Trump was in Baltimore, Maryland, giving a rambling 68-minute speech to House Republicans who had gathered for a three-day retreat. 

“Whether you like me or not, it doesn’t matter,” Trump told the crowd at the Republican conference. “You have to elect me; you have no choice.”

Trump then went on to criticize the lighting that was used, claiming that “the light is the worst,” a comment he made, the New York Times reported, “during an extended aside about his dislike for energy-efficient light bulbs.” He complained that the light made him “look orange, and so do you.” 

 The President touched on a vast range of topics including but not limited to the North Carolina special election, opioids, Venezuela, the Paris Climate accords, African-American unemployment, immigration, various Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortes (D-N.Y.) and 2020 candidate South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, plastic straws, and his many accomplishments as president. He also took the opportunity to repeat his attacks on Baltimore from earlier this summer, which he had described as “disgusting” and “rodent-infested.” 

“We’re going to fight for the future of cities like Baltimore that have been destroyed by decades of failed and corrupt rule,” he said, including Los Angeles and San Francisco in his assault. “These are great American cities, and they’re an embarrassment—what the Democrats have let happen. Republicans want to rebuild our inner cities and provide a future of limitless opportunity for all Americans.”

Okay then.

Beto made waves too, especially with his affirmative stance that the AR15 and AK47s will be taken. That led to this twitter exchange: