We’re half way through Round 2. Were there any knockouts?
Sparks flew on the first night of the second Democratic presidential debate, in which 10 candidates took to the stage in Detroit, Michigan.
One of the most important highlights of the evening was the tension between the field’s progressive candidates — particularly Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — and more moderate figures like U.S. Representative Tim Ryan and former Congressman John Delaney.
Spurred by loaded questions by the CNN moderators (which included the likes of Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, and Dana Bash), the moderates took aim at their far-left competitors — to questionable effectiveness.
Sanders and Warren, who are currently at the top of the polls behind front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, consistently elicited cheers from the audience as they defended progressive staples such as Medicare-for-All.
In one moment, Delaney asserted that Sanders’ and Warrens’ healthcare positions, which would involve an end to private health insurance, would be suicide for Democrats in the general election. “Folks, we have a choice,” the former Maryland representative said. “We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren wanna take us with bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything, and impossible promises that’ll turn off independent voters and get Trump reelected.”
He instead called for “universal healthcare,” which he described as keeping private-sector insurance plans while offering Americans a government-run public option.
“You’re wrong,” Sanders replied, arguing that healthcare is a basic human right.
“Five minutes away from here, John, is a country,” he went on to say. “It’s called Canada. They guarantee healthcare to every man, woman, and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend. And, by the way, when you end up with a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.”
Warren refuted the charge that she plans to “take away” healthcare from Americans who already have coverage.
“That’s what the Republicans are trying to do,” she said, “And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that health care.”
Southbend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who wants to move toward a Medicare-for-All system without immediately eliminating private insurance, likewise condemned what he considers pandering to Republicans. “It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” he said to enthusiastic applause. “It’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, do you know what they’re gonna do? They’re gonna say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. So let’s just stand up for the right policy, go out there and defend it.”
Progressive rhetoric on immigration also won the audience over. Both Warren and Sanders said they would decriminalize border crossings if they won the presidency. “If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals,” Sanders declared. “They are people fleeing violence.”
Reporting shows, however, that many of the Latin Americans attempting to obtain asylum status within the United States are in reality economic migrants, not victims of political persecution.
One of the evening’s most lauded soundbites among Democrats was Warren’s response to Delaney, who asserted that Democrats win when they “run on real solutions” rather than “fairytale economics.”
“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,” Warren responded.
A Wednesday Economist/YouGov poll had Biden still in the lead at 26 percent, with Warren in second place (20 percent) and Sanders in third (13 percent).
Sanders’ and Warren’s popularity suggests Democratic voters have moved further to the left.
Biden’s front-runner status is interesting. His more moderate persona seems to run in contrast to Democrats’ desire for socialist policies. The explanation? Run-of-the-mill Democrats want to win.
A poll from June showed that most Democrats who back the former vice president do so less because of his policies and more because of name familiarity and because they believe he has the best chance of beating President Trump in the general election.
Biden may well end up winning the nomination. But in the long run, progressivism is the victor of this Democratic primary season.
Image of Democratic debate: Screenshot from video by NBC News