The panel of 20 candidates appeared in Detroit with CNN to have another primary debate. We’re about 5 months away from Iowa. The debates were long-lasting from 8-10:45 and almost stretched to 3 hours. There were only 5 commercial breaks the whole time on both nights. This was the second debate between the 20 qualifying candidates on two separate nights. The next debate is in September and so far only 8 candidates have qualified for that debate. If you want to see our commentary from the first debate you can see those posts here and here.

The Moderation

The debate was more controlled than MSNBC with much less cross talk and yelling. The moderators learned from the MSNBC team and were far more heavy-handed. One of the things I noticed on twitter was the dislike for the moderators. Jake Tapper seemed to ask questions that were framed from the right. One of the big questions that the Dems have to deal with is “how will your crazy policies play with GOP voters.” I don’t think that is quite fair. The current leftward move of the Democrats seems to be framed as something weird and crazy. The Democrats seem to be forced into this idea that moving left is a bad thing and that moving left means they aren’t just GOP lite. This is a new idea for America.  Don Lemon actually asked if voters should consider the age of the candidate. This really took twitter by storm. A variety of people on Twitter criticised the moderation for the right leaning questions and some of the ridiculous questions coming from the moderation panel.

Night 1

“I don’t know why you’d go to all the trouble to run for President to talk about what can’t be done and what we can’t fight for.”

Elizabeth Warren

Bernie and Warren stood as the progressives against moderates like Hickenlooper, Delaney, and Bollock. Klobuchar needed to breakthrough but didn’t really breakthrough. Her candidacy is basically a non-starter at this point. Delaney got aa lot of time on night 1 and it was interesting. He’s a unique candidate being from the business world and decidedly wealthier than his other candidates. Warren and Sanders got to talk the most but Delaney stood out because of his back and forth with Warren. However, he gave it and took from Warren and while he ended up with some great lines there won’t be any significant move in the polls from him. Marianne Williamson got 3 great applause lines which is a 300% increase from last debate and she seemed more relaxed. She stood out on Twitter and became the most Googled candidate after the debate. She won’t get anywhere in the race but much of what she brought up was an important conversation. Hopefully some of that will stay on into the following primary season. 538 reported that this debate was not likely to move the polling needle as the first debate did for candidates. Candidates that needed to break out to get into the top tier just didn’t. Sanders and Warren took all comers and no one was really able to dominant that wasn’t dominanting before.

The real debate on the night had to do with whether the Democrats will continue to be GOP lite or be an actual leftwing party with matching ideas. Joe Scarborough on Twitter complained that the candidates on night 2 were attacking Obama more than Trump, although Trump did feature more prominently on night 2 than night 1. This continued large scale debate format is productive for working out the progressive ideas versus the more centrist ideas but it’s making for a messy primary season.

Mueller and impeachment did not make it on night one at all. I think all the candidates breathed a collective sigh of relief and not having to talk about that question or talk about the report. Warren would have happily gone there but others like Beto, Hickenlooper, and Tim Ryan would have had to stake out positions and that is rather difficult for their moderate ways.

The field is definitely going to winnow. After these debates there are a few names that just don’t belong there: Beto, Hickenlooper, Bollock, Tim Ryan should drop out at this point. Add some of the folks from night 2 and basically, the race is now between Warren, Sanders, Harris, Biden, Buttigieg, and Booker on the bubble.

Night 2

Kamala and Biden started off the night with 10 minutes of debate on healthcare and comparing their two healthcare plans. The first 45 minutes were spent on healthcare, just like the first night. The moderators covered roughly the same questions. However, the 10 minutes of back and forth between Biden and Harris left everyone else standing around looking silly while they had a nice chat about healthcare. The big take away from that discussion was Harris wants to do a 10-year transition to true medicare for all and Biden wants a radically expanded ACA with a buy-in option for medicare which would most likely leave some people (Harris claimed 10 million) without healthcare. The same tension between more moderate ideas about this plan and more progressive ideas about this plan was again center stage.

Trump figured far more prominently on Night 2 than night one. Trump was mentioned repeatedly as the real enemy. Booker especially made this point. President Trump took to Twitter to share his thoughts throughout the night. In his mind, he’s already running against all of them. All the candidates agreed that they would rather have anyone other than Trump but Harris was one of the few that took the President head-on. Biden took him on in his closing statement claiming that we’re fighting for the “soul of America.” Another character that got plenty of talk-time was Barack Obama. Biden seemed to cozy up to Obama on policies that favored him but distanced himself on immigration when other candidates like Julian Castro attacked him on Obama’s immigration policies.

Impeachment and Mueller actually made it on the debate for night 2 and while Booker stridently came out in favor and Kamala followed up on it, the others were not really ready to come in favor and instead advocated an electoral defeat. It seems that even among Presidential candidates, impeachment is still a contentious issue.

There were no good quotes from night 2 except for Kirsten Gillibrand who said her first act in the White House would be to Clorox the oval office. She also directly attacked Biden for an op-ed he wrote about women leaving the home to work and how it was damaging the homes of America. It really highlighted how long he’s been in politics and how his record can make him feel out of step with 2019. Biden spent most of the night defending his record and so did Kamala. Biden took shots from Kamala repeatedly throughout the night. Tulsi Gabbard made some good remarks on Harris’ record, especially on criminal justice reform and landed some solid shots. Harris didn’t have many good replies and missed a chance to come back at Gabbard for those remakrs.

We can no longer allow a white nationalist in the White House

Jay Inslee

Race did figure prominently on night 2 in a way it didn’t on the first night. This started with Gillibrand claiming she could be a good ally and explain to suburban women who racism works and what systemic racism looks like and how to translate that into votes. Kamala and Biden faced off again over bussing and segregation but only for a short time. Booker even had to take shots on policy brutality from his time as mayor or Newark, NJ.

DeBlasio took some nice shots for NYPD and his record on Police brutality. When asked about the officer that killed Eric Garner not getting prosecuted, he had to come back hard. Gillibrand took that moment to simply say she’d fire him. She earned an applause line.

Inslee had a good night speaking to climate change, trade policy, immigration, and healthcare citing Washington state’s record on these issues. More democrats should highly the success blue states are having with progressive policies. This shows that these policies work and are sustainable. Inslee could make a solid VP pick for someone.

Booker had a good night, a really good night. While at the first debate he was barely there, he was able to land some solid blows on Joe Biden and was able to contrast himself. He became a real candidate on night 2 and that’s an important part of the development of his campaign. It will be interesting to see if the polling numbers reflect that.

Who Should Drop Out?

For night 2, there were some obvious people who should drop out: Bennett, DeBlasio, Yang, Inslee, Castro, Gabbard and Gillibrand all should drop out at this point. They have said some nice things. They have some nice ideas but the reality is that their candidacies are going nowhere fast. Gillibrand isn’t qualified for the September debate. The real race is now between 5 people and the polling data taken over the next several days will likely show this to be true.

Two Debates Down…

With these two debates, democratic voters have had a chance to meet most of the candidates for the nomination. If polling data is to be believed, not much has changed Biden still has a very real chance at the nomination. However, the next debate needs to see Biden against the progressives like Warren and Sanders. It will be interesting to see if he can survive direct attacks on his moderate policies from Warren and Sanders. He’s gotten a taste of it from Kamala Harris and he’s held up so far. He seemed more polished but he stumbled over his words many times tonight. The debate within the party is still tense between moderate, and perhaps more saleable policies as compared to more leftist ideas. Which of these ideas will win out will choose the nominee. The September debate will be interesting to see who is still left and how that continued conversation will evolve.