Tuesday night introduced the second round of the Democratic primary debates. This time, nine familiar faces—along with a new one taking the place of former candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who dropped out of the race shortly after the first pair of debates—made an all-out effort to boost their polling numbers on the road to 2020.
With both Night One and Two being hosted by CNN for this round, viewers had the option of either watching the debates on television or via livestream on CNN’s website.
Roughly an hour before the first batch of candidates were set to grace the stage of the historic Fox Theatre in the heart of Detroit, Michigan’s downtown region, several local-area politicians in addition to Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez gave brief, passionate speeches that pumped up the audience into a cacophony of cheers and applause in what resembled a pre-game pep rally.
At 8:05 p.m., moderator Don Lemon, host of CNN Tonight, was joined by fellow moderators and CNN colleagues Jake Tapper and Dana Bash as he introduced each of the candidates one by one as they made their way to the stage.
The night’s presidential hopefuls, which included Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), author Marianne Williamson, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
The main focus throughout the night was on candidates Sanders and Warren, who were placed dead-center on the debate floor and in the crosshairs of the moderate democrats flanking them on both sides.
The debate opened with a light, softball question, tasking the candidates with their reason(s) regarding running for president.
In their responses, the contenders mostly rolled out the usual stock platitudes and catchphrases that they’ve utilized since launching their campaigns, with appeals toward the working class and explicit barbs at President Donald Trump’s recent headline-grabbing episodes.
Next, the issue of Medicare-for-All was brought up. Posing his question to Sanders, Tapper asked for the Vermont senator’s rebuttal to former representative Delaney, who quipped earlier during his opening statement that Sanders’ proposal of free, government-sponsored healthcare was “bad policy” and in the past referred to it as “political suicide that will just get President Trump re-elected.”
“You’re wrong!” Sanders retorted, garnering an uproar of cheers and applause. “Right now we have a dysfunctional healthcare system…five minutes away from here, John, is a country—it’s called Canada. They guarantee healthcare to every man, woman and child as a human right, they spend half of what we spend…Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that, I will fight for that.”
After being prompted for a response, the former representative from Maryland and co-founder of a commercial lending company that made numerous high-interest loans to small/mid-sized businesses (coincidentally, many of them healthcare providers) and gained massive earnings in the process quickly went on the attack.
“We can create a universal healthcare system to give everyone basic healthcare for free, I have a proposal to do it,” Delaney said. “But we don’t have to go around…telling half the country who has private health insurance that their insurance is illegal…it’s also bad policy to underfund the industry. Many hospitals will close and it’s bad policy.”
In response, Sanders doubled down on his proposal.
“The fact of the matter is, tens of millions of people lose their health insurance every single year when they lose jobs or their employer changes that insurance. If you want stability in the healthcare system…the answer is to get rid of the profiteering of the drug companies and the insurance companies [and] move to Medicare-for-All.”
After another back-and-forth between Sanders and Delaney, Tapper allowed Warren to make her case.
“Let’s be clear about this, we are the Democrats, we are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone,” stated the Massachusetts senator. “That’s what the Republicans are trying to do. And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.” The subliminal shot at Delaney led to a chorus of loud cheers.
Governor Steve Bullock shared a similar sentiment with Delaney, saying that “…I’m not going to support any plan that rips away quality healthcare from individuals. This is an example of wish list economics. It used to be just Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace. Now, many Democrats do as well.”
Later on a fiery moment between Sanders and Ryan ensued, in which during the Vermont senator’s answer regarding whether benefits under Medicare-for-All would be of the same quality as the ones that union reps fought for, his response being “…they will be better because Medicare-for-All is comprehensive…,” Ryan butted in with a retort.
“But you don’t know that. You don’t know that, Bernie,” quipped the representative from Ohio.
Sanders scoffed, firing back with “I do know it—I wrote the damn bill!”
The energy and quick comebacks during the first half began to taper off throughout the second, with the candidates mostly sticking to the usual rhetoric used throughout each of their campaigns in between being routinely interrupted and cut off by a trio of moderators that some have been criticizing for engaging in “punditry” and “conservative framing” in regards to their questions.
The night ended on a high note, with Buttigieg issuing a word of caution to Republicans in Congress.
“When David Duke ran for governor, the Republican party—20 years ago—ran away from him,” said the South Bend, Indiana mayor. “Today, they are supporting naked racism in the White House or at best silent about it. 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…the thing you will be remembered for is whether, in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him, or you continued to put party over country.”
Overall, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg had the best performances of the night, with Sanders performing noticeably stronger than in his last outing, Warren remaining consistent and Buttigieg upping his game.