During the event that much of America had been anticipating, we saw Elizabeth Warren shine, Bill de Blasio surprise and Beto O’Rourke stumble.
The first night of this week’s Democratic primary debate premiered last Wednesday, broadcasting on the televisions, computers and phones of millions of Americans all across the nation as one half of the debate’s 20 candidates each vied for the spotlight.
At 9:00 p.m. sharp, NBC News’ Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie appeared onscreen live from Miami, Florida to usher in Night One of the 2020 presidential election’s first Democratic primary debate. The moderators were the aforementioned Holt and Guthrie, in addition to fellow NBC anchors José Diaz-Balart, Chuck Todd (host of “Meet the Press”) and Rachel Maddow (host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show”).
The trio of Holt, Guthrie and Diaz-Balart were set to deliver questions to the candidates during the first hour, with the duo of Todd and Maddow coming up to bat during the second.
As the first three moderators made their way to the desk, we were given a brief view of each of the 10 candidates onstage.
With sparkling eyes and friendly grins on their faces, the candidates exchanged greetings and handshakes as they made their way to the podiums.
The camera swung around for a wide shot of the crowd and the moderators, who could be seen seated at their desk and shuffling papers.
After some brief applause and cheers from the audience as the event officially began, we were treated to another view of the stage while Holt made the opening remarks and went over the rules and format for the night’s debate.
The quintet of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Corey Booker, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar—the group’s most notable candidates—were placed dead-center, with former HUD secretary Julian Castro, Gov. Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney and Rep. Tim Ryan located on the outskirts.
With little fanfare or dramatics, Guthrie quickly began by calling on Warren, addressing the senator’s call for free healthcare, free college, free childcare and an increase on the taxes of the wealthy—and then noted the fear that some voters have about Warren’s proposals potentially leading to a destabilized economy.
Warren responded promptly, saying “I think of it this way: ‘Who is this economy really working for?’ It’s doing great for giant drug companies…it’s doing great for people who want to invest in private prisons…it’s doing great for giant oil companies…when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption, pure and simple…we need to call it out, we need to attack it head on and we need to make structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country.”
Guthrie then posed several questions about taxes, the economy and big corporations, with Holt following suit. Each candidate that they asked gave similar answers.
Then, after the usual dry, measured responses had been articulated, de Blasio chimed in with a fiery response after being questioned by Diaz-Balart.
“…I want to make it clear: this (the Democratic party) is supposed to be the party of working people. Yes, we’re supposed to be for a 70 percent tax rate on the wealthy. Yes we’re supposed to be for free public college for our young people. Yes, we are supposed to break up big corporations when they’re not serving our democracy…there’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country—it’s just in the wrong hands and Democrats have to fix that.”
The New York Mayor’s line of rhetoric drew some big applause. Throughout the rest of the night, he made sure his presence was well-known.
Early on during the night, a peculiar moment involving O’Rourke, Booker and Warren started trending and gave birth to a new internet meme.
During his very first statement of the debate, O’Rourke abruptly started speaking Spanish, resulting in a flood of jokes on Twitter.
At 10:00 p.m., it was Maddow and Todd’s turn to moderate, which got off to a bumpy start due to some technical difficulties.
After things were smoothed over, the new moderators presented questions about climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, gun control, immigration, LGBT rights, abortion rights and how each potential president would deal with push-back from Republicans (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular).
Despite the near-uniformity in each of the candidates answers, one key takeaway last night was how each of the presidential hopefuls appeared to be pushing further to the left of former vice president and leading candidate Joe Biden, with each of them making it a point to call out corporate greed and the current administration’s failure to help the working class.
Even the more moderate politicians of the bunch had some harsh words for President Trump, with Gabbard (a military veteran, one who doesn’t hesitate to remind you about it) referring to Trump and his administration as a “Chickenhawk cabinet” (The term “Chickenhawk” is used to mock politicians and government officials that strongly support war and foreign intervention yet have never served in the military themselves).
Out of all the candidates, Warren, Castro, de Blasio and Booker had the best performances of the night, with each of them providing clear responses and earning the bulk of the cheers.
The duds of the night were without a doubt O’Rourke, Inslee and Delaney.
O’Rourke, even without the borderline pandering that he displayed in his awkward use of Spanish, looked uncomfortable during the whole debate. He fidgeted, stuttered and gave vague answers when he wasn’t busy dodging questions.
In the case of Delaney, he was blander than rice cakes.
Stay tuned for the Clarion’s coverage of Night Two of the first Democratic debate!