The first night of the Democratic’s second debate was a heated fight between progressives and moderates. While the questions were what I expected, which candidates got the most out of their speaking time was surprising. The race for the Democratic nomination is more open than some may think, although it is likely many of these candidates will not make the next debate.
Biggest Surprise of the Night: Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson was the breakout star of both the debate and Twitter tonight. The spiritual author was not, and most likely still is, not expected to become the nominee. However, the buzz she generated tonight may help her reach the number of donations and cross the two-percent threshold she needs to make it to the third debate.
She made several insightful and, perhaps more importantly, tweetable remarks, although they usually came when she strayed from the question.
When commenting on the ongoing Flint water crisis, she uttered her most iconic phrase yet: dark psychic force.
Calling the hatred Trump likes to stir up in America a “dark psychic force” is smart. It reminds people of the power of emotions. What was less brilliant, however, was her constant attack on the questions. She seemed reluctant to answer questions directly but downplayed it by saying she wanted to discuss what caused the issues we are currently facing.
Her strongest answer was on the topic of reparations to descendants of slaves. She even challenged moderator Don Lemon on his phrasing of “financial assistance,” calling the payments, “a debt that is owed.” Her reasoning behind reparations was strong, sensible and eloquent.
Progressives, as Expected, Dominated
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren came into tonight surrounded by moderate peers. Right off the bat, starting with John Delaney’s opening statement, they faced constant attacks on their most recognizable proposals. Both candidates came prepared to meet these charges head-on.
The first question of the night was about Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal. As a topic, healthcare won the debate simply because it was the longest argument of the night. Bernie Sanders was the obvious, and predictable, winner of the conversation when it was finally over.
Moderates tried their hardest to paint the idea as obliterating the right to choose. However, Sanders was consistently ready to defend “Medicare for All”, at one point telling Tim Ryan, “I wrote the damn bill.”
Warren was equally aggressive with her rebukes. In fact, she spoke the most of all the candidates tonight. In our fast-paced, Twitter-verse world, candidates need to deliver quick zingers that will stick out. Warren had the best, including, in response to John Delaney, “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.”
At times, the debate seemed to really be Warren and Sanders versus everyone else. The moderate pack tried their hardest to illustrate just how dangerous holding such liberal views could be. They argued that choosing either two would ultimately cost the Democrats the 2020 Election, leading into the electability topic. Yet, the duo always managed to regain the upper hand.
Sanders also won the climate change debate, calling out his peers for being afraid of big ideas. “We have got to be super-aggressive if we love our children and if we want to leave them a planet that is healthy and is habitable,” he said.
It is important to have leaders saying climate change is real, dangerous and happening faster than we can even imagine. Every single person needs to grasp the true seriousness of the situation we put ourselves in.
John Delaney Falters
Out of the gang of moderates tonight, John Delaney spoke the most. He worked hard to insert himself in important debate topics, such as healthcare. In his attempts to distance himself from his progressive peers, unfortunately, he lost control of his image.
He was making strong points about why the nominee cannot be as progressive as Sanders. He understands that this will cost the party the election for a second time because it isolates those in the middle. He called the hallmark proposals of the progressive wing of his party for what they are: tough to sell and tough to win on.
“Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises. When we run on things that are workable, not fairy tale economics,” he said.
Unfortunately for him, this is when Warren made her move and questioned why anyone would run by saying what we should not do. Delaney is by no means a Republican, but the extreme liberal nature of the dominating candidates made him appear so. He was picking fights with Sanders and Warren because it guaranteed a fight and guaranteed more screen time. In the end, he lost more than he gained.
Other, Lesser Losers
The issue of gun violence should have been as heavily discussed and argued as healthcare. Several of the candidates tonight have supported or continue to support the 2nd Amendment. There are voters who support stronger gun laws, yet understand why this particular right was included in the Bill of Rights.
Especially after another mass shooting, Americans want to talk about changing gun laws. A six-year-old and a thirteen-year-old died because there is a lack of true action in Washington. Just when the debate got heated, the topic changed and the moment was lost.
Several of the candidates brought up their NRA scores, as well as the pervasiveness of “dark money” in campaigns. But no one laid out a clear plan of stopping the NRA and getting semi-automatics off the streets.
Beto O’Rourke got lost on stage tonight. The expectations on him when 2019 began have disappeared the further he gets into this race. He has lost the hold he once had in the nation, although his political career is by no means over. It may be best for O’Rourke to set aside and let the more established candidates, as well as the breakout stars still on the rise, fight it out in the third debate.
Tim Ryan did not make the strongest impact tonight. Nor did he make the worst impression. Except when it came to the national anthem. As Meghan McCain pointed out, he did not place his hand on his heart during the song. Maybe he had a reason for not doing so, but it did, probably unintentionally, stand out at the beginning.