The Democratic Debate: A Few Takeaways


SEGOVIA – On Tuesday the 15th of October yet another Democratic Debate took place, the first since the impeachment inquiry was launched. Twelve candidates shared the same stage, making it a crowded debate that lasted almost 3 hours. Candidates presented a wide range of policies and styles, from Bernie’s progressive stance to Pete Buttigieg’s moderate, new generation message. 


Here are a few key takeaways from the debate: 

Elizabeth Warren becomes the star: For months now, the frontrunner seemed to be Vice President Joe Biden, whose familiarity as Vice President and ties to Obama boosted his popularity. However, during this particular debate, Elizabeth Warren was the clear frontrunner. A pattern seems to be occurring that essentially determines who the frontrunner is on the crowded stage. During the last debate, Biden was the candidate most criticized by others, but this time Elizabeth Warren received the brunt of the criticism. When a candidate is attacked they have the opportunity to rebut, giving them further time to develop and promote their policies. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Warren had the most talking time on a wide array of issues. Ultimately, the criticism Warren received is positive because it allows her to get the spotlight in a very crowded stage.

Criticisms launched towards Warren were mostly about her healthcare plan, or lack thereof. Biden argued that her health care plans were “vague” and that she has never truly accomplished anything significant. While Warren was solid throughout most of the debate, she failed to address the questions targeted at her “Medicare for All” plan. She notably refused to answer the question of taxation on the middle class to fund “Medicare for All”. For a candidate known for her specifics when it comes to policies, it seems out of character for Warren to not have a solid healthcare plan. 


During the debate Warren presented herself as eloquent and persistent, capable of fighting for policies and change despite her age. She was fairly strong, but perhaps what made her stronger was the need for other candidates to question her. This will undoubtedly place her as an important frontrunner during these elections. 


Buttigieg Becomes the Underdog: Arguably, Buttigieg had the strongest night among any of the candidates. While he failed to make a significant impression in previous debates, this one proved different and will mark a turning point for his campaign. This debate has established him as a well-spoken candidate, with a deep knowledge of issues ranging from foreign policy to gun control. More importantly, Buttigieg has risen to become another important moderate in the race. This debate could shift Biden voters to at least consider Buttigieg as another possible candidate for the Democratic Party. He stood out on his persistence when questioning others and establishing himself as a credible candidate across issues. 


Biden in the Background: What was significant about this particular debate is that it was the first after the House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry against Trump. Particularly important is Vice President Biden’s accidental involvement in the Ukrainian scandal. Unsurprisingly, Biden was asked about his son, Hunter Biden’s involvement in business in Ukraine while he was Vice President. Mr. Biden quickly dismissed the rumors and clarified that there was no wrongdoing on his part or his son’s. No other candidates pressed on the issue, which is incredibly beneficial for Biden, as it shows that at least on this particular situation, they stand by him.

As the debate distanced from impeachment, Biden was unremarkable. Unlike previous debates, Biden was no longer the main protagonist on the stage and received no attacks from other candidates. Mr.Biden has also adjusted his agenda, using the concern of many, his age, as a positive factor, claiming it has given him useful wisdom. It was a smart tactic, especially considering the lack of experience of some of the other candidates (some of whom only have been mayors or have only served in the House). If Biden continues to use this angle he may get more supporters. 


However, this tactic did not gain enough momentum and with Buttigieg having a spectacular night Biden faded into the background as another moderate gained more ground. 


Syria and Foreign Policy: Unlike previous debates, Syria and foreign policy made its way onto the debate stage. Most candidates harshly criticized Trump’s decision to suddenly withdraw US troops from Syria, which allowed Turkey to move into the area, endangering one of the US biggest allies in the region, the Kurds, who have been instrumental in the fight against ISIS. Not only will Turkey gain more influence in the area, but ISIS will gain further momentum. Most candidates agreed that this sudden foreign policy change was dangerous and harmful to the Kurdish people. Perhaps the most memorable moment regarding Syria were the exchanges between Buttigieg and Gabbard, both of whom have served in the Middle East. Gabbard described US involvement in Syria as a “regime change war” and has supported US withdrawal from the area. Buttigieg firmly disagreed stating “well, respectfully, congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong. The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it is a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values.”


Ultimately this series of exchanges in regards to Syria significantly aided Buttigieg and contributed to his very successful night as he presented himself as highly knowledgeable about foreign policy and the military. Meanwhile Gabbard stood out for all the wrong reasons. Although she is well-spoken, her policies and ideas seem extremely odd, even on a stage with a variety of ideologies and policies. It was interesting to see the debate shift from issues such as health care (which was a recurring topic last debate) to seeing the introduction of foreign policy. Undoubtedly, as foreign policy continues to shift in the upcoming months, foreign issues will take a larger portion of upcoming debates.


Unremarkable Nights for Low Polling Candidates: Kamala Harris and Cory Booker weren’t terrible, but they weren’t remarkable either, which should worry both candidates. Andrew Yang definitely had some interesting moments, yet it’s likely he won’t be getting much traction, although his advocacy for universal income is getting more attention from candidates such as Castro and Gabbard. Julian Castro did not make much of an impression either. Tom Steyer, a billionaire making his debut in a debate, used Tuesday night as an opportunity to introduce himself to the people, who will undoubtedly forget his name by next week. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator had a great night, especially when pressing Warren on her “Medicare for All” plan. However, it is unlikely that she’ll be making it farther in the polls.
Photo by Win McNamee

Sanders Post Heart-Attack: This was Bernie Sander’s first debate after having suffered a heart attack. To compensate for this, Sanders acted more lively and witty than previous debates. When Cory Booker mentioned that Sanders supports medical marijuana, Sanders responded by saying “But I’m not on it tonight.” Sanders also stated that he was in good health post heart attack. Many news outlets covered Sanders as one of the “winners” from the debate. However, in comparison to Buttigieg and Warren, Sanders had a relatively normal night, at least in regards to policy talk. Often criticized for being humorless or angry, Sanders did make a good impression this debate by being witty. Not a stand-out night, but not at the same level as Biden. 

Final Thoughts: It was a long night. There are way too many candidates on stage and way too many pressing issues. As the debates get smaller, I expect them to get much better. We’ll be seeing many more stand out performances, and with a less crowded stage, there will be more opportunities to expand on each candidate’s policies. Overall, there were two things from this particular debate that will change the race. First, Warren is officially a frontrunner. Polls were already indicating that, but now she is being treated as one by the other candidates. Second, Pete Buttigieg will be gaining more momentum, which should frighten Biden. Other than that, there were few defining moments on Tuesday.

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