Live Blog: First Democratic Primary Debate

The first debates of the 2020 election season takes place over two nights, on Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, Florida. We at the Washington Monthly will be live-blogging both events, providing fresh insights in real time as the 20 top Democratic hopeful try to maximize this opportunity before a national audience. Follow along as the party’s voters get their first look at which of the candidates they think is best equipped to take on Donald Trump.

Make sure to keep refreshing the page. We will constantly update our blog with new analyses throughout the debate.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

11:20

That’s a wrap for tonight. Join us tomorrow for Part II of the first Democratic debate. It promises to be a lively affair.

— Eric Cortellessa

11:12

I would evaluate Warren’s performance a bit different than some of my colleagues. I’ve seen her in town hall formats in which she dazzled. This was not a great night for her. She blended into the crowd rather than standing out. That’s not good enough at this point.

— Nancy LeTourneau

11:08

I also think another important point is that Warren had a lot of pressure on her as the kind of top dog in this half of the field, and she didn’t seem intimidated or overwhelmed in any way. She wasn’t dazzling or anything, but she he commanded the stage like she should have, and sometimes people (athletes, politicians, etc.) don’t get due credit for doing well when they meet high expectations.

— Martin Longman

11:02

Elizabeth Warren spoke much less than I anticipated she would. Overall, this seems to be a net positive. When she did speak, she was strong and impressive. When she went long stretches without speaking, she didn’t try to butt in. It’s hard to imagine that wasn’t intentional. Overall, she typified the George Costanza rule: exit the stage while the audience is still clapping—and don’t overstay your welcome.

— Eric Cortellessa

11:01

Judging from tonight’s “debate,” the following candidates should, if there is a just world, suspend their campaigns tomorrow: Tim Ryan (most of all!), John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio

The following candidates leave no different than how they came in: Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.

The following candidates should see their poll numbers rise: Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, and, the night’s winner, Julian Castro.

— Joshua Alvarez

11:00

You can divide these candidates into three categories. Delany, De Blasio, Ryan, Gabbard, Klobuchar and Inslee aren’t going anywhere—so their mediocre performance tonight is irrelevant. As one of the top three candidates in the race, Warren is in a category of her own. She didn’t help or hurt herself. In between are Booker, Castro, and O’Rourke–all three of whom have a long shot at making some headway. Clearly, Castro took advantage of this debate more than the other two. And I’d rate Booker’s performance as better than O’Rourke’s.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:56

Warren with an effective closing line: “I will fight for you as hard as I fight for my own family.”

— Gilad Edelman

10:54

“Frankly, I’m surprised,” says Jay Inslee. “I’m the only candidate who has made the commitment to making this the top priority.” The man is on a mission to force the other candidates to pledge more action on climate change. Earth says thanks.

— Gilad Edelman

10:50

John Delaney has had a very bad night. Every time he talks he gets cut off by the moderators. In other words, he’s like the annoying red-headed step child of this debate.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:46

Amazing that Elizabeth Warren has not received more questions. Might be a good thing: she’s already turned in a strong performance and she should avoid getting into scraps with some of the bozos around her. Otherwise, Julian Castro is having a great night and I hope his poll numbers begin to reflect that.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:45

It seems like ages ago that the candidates were elbowing each other out of the way to talk about inequality and corporate concentration. Now we’re being subjected to incoherent monologues from anonymous white guys one through three. I’m not sure what happened.

— Gilad Edelman

10:44

Strong answer from O’Rourke on impeachment being needed to ensure that no one is above the law and democracy is preserved.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:41

We’ve heard quite a bit from John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tim Ryan tonight. Is anyone gonna ask Elizabeth Warren, the top-polling candidate onstage, a question?

— Daniel Block

10:40

Tim Ryan AGAIN gives an incredibly annoying non-answer, avoiding the issue and trying to sound riled up about bringing things back to “real issues.” And Tulsi Gabbard just slam dunked him, which he deserved. He sputtered in response, and somehow said that THE TALIBAN attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Gabbard just force-fed him both of his feet.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:38

A straightforward foreign policy question goes to Beto, and I could hear his doe-ish eyes widening from here. His answer amounted to a platitude about working with allies, and he just got crushed by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (!) who has never held federal office. Bad look for Beto, and extra bad that he somehow managed to make De Blasio sound competent.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:34

Out of all the candidates, Julian Castro seems to be the one having a breakout night. He is eloquent and poised, and actually offers substantive answers to complex questions. What’s more, he delivers them in a way that doesn’t seem scripted. He has that gift that voters love: authenticity. If you’re uncertain exactly what I mean by that, read my colleague Gilad Edelman’s April piece in the Atlantic.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:33

Tulsi Gabbard, again, with a robotic answer that somehow weaves in her military career. Not sure how much more viewers can take of this.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:32

The format of this debate is absolutely sadistic. The candidates, trying to squeeze answers into the allotted time, sound like they’ve been dialed up to 1.5x speed. As we all know, effective public speaking is all about talking super fast so no one has time to process what you’re saying.

— Gilad Edelman

10:31

In 2007, March Schmitt wrote the definitive piece on the various candidates’ “theory of change.” He suggested that Hillary Clinton would “work for it” and John Edwards would “fight for it.” The case he made was that Barack Obama had a more nuanced approach that drew Republicans into “a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows.” In the end, Obama’s approach wasn’t effective. But as the moderators asked several candidates for their plan about how to proceed if McConnell was still the majority leader, it is clear that Warren embodies what Schmitt described as Edwards’ approach: “fight for it.” That is why she repeatedly identifies the “villain” that must be defeated. But I’m not sure how she (or any of the other candidates) will accomplish that.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:26

I know I just ripped Beto, but it should be mentioned that he was the second candidate to release a detailed climate plan. Inslee, however, has the edge since he actually passed his plan into state law.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:24

That was Jay Inslee’s big chance to shine, with a question on climate change. So hard to get something across in 40 seconds, but he’s speaking the truth: climate change must be THE priority of the next administration.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:23

“Will your plan save Miami?” Maddow asks. Remember this question. Will any network debate moderator have the courage to ask Trump and the eventual Democratic nominee the same question next year? Climate change barely came up in 2016.

— Gilad Edelman

10:21

John Delaney just had his longest answer to anything, and it was forgettable. Guy has been unable to make his presence felt. Maybe he can finally get attention if he announces from the dais that he’s suspending his campaign!

— Joshua Alvarez

10:18

It really seems to be. The Democrats have yet to have any good answer for how to deal with Republicans’ constitutional hardball. In Oregon, Republican state legislators—who are in a minority—fled the state to stop the state legislature from voting on a climate change bill. And the Democratic majority just caved.

— Daniel Block

10:17

Rachel Maddow asks the most unanswerable question of the night: If you’re president and Mitch McConnell still controls the Senate, how will you appoint judges? There’s no answer. It’s impossible.

— Gilad Edelman

10:16

After hearing yet another non-answer from Beto O’Rourke, can it finally be safely said that he is an utterly non-substantive candidate? Or will his good looks give him a free pass forever?

— Joshua Alvarez

10:14

Rachel Maddow just put John Delaney in the corner. Ouch.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:13

Chuck Todd, with his strange insistence on confiscation, is demonstrating the school of journalism that equates “tough interview” with “insist that interviewee take a position on a controversial question that’s kind of beside the point.”

— Gilad Edelman

10:12

Warren again is spot-on. Gun violence should be seen as a public health emergency that needs as much research as cigarettes received. Here are some Harvard researchers making this point exactly.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:12

There’s no doubt that school shootings are uniquely horrifying. But as some of the candidates have pointed out, the problem of gun violence goes way beyond school shootings and mass shootings in general. In fact, kids are much, much, much safer in school than they are pretty much anywhere else.

— Gilad Edelman

10:11

I think Booker has an effective way of making people feel the gun problem, whether it’s talking about murders in his own neighborhood or probably more powerful is reminding people that their kids are being taught how to shelter in place in school.

— Martin Longman

10:09

The Monthly published a piece earlier this year on how the federal government could buy back guns.

— Daniel Block

10:07

Gilad makes a great point: this is also a try-out for VP. Between these 10, a Warren-Castro ticket looks great.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:04

If I were Bill de Blasio, I’d do something attention-grabbing move like, “Thanks for that question, Chuck. Now I am going to lie to your face because I know you won’t correct me.”

— Martin Longman

10:02

I’m curious which fringe right-wing publication will be first to publish a story accusing Dem candidates of laughing at a question about school shootings.

— Gilad Edelman

9:59

For some background about the religious sect (cult) Tulsi Gabbard has been associated with, I wrote about it here.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:57

It is interesting that national security seems really uninteresting compared to other issues, despite Trump’s embarrassing and potentially dangerous antics. Tulsi Gabbard is clearly betting that Americans will vote with foreign policy and national security in mind. But if polling so far offers any kind of insight, voters are attracted to the candidates who are talking about the economy and other domestic issues: Biden, Sanders and Warren.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:56

She was raised in a pretty unique religious sect, like a splinter hare krishna group, so she’s definitely unique. What she said about Iran was 100% correct which is disciplined of her because she usually says something on these issues that I consider dangerously wrongheaded.

— Martin Longman

9:55

Tulsi Gabbard, for those who don’t know or remember, has strong ties to far-right Hindu nationalists.

— Daniel Block

9:54

Warren looked like she was ready to offer a comment on the immigration question, but the moderators have moved on. Again, to my knowledge, she has yet to release a detailed plan, so the moderators may have just done her a favor. She won’t be able to avoid this question for long.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:52

Poor John Delaney, His rote answers keep getting cut off, though some of that is his fault. Gotta pick your shots, John!

— Josh Alvarez

9:51

Cory Booker makes a bold move as the only Democrat who doesn’t vow to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. His pal Shmuley Boteach might appreciate that. Some key progressive constituencies won’t.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:50

Since the debate prep folks advise the candidates to ignore the parameters of questions (what would you do about the border in the first 100 days?) and answer with their talking points, is it even fair to ding them when they don’t answer the questions?

— Martin Longman

9:50

Good move from Booker to link the criminalization of immigration to the criminalization of mental health and addiction—plays to his strength as the candidate with the most comprehensive plans for criminal justice reform.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:49

Why is Tim Ryan here? He has the look of a man who is in way over his head—and knows it. His answer on immigration was weak sauce, without content, and he quickly shifted to an obvious attack on Trump’s abhorrent policies.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:47

Tim Ryan has positioned himself as a moderate, but the Guantanamo Bay point seemed like it was positioned to be a progressive sound bite.

— Daniel Block

9:46

Is every non-Latino candidate determined to trot out their mangled Spanish?

— Joshua Alvarez

9:45

Castro should have made his point about de-criminalizing border crossing and let it go. Starting a fight with O’Rourke doesn’t help him.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:45

This almost feels unfair. Castro’s mastery of immigration policy, and the clarity of his proposed solution, is just on another level compared to the rest of the debaters.

— Gilad Edelman

9:43

For anyone curious about all the Spanish flexing: the debate is being televised on and co-hosted by Telemundo, in addition to NBC and MSNBC, meaning lots of Spanish-speaking Democratic voters are watching.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:42

A perfect question for Julian Castro to shine. He’s right, he was the first candidate to put out an immigration plan. Elizabeth “I-have-a-plan-for-that” Warren, notably, has not put out an immigration plan. A Marshall Plan for Central America is the right way to think about the refugee crisis. As I wrote in January: The refugee problem is a foreign policy problem.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:41

Something to remember, regarding Castro: the debates aren’t just for president; they’re an audition for VP.

— Gilad Edelman

9:40

So far, the big winner from tonight may well be Castro. And it’s because on one of the most contentious and vexing issues, immigration, he’s got both the greatest mastery of the policy and the most powerfully emotional way of discussing the underlying moral questions.

— Gilad Edelman

9:40

The entire field needs to take a page from Julian Castro on immigration. On that one—he’s the guy with a plan.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:38

Warren dodged the abortion question like a pro, which is a shame. It’s not good that someone like Warren, who is usually forthright and brave, is clearly too afraid to say something obvious: limits to when someone can have an abortion is acceptable and morally plausible (in addition to being the preference of the vast majority of Americans). Otherwise, Warren absolutely dominated this phase of the debate. She’s head and shoulders smarter and more rigorous than her rivals on the stage.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:35

One significant point that Julian Castro has acknowledged is the specific impact of issues like abortion on the trans community. He’s consistently included the trans community in his speeches, including earlier this week when he asked for a non-binary activist’s pronouns.

— Michael Waters

9:33

One of Booker’s biggest weaknesses on the left has been his perceived coziness to the pharmaceutical industry, which largely stems from a vote he took in favor of restricting importation of generic drugs. Tonight, he seems determined to bury that narrative, declaring that he intends to hold opioid manufacturers criminally liable for the effects of their drugs.

— Gilad Edelman

9:32

You’re not going to find much daylight between these candidates on the issue of reproductive freedom.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:31

Several candidates are focusing exclusively on insurance companies as the problem with health care. What none of them seem willing to talk about is the role that providers play in the cost of health care in this country. That is a much more complicated and nuanced issue – but is a huge impediment to accessibility and affordability.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:28

One clear theme emerging: Warren is hell bent on proving her willingness to call out specific villains behind the problems being discussed—in this case, health insurance companies, who “sucked out 23 billion dollars” from the system last year.

— Gilad Edelman

9:27

Amy Klobuchar says Big Pharma “doesn’t own me.” They might not own her, but they sure do donate to her campaigns. From Washington Examiner: “Medtronic was Klobuchar’s third-largest contributor to her reelection bid from 2011 to 2016, donating nearly $45,000. Between 2005 and 2010, before its acquisition of MiniMed, Medtronic donated $46,300.”

— Joshua Alvarez

9:25

DeBlasio needs to gain a LOT of ground in the polls, so it makes sense that he’s picking a fight with someone. Particularly a moderate, like O’Rourke.

— Daniel Block

9:23

Warren doesn’t seem to know about the medical loss ratio regulation in Obamacare – which limits the amount private insurance companies can collect for administration and profit to 15-20 percent.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:22

Klobuchar says pharmaceuticals are a “bigger issue” than how we do insurance. She couldn’t be more wrong. Drug prices are outrageous, but they actually make up a trivial amount of America’s out-of-control health care spending. As Phil Longman wrote in 2017, the culprit is overwhelmingly the fact that we pay hospitals and doctors more than other countries for the exact same procedures. And that, in turn, stems largely from the concentration of health care markets. Surprising that Warren didn’t make that point in her response.

— Gilad Edelman

9:21

This is why Jay Inslee should be taken more seriously. As I previously wrote, Jay Inslee was one of the first candidates to release a detailed climate plan, which is based on the plan he successfully instituted in Washington state, where he is the governor.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:21

Interestingly, members of the GOP have been talking about the need to have a U.S. industrial policy (see, Marco Rubio). But Warren is right. The U.S. has always had an industrial policy. It’s just a question of who it works for.

Rubio wants an industrial policy to fight the rise of China. Warren wants one to fight climate change.

— Daniel Block

9:19

Jay Inslee has been looking to be more than just the “climate candidate.” I wonder if the pivot to unions was a pre-planned play for a new constituency.

— Daniel Block

9:18

There is a subtle difference between how Warren talks about breaking up monopolies and how Cory Booker talks about the issue. They both demonstrate a commitment to doing so, but while Booker emphasizes the need to put people in place who will enforce anti-trust policies, Warren says it will take courage. Not sure what that means.

— Nancy LeToruneau

9:16

Tulsi Gabbard takes the opportunity to introduce herself to the cable news-watching public by emphasizing her military career and national security focus. Something she won’t mention: her friendly visit with, and her defense of, Bashar Al Assad

— Josh Alvarez

9:14

After about 40 years of wage stagnation and a widening economic gap, inequality is finally front and center in the first primary debate. This makes me optimistic that we’ll have a robust debate on climate change by 2050.– Gilad Edelman

9:13

Warren’s rebuttal to Booker’s milquetoast take on antitrust is spot on. Just appointing judges or tweaking existing institutions (like the feckless FTC) is not enough.
— Joshua Alvarez

9:11

Overall, this format is hopeless for substance, but Booker did his best. It’s too little appreciated on the left that he actually gets this subject.

— Martin Longman

9:10

Cory Booker comes right out the gate talking about corporate concentration and antitrust. Elizabeth Warren hops in. Early contenders for the Washington Monthly debater of the night award. It’s a good sign for the intellectual level at which this primary will be fought, compared to past years.

— Gilad Edelman

9:07

Beto switching to Spanish about ten seconds into a question about top marginal tax rates will surely go down as one of the more dramatic opening gambits in debate history.

— Gilad Edelman

9:05

The debate opens with Elizabeth Warren, as it should: Warren is the only candidate on the dais that is polling double digits according to Real Clear Politics latest polling averages. We’ll find out if her being surrounded by a platoon of mediocrity (Jay Inslee excepted!) is to her detriment — or if she’ll stand out by giving excellent answers like the one she just gave.

— Joshua Alvarez

8:56

The beginning of this debate is painfully awkward as the 10 candidates appear on stage. They all seem perfectly good at the classic point-and-wave as they gaze out toward the audience before the event starts in earnest. But they are clearly not enjoying having to make small talk in the meantime. It’s easy to understand why. For some of these presidential hopefuls who are polling extremely low–and who lack any real name recognition and need to make an impression with voters–it’s hard to kibbutz with your opponents before you plan to hit them in the jugular.

— Eric Cortellessa

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation