Live Blog: First Democratic Primary Debate, Night Two

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.

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

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11:16

I think it was obvious that Harris was the biggest winner tonight. Buttigieg is clearly wounded by his problems back in South Bend, but he remains a deeply substantive candidate. Biden made a big misstep by acting like he didn’t really oppose busing. The moment everyone will remember is Harris talking about how she was the beneficiary of busing as a little girl—and how public officials like Biden were an obstacle to her own school’s integration. The rest of the debate belongs to the detritus of history.

— Eric Cortellessa

11:13

I’m pretty much in agreement with Nancy on winners and losers. I guess the only differences I have are that I thought Warren did well on Wednesday (with the caveat I wrote about today) and that I really wasn’t all that impressed with Buttigieg. As I mentioned last night, I thought Inslee did the most to help himself along the also-rans in that group. I guess I’d say that about Yang in the second group.

— Martin Longman

11:11

It’s striking how much more substantive last night’s debate felt. Is that because the headliner was Elizabeth Warren, the policy pace-setter? Or is it because tonight was more about fringe candidates trying to establish themselves, and the bigger players trying to undermine Biden?

— Gilad Edelman

11:06

I’m really curious to see if Harris’ criticism hurts Biden, and if so, to what extent. Past criticisms of his race and gender record don’t appear to have moved his poll numbers all that much. But there’s no doubt that this was a lot more poignant.

— Daniel Block

11:04

Pete Buttigieg gets the biggest applause so far. Bernie Sanders speaks truth; he might not get the biggest applause, but he is the future of the party. Joe Biden goes straight at Trump.

Candidates who should suspend their campaign tomorrow: John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson.

Candidates who leave no different than they came in: Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden.

Candidates who should see their poll numbers rise: Pete Buttigieg (winner of the night), Andrew Yang, Kamala Harris.

— Joshua Alvarez

11:03

Tonight Biden performed pretty badly and we heard the same-old, same-old rant from Sanders. Both Harris and Buttigieg had stand-out moments and the rest of the field was completely forgettable. So if we look at where things stand coming out of the two nights of the first debate, the middle of the pack—Castro, Booker, Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg helped themselves a lot, while the front runners stumbled.

— Nancy LeTourneau

11:01

Compared to last night, it feels easier to pick clear “winners” and “losers.” None of the minor candidates did anything to shake the impression that they don’t belong—and some came off like complete weirdos. The action was at the top, where Biden had a rough night, coming across—to me, anyway—as uncertain and unfocused. I’d expect Kamala Harris, by contrast, to get a big post-debate bump—not least because she confronted Biden directly and got the better of him.

What do folks think about the other candidates’ performances?

— Gilad Edelman

10:59

LGBTQ rights came up relatively rarely in this entire first round (including both nights). The only noticeable example was when Buttigieg brought it up in passing, in his closing. Given the increasingly conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, that feels a little off.

— Daniel Block

10:58

I’ve had a sense from watching tonight that Joe Biden doesn’t really have his heart in this thing. He was too accommodating of his time restrictions, and almost seemed relieved when his time ran out and he had to stop talking. It was a far cry from his ferocious and constant interruptions of Paul Ryan in 2012.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:57

“Nothing will change unless we have the guts to take on Wall Street, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military-industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry,” Bernie bellows in his closing argument. The man stays on message.

— Gilad Edelman

10:56

Kamala Harris brings back the “3 am phone call” line in her closing statement, which, if you recall, was Hillary Clinton’s line in her losing effort against Barack Obama.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:54

Andrew Yang’s “trickle up” economy line should be used by the eventual nominee.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:50

Not a single applause for Michael Bennett after his closing statement. He’s on my “suspend-your-campaign-tomorrow” list.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:48

Marianne Williamson closing statement is coming to you live from San Francisco, 1967.
— Joshua Alvarez

10:44

Gillibrand is the only candidate to say Iran is the first country she would reach out to as president. “I would engage Iran,” she said. Obviously, undoing the damage of Trump’s withdrawing from the Iran deal is a priority of Democrats. But if she’s calling for a summit between the heads of state of both countries, that’s actually pretty radical.

— Eric Cortellessaa

10:38

But let’s be honest, back in 2009, what was the priority for both Democratic politicians and voters: dealing with the Great Recession or climate change? When we were losing 800,000 jobs per month, I don’t think it was even close. The Obama administration packed an awful lot of major legislation in those two years. He had a supermajority, but several Democrats who constantly broke ranks.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:36

Eric Swalwell is performing especially poorly. Marianne Williamson comes off as kooky, but he comes off as obnoxious, and at times ageist. And that’s worse.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:35

Actually, Daniel, the real counterpoint is that he had Joe Biden—who, to hear him tell it, is the one who got all those accomplishments done.

— Gilad Edelman

10:35

The counterpoint to that is the Great Recession gave him, arguably, a once-in-a-generation Democratic supermajority. And he still couldn’t get cap-and-trade through.

— Daniel Block

10:34

The way Todd missed the framing is that, in addition to Obamacare, in the first two years they passed the stimulus, Dodd-Frank, and salvaged the auto industry. Obama’s lack of progress on climate change was as much the victim of the Great Recession as a lack of making it a priority.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:33

I totally agree with Gilad. Chuck Todd is right. Obama’s cap and trade plan failed; Obamacare passed. I think there are a lot of Democrats who remember that and who do want to know: what’s number one?

— Daniel Block

10:32

Joe Biden’s answer to Todd’s “top priority” question was a good one: tied his vice presidency with creating an international climate change agreement. I’ll say it again: climate change has to be THE priority of the next administration.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:31

Also, for those of you with a drink within reach, we are drinking whenever any of the following happens: 1) someone speaks in Spanish (which hasn’t happened yet!) 2) if someone says “kitchen table issues” or “everyday/regular/working Americans/families” 3) personal tragedy tales, 4) Middle-American story 5) visiting the border 6) pointing with his/her thumb, and, 7) when a man cuts off a woman. Needless to say, sobriety will be the big loser tonight.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:29

Harris’s staff taking advantage of the moment on Twitter:

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:28

I generally can’t stand Chuck Todd’s “give me a one-word answer” questions, but asking candidates to state their number one priority is actually a really important question. You can only prioritize so many things. Harris, with a rare stumble, doesn’t come close to answering the question.

— Gilad Edelman

10:26

I’m pretty sure that we can pretty much flush every moment from this debate except Harris’s berating of Biden. That’s going to be the Dean Scream for the next two days.

— Martin Longman

10:24

I’m at a viewing party of sorts (with, admittedly, coastal liberal elites who went to Ivy League and Ivy League plus colleges), and there’s lots of talking over candidates, but EVERYONE goes silent when Buttigieg talks. The Pittsburgh Summit idea: “Genius.” Mayor Pete is locking up the over-educated vote. Can he break into the rest of the country?

— Joshua Alvarez

10:21

Something tells me that Buttigieg’s “soil management” spiel isn’t going to rouse the audience as much as Harris’s argument that Donald Trump’s climate denial makes him the biggest existential threat we face.

— Gilad Edelman

10:17

If Biden wants to secure the Democratic electorate, he should talk more about how he helped win the Senate for the party. “Sometimes you just have to beat them.” That’s the spirit, Joe. Less talk about being friendly towards your enemies.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:13

Sanders is admirable in his political stoutness. He is, in a way, an authentic early 20th-century lefty in that he holds firmly to a politics of solidarity through economic equality. Identity politics is anathema to his politics and he won’t yield to today’s unfortunate fascination with it, even if it will cost him the nomination.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:12

Why is this shocking? He could say he was wrong, but absent that, he was fighting the federal imposition of forced busing, so he doesn’t have other options than to say that he thought it should be handled locally. In Delaware, the black population is packed into Wilmington and the busing solutions were not easily solved. I was talking to my mother two nights ago, and she told me that Montclair, New Jersey, had a similar problem in which all the black residents lived on one end of town and they solved it by building two side-by-side elementary schools in the middle, so no one could complain about being sent further than someone else. In Delaware, he was getting his ear talked off by white residents, which is why he and Roth took the lead on the bill. But, pressured or not, he was taking the same position as Eastland, and sought his help and approval. He can recant or he can defend it.

— Martin Longman

10:11

That was, objectively, a very, very bad response by Biden. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are some older white Democrats who will empathize with the situation he was just placed in (being held to account by unacceptable positions he held in the past).

— Daniel Block

10:09

Is Biden really going to go with a states’ rights defense? That’s just wrong and would have leveled all of the gains of the civil rights movement.

— Nancy LeTourneau

10:08

I’m frankly stunned—shocked—to hear Biden defend his opposition to busing by insisting that he only opposed federally mandated busing. State and local autonomy is exactly what southern white supremacists claimed they were fighting for.

— Gilad Edelman

10:07

Biden really didn’t think this through. Trying to deny that he opposed busing on a technicality is a colossal mistake. He would have been better served by apologizing and gone with a redemption narrative. Now he just looks like yet another politician who refuses to take responsibility for his part positions.

Oh yeah, and Kamala Harris fiercely interrogated him and didn’t overdo it.

— Eric Cortellessa

10:06

Biden, in response to Harris’s blistering and moving attack on his racial record, plays a very surprising card: “I became a public defender after law school, not a prosecutor.” I don’t think that’s going to cut it.

— Gilad Edelman

10:05

A huge moment for Pete Buttigieg. He handled it as well as he could by taking full responsibility for failing to diversify South Bend’s police department. And just as he was coming under cheap attacks by Erick Swalwell, Kamala Harris redirected the conversation against Biden. But Harris isn’t exactly on firm ground either, as Biden pointed out: as the California attorney general, Harris led the way in the state’s mass incarceration of African Americans.

— Joshua Alvarez

10:03

Buttigieg’s soulful monologue reminds me of something I wrote a few months ago: What sets Buttigieg apart as a political talent, then, is not really his intellect. It’s his ability to give a speech, or answer questions onstage, in a way that makes it seem as though he’s earnestly thinking through his beliefs in real time.

— Gilad Edelman

10:01

Pete Buttigieg says many of the right things when asked about the South Bend police shooting. But he seems to lack an overall sense of empathy for the victims.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:57

Wow, Pete Buttigieg is just so good. It’s just refreshing to finally hear someone tie both free trade (tariffs are taxes!) and domestic investment with national greatness and local prosperity.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:56

I can’t speak for the viewing audience, but I find that listening to Harris and Buttigieg talk intelligently rather than argumentatively is what draws me in to what they have to say. I think both of them are standing out tonight.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:54

Andrew Yang probably just became the first person in history to use the phrase “laughing their asses off” in a televised presidential debate, which is an interesting milestone.

— Gilad Edelman

9:53

“The president has turned the border of the United States into a symbol of nativist hostility that the whole world is looking at,” an impassioned Michael Bennet declares.

— Gilad Edelman

9:52

Swalwell references the census. I wonder if the moderators are going to ask the candidates anything about the two major Supreme Court cases that came down today.

— Daniel Block

9:52

Kamala Harris is making savvy use of her experience as a prosecutor. She wants a rape victim to be able to flag down a police offer, she says, without fear of being deported. It’s a vivid depiction of the practical impact of policing priorities with respect to immigration offenses.

— Gilad Edelman

9:51

Kamala Harris’s mild attack against Biden–via a respectful critique of Obama–is the most effective against him tonight. It’s not petty, and it also suggests she would mark a departure from previous a Democratic administration that gone out of fashion with some key segments of the progressive base.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:49

Buttigieg shrewdly makes shift into religion and calls out Republican hipocrisy on claiming religious righteousness while also descending into moral nihilism. And he did it in a way that sounds appealing even to atheistic infidels like me.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:48

Biden was the first (and thus far) only candidate to use the word “bipartisan” this evening.

— Daniel Block

9:47

Kind of interesting thing how the border crisis has caused so many of these candidates (on both nights) to go after for-profit prisons, but mainly only within the context of the border.

— Martin Longman

9:45

Gillibrand sneaks a pretty radical idea into her answer on border separations: have immigration judges be “real,” meaning appointed for life like other federal judges. Currently, immigration judges are actually part of the executive branch, and ultimately answer to the attorney general.

— Gilad Edelman

9:43

I’m trying to figure out who could write a better profile of Marianne Williamson: Joseph Mitchell, Gene Weingarten, or Hunter S. Thompson?

— Eric Cortellessa

9:41

Apparently Biden spoke for 4:31 before the commercial break, the most of any candidate. I wonder what percentage of that was his final ramble.

— Daniel Block

9:39

Sanders’ “sending back soup at the deli” approach to debating is admittedly an acquired taste.

— Martin Longman

9:39

My impression of the two frontrunners so far: Biden is rambling and Sanders is yelling.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:37

Pete Buttigieg is the foil of candidates like Beto O’Rourke: A smooth talker who actually makes concise, crisp and logical arguments. His stock will continue to rise if he keeps this up.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:36

Biden, cutting himself off mid-sentence, deep into a rambling answer about health care, did not seem at all disappointed to learn that his time had run out. You’d think he’d have had enough time to practice a more fleshed-out position on health care beyond “protect Obamacare.”

— Gilad Edelman

9:35

I’m really skeptical that any of these candidates would eliminate Obamacare or pass on the chance to build on it just because they couldn’t pass some kind of single payer system, as Biden implied at the beginning of this very long discussion.

— Daniel Block

9:34

Idle thought: if a Republican debate spent this much time on health insurance, the whole nation and the participants would fall asleep.

— Martin Longman

9:32

It’s still early in the night, but Kamala Harris appears to be winning this thing. She’s been forceful and eloquent and savvy. She’s not winning the policy debate–she’s not really engaging in one–but she’s making a strong impression.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:30

Marianne Williamson just contradicts herself saying both she agrees with the plans but that we also have to forget about plans in order beat Trump’s MAGA slogan. She sounds eerily like yesterday’s Hall of Shame MVP: Tim Ryan.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:30

One of these candidates should remind the viewing audience that Trump and the Republicans have shown that, when it comes to health care, they will do anything they can to undermine Obamacare by making it more expensive, less accessible, and less comprehensive. What sparked the resistance in 2018 was a groundswell of people who demanded that Obamacare be protected.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:29

I believe Bernie answered the question about national implementation of Medicare-for-All by saying he’ll use pixie dust and pony farts.

— Martin Longman

9:28

I feel like Marianne Williamson could have been a character in Annie Hall.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:24

On Kamala Harris’s point that most Americans don’t own stock: ” Just over half (54%) of Americans own stocks, according to a 2017 Gallup report,” reports MarketWatch. But the “wealthiest Americans possess more than 80% of the aggregate value of stocks.”

— Joshua Alvarez

9:23

Swalwell started a fight that cuts to the heart of one of the major issues in this primary: a lot of Americans say they are uncomfortable electing a president over seventy. Swalwell’s comments were deliberate.

— Daniel Block

9:21

Harris: “American doesn’t want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.” She should drop her mic after that one!

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:19

Swalwell is the first tonight to come out swinging against Biden. Kamala Harris comes across as magnanimous after the subsequent back-and-forth (and after Bernie interrupted Gillibrand): “America doesn’t want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” Very politically shrewd, especially of her campaign staff. They had to foresee something like this might happen and planned out that line.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:18

That’s an excellent comeback from Buttigieg on the “free tutition” charade. The rich don’t need help paying for college. Additionally, colleges are currently doing the work that high schools used to do. It’s a travesty that young people are having to pay tuition for training that they should receive in their public high schools. You heard me right: FEWER people should be going to college.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:16 

Fun fact: Sen. Bennett once was John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, when Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:15

The tax plan Harris mentioned that would give middle class families a $500/month rebate is her LIFT the Middle Class Act.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:15

Why does Eric Swalwell look like he wandered in from a Stanford Young Republicans mixer?

— Gilad Edelman

9:14

So, Joe Lieberman killed a Medicare buy-in because Anthony Weiner liked it and the public option was too radical for the centrists, but now Michael Bennett pitches the public option as the the moderate solution.

— Martin Longman

9:14

A lot of people observed after last night’s debate that, thanks to sexist double standards, female candidates pay a steeper price for interrupting than male candidates do, and so are more likely to wait their turn. Gillibrand is putting that theory to the test tonight.

— Gilad Edelman

9:13

Kristen Gillibrand taking a page from Elizabeth Warren by suggesting that capitalism isn’t the enemy, it’s greed and the way that capitalism currently functions.

— Daniel Block

9:12

Hickenlooper is afraid that Republicans will tar Democrats as “socialists.” He should stop worrying because no matter what Democrats propose, Republicans will use the s-word. As I recently wrote, Sanders might actually be doing Democrats a favor by embracing the socialism label—even though he isn’t, by any stretch, a socialist. Hickenlooper, out of the gate, sounds outdated and bland.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:11

Trump is coming up so much more tonight than last night. Bernie, by way of explaining why Americans will vote for a socialist, doesn’t pull any punches, calling Trump a racist and a fraud. I wonder if the other candidates will attack the president as vociferously.

— Gilad Edelman

9:09

Kamala Harris says that on Day One she will repeal Trump’s tax cuts and gets applause, but that’s not something that can be easily done and certainly not in one day.

— Martin Longman

9:08

Interesting contrast between the opening questions to Bernie and to Biden. Bernie got a tough yes or no question: Will you raise middle class taxes, or not? Biden, meanwhile, was asked something open-ended: “What did you mean by” recent comments?

— Gilad Edelman

9:04

Bernie comes off as honest by admitting that middle-class Americans will pay more in taxes under his policy proposals, but less in healthcare, although he had to be pressed by the moderator to admit as much.

— Eric Cortellessa

8:52

Folks, as I tweeted yesterday, I’m a little biased when it comes to Andrew Yang:

But I think I’m within my rights to say, I’ve known him since 2010 and never once seen him wear a tie.

— Gilad Edelman

8:34

We’re less than half an hour from the debate, and a major question looms: to what extent will Democrats onstage attack Joe Biden? And if they do, how will he respond? Kamala Harris may be best positioned to hit him on some specific areas where he’s vulnerable—his role in the Anita Hill hearings, his flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment, his boasting of working with segregationist senators. Others, like Bernie Sanders, may target him for supporting the 1994 crime bill. Either way, there’s a bullseye on his forehead.

— Eric Cortellessa

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