In the first night of the second series of Democratic Debates, it was battle of the Progressives versus the Pragmatists for what many would say is the soul of the Democratic Party.
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — the presidential primary field’s far-left standard-bearers — were pulled into what was essentially a two-and-a-half-hour fight with their more moderate rivals Tuesday night, at the second round of Democratic nomination debates.
The result was a fractured party on full display for all the electorate to see, with the center-left (and lower-polling) contenders fiercely arguing that policies like “Medicare-for-all” and the Green New Deal will hand-deliver the election to President Trump, and the higher-profile candidates on the left flank, just as fiercely arguing that their policies are the kind of bold solutions America needs.
Tempers flared and frustration mounted, with Sanders at one point firing back at Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan for claiming the Vermont senator didn’t really know “Medicare-for-all” would provide coverage better than the current plans Americans would lose if the country moved to a single-payer system.
“I do know. And I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders snapped.
Delany Steps Into the Light
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, one of the more pragmatic candidates on the stage, took a stand and got a surprising amount of airtime. He attacked the progressives to his left saying, “I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises.”
To which Warren shot back, “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.”
That line drew loud applause from the room and crystallized the broader debate in the Democratic primary right now, as many in the field gravitate toward liberal policy positions amid warnings from other candidates about the implications for the November 2020 general election.
“That is a disaster at the ballot box. You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump,” former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper charged, in reference to the notion of guaranteeing jobs under the Green New Deal or taking away private insurance under Medicare-for-all, particularly from union members who fought for their health benefits.
For their part, Sanders and Warren, D-Mass., largely avoided sparring with each other, maintaining a virtual truce that’s been in place on the campaign trail. Both sought to keep focus trained on Trump. Sanders lobbed a litany of insults at the president throughout the debate, labeling him a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe and a “pathological liar.”
But they were repeatedly pulled into battle with their on-stage rivals.
Make It or Break It Time
With the Democratic National Committee raising the thresholds for the third and fourth rounds of debates — in September and October — the showdowns this week may be the last chance for many of the lower-tier candidates to make a splash in front of a prime-time national audience.
And they didn’t miss the opportunity, taking repeated punches at Sanders and Warren over their strong support for a government-run single-payer health care system that would eliminate private insurance.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, making his debate debut, like Delany, also took aim at Warren and Sanders and their “Medicare-for-all,” plans, emphasizing that “at the end of the day I’m not going to support any plan that rips away quality health care from individuals. This is an example of wishlist economics. It used to be Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace [ObamaCare]. Now we have Democrats as well.”
The polarized candidates also sparred over decriminalizing illegal crossings over the U.S. southern border with Mexico.