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Home Featured First Democratic Primary Debate of 2020 Goes Off Without a Bang

First Democratic Primary Debate of 2020 Goes Off Without a Bang

First Democratic Primary Debate of 2020 Goes Off Without a Bang
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The race carries on. As candidates continue to drop like Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, and Cory Booker, the stage has begun to narrow down in the Democratic Primary Debate. This was especially noticeable as only six candidates took the stage in a single-night, two-hour debate on the evening of January 14, 2020. Hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, the debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa marked the final Democratic debate before the Iowa Caucuses in early February.

The candidates featured in the debate were former Vice President Joe Biden; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and businessman and activist Tom Steyer.

Lots of Foreign Policy!

Almost the entire first hour of the debate centered around foreign policy concerning the troops in Iraq, Iran relations and nuclear capabilities, and even North Korean relations. The debate started off with a discussion on foreign policy and troops overseas in the wake of the US-Iran conflict regarding rocket attacks and the US’s killing of Qasem Soleimani. While Iran is the most recent foreign conflict to stir up the debate around foreign policy and military action, the candidates each talked about their objection to past conflicts. Sanders repeatedly voiced his position against the Iraq War which he stated was disastrous, and he also went back to how he led the opposition against the war. Sanders also boasted about his ability to work with Republicans to issue a war powers act in Yemen. Biden stated how he was wrong about voting for the Iraq War in the past and that he was against it once he realized things were not playing out as intended.

Warren and Buttigieg, when questioned about why they are best suited to be the Commander in Chief, stated that while they think conventional methods are definitely important, cybersecurity and climate security also deserve the serious attention to counter future threats. Warren and Steyer also agreed that defense spending is far too high, and Warren, in particular, voiced her concerns with the corruption in the Department of Defense and corporations who sell weapons to the government.

In their discussion about how to manage the issues in the Middle East, all the candidates worked in the word “coalition” or some synonym of the word. They all seemingly agreed that the strategy of America going in alone is ineffective. Biden stated how with regards to Iran, the Iran Nuclear Deal was working before Trump repealed it, and he said he would work with other countries to reimplement that deal as president. He also emphasized how under the Obama Administration, the use of allies and coalitions was paramount in defeating ISIS. Warren also advocated for bringing troops home and instead working closely with our allies to use economic and diplomatic tools to curb future issues abroad. Klobuchar agreed that troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, but not from Syria.

Buttigieg, as the only veteran on-stage, reiterated his point from previous debates that the US should not keep sending in troops to fight endless wars. He reflected on personal memories of deployment and how if the US is to send troops, it needs to be a last resort. Sanders also asserted that the American people are tired of expensive, endless wars when the infrastructure is suffering and healthcare is still unaffordable to millions.

All of the candidates also bashed Trump for his foreign policy, with some like Steyer saying he has no strategy. They all also blamed Trump for the rising tensions in the Middle East going back to his repealing of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar stated that Trump made it harder to ensure Iran does not get nuclear weapons because he gutted the deal.

Finally, on the topic of meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as Trump has done three times, both Biden and Steyer said they would not meet with the North Korean leader without pre-conditions and would rather work with allies to form strong relationships in the region. Biden also mentioned working with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the issues with North Korea.

Trade, Trade, Trade!

Keeping with the theme of international issues, trade was brought up as the second issue. With the USMCA almost certain to be passed and signed by President Trump, and Trump preparing to embark on the first phase of a trade agreement with China, the candidates had lots of content to work with to explain their position of foreign trade.

Sanders opened by voicing his objection to the USMCA, saying that similarly to NAFTA, it will lead to American jobs leaving for cheaper labor in other countries, hurting American workers. In contrast, Warren, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg stated that they support the USMCA, but some like Warren also stated that it is a “modest” improvement.

Biden, Steyer, and Warren also asserted that any trade agreement needs to take climate change into consideration. Steyer went as far as to say he will not consider any trade agreement that doesn’t include climate. Buttigieg added by explaining climate change as a personal issue and stating he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord if elected.

Finally, Steyer and Warren criticized Trump’s trade agreements as only helping the affluent multinational corporations rather than American workers. Warren called out Washington and pressed a need to purge all trade agreements of corruption and self-interest.

Sanders’s Struggles and Warren Shines

Within the last week, news emerged that in 2018 Sanders told Warren that a woman cannot win the White House. Since this event, speculation has risen about the legitimacy of the claim and the possible repercussions for Sanders.

Sanders defended himself by first refuting the claims, saying that he has always supported female candidates and that Hillary Clinton’s campaign proved that a woman can win considering she won the popular vote. Despite his refutation, however, Warren made it appear that Sanders did say a woman can’t win and that she disagrees with his assessment.

Warren then delivered arguably the most exciting part of the debate when she talked about how the men on stage have lost ten elections which the women on stage have won all their races. This statement drew the strongest applause from the audience. Klobuchar added by demonstrating her ability to win in red areas of her state, and she also reiterated the point that she has won all her races.

Sanders re-attempted to clear his name by repeating how he has never thought a woman could not win the presidency. He then shifted to generally discussing how a campaign of excitement is needed to defeat Trump. Biden also added that he knows a woman can win the presidency, and he argued that he is the best candidate since he has the ability to unify the party which he sees as a central issue.

(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Even after the debate, there was clearly some tension between Warren and Sanders, as a hot microphone picked up the audio of Warren telling Sanders that he was calling her a liar about the whole situation. Not wanting to engage the subject, Sanders simply told Warren that on-stage was not the time nor place to have the conversation. This encounter shows that there might now be some serious tension between the two progressive candidates, but then again, only time will tell.

Still Can’t Agree on Healthcare

While all the candidates believe that no American should go without insurance, there is still a wide array of approaches to this end. While progressive candidates such as Sanders and Warren support a Medicare for All system which does not include private insurance, others like Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden consider a less ambitious approach as the ideal solution.

Biden disagreed with Sanders’s approach, citing that his proposals to pay for the extremely expensive plan will have minimal effect. Instead, Biden reiterated his proposal of expanding on Obamacare and adding a public option. Buttigieg echoed a similar plan of Medicare for All Who Want It where everyone not on private insurance is automatically enrolled in a public option. While he has proposed this idea before, he received questions about the legitimacy of forcing people into a healthcare plan.

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Klobuchar added that Medicare for All is not popular nationwide and that the Affordable Care Act is far more popular. She also added that the high price of prescription drugs is a major issue that needs to be solved. Warren also addressed the corruption of pharmaceutical companies and the high prices of drugs as a result.

Free Education and Universal Childcare

With the rising cost of childcare in American, the topic of universal childcare and pre-k has started to make an increased appearance on the debate stage. Tuesday night was no different. Sanders and Warren support the approach of universal childcare/pre-k, citing that the current system is too bad. Warren supported her plan for universal childcare with the idea of a wealth tax, a plan which has been hotly contested in the past. The candidates also voiced support for raising the salaries of childcare and educational workers.

The two more unique statements on the issue were by Buttigieg and Klobuchar. Buttigieg argued that he does not want a system where the children of wealthy families are able to go to college for free. Klobuchar tried to convey her belief that the philosophy behind education needs to change to closely relate to the economy. While some people need four-year degrees, she voiced her support for a system that would pay for two-year degrees that directly go towards growing the economy.

Regardless, Trump Is Impeached

All of the candidates agreed that the House was right to impeach President Trump. While many have called the process a partisan shame centered around the political gain, the candidates framed impeachment as a moral and ethical issue rather than a political one.

Warren and Klobuchar, both of whom will be jurors in the upcoming impeachment trial, stated that they will participate and act with integrity because it is their Constitutional duty. Klobuchar also emphasized the point that witnesses need to be called in the trial to understand the entire story.

As in previous debates, the Democrats illustrated Trump as a selfish, demagogic, and ignorant leader who lacks both the ethical boundaries and competency to serve as the Commander in Chief. Klobuchar even argued that Trump has told over ten thousand lies in his tenure as president.

Battling Trump on the Economy

It is undeniable that under the Trump Administration there has been economic growth, especially with the stock market. However, candidates such as Steyer have pleaded their case to voters by arguing they can defeat Trump on economic issues. Buttigieg also said that because he is a part of the generation who has been disenfranchised by Trump’s economy, he has personal credibility to argue with Trump on the issue.

The Most Boring Debate So Far

Beyond the topics discussed, this debate was easily the stalest performance by all of the candidates. While all of the candidates offered diverse opinions on pressing issues, some of which are more recent such as Iran and the impeachment trial, overall, they simply repeated the same talking points they have since the first debate last year. Nobody brought anything new or energizing to the table. Even the tone of the candidates seemed lazy and unenthusiastic.

None of the candidates really challenged each other on any issues, either. While there was some back-and-forth between Biden and Sanders on some issues and some debate over the proper way to implement universal healthcare (which is nothing new so it wasn’t that exciting), this debate, in my opinion, did not make any candidate stand out. The most exciting part of the whole thing what Warren’s rebuttal about women not being able to win elections when she called out the men’s inability to win elections.

The gaffes as well made the candidates appear unprepared as well. For instance, Klobuchar seemed to forget the name of the Kansas governor who she applauded. Sanders and Warren also got into an altercation over math and whether or not 1990 was thirty years ago or not.

Winners and Losers

While overall the debate was uninteresting and bland, there was definitely some stand out performances by a few candidates. The clear winner of this debate, in my opinion, was Elizabeth Warren. A large part of that was due to her comments about women overpowering the men in politics and dismissing the idea that women cannot win the presidency. While she did not particularly offer anything jaw-dropping in terms of policy ideas, her confidence depicted her as one of if not the strongest candidate on stage.

Other candidates such as Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Pete Buttigieg had neutral performances. Each of them reiterated the same talking points but did nothing that really hurt their chances. The statements by these candidates were simply repetitive and did not add any substance other than the statement on newer topics such as US-Iran escalations and the impeachment trial and even then there was nothing noteworthy.

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden were the losers of the evening. Sanders took the hardest hit in the debacle over his statements to Warren. Personally, I think the way the moderators portrayed the question by absolutely assuming Sanders told Warren what has been speculated was wrong. I would rather have liked to see Warren tell the whole story rather than letting her simply answer with a “yes” or “no.” Either way, Sanders’s mix of the same old talking points and this recent matter made his night overwhelmingly dull. Biden also brought nothing new to the table and continued to look out of touch. Instances such as when he could not remember the correct statistic on universal childcare/pre-k also highlights the continuing theme of Biden’s age potentially being a negative factor in his chances of securing the nomination.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the night is the man currently in the White House. This debate performance definitely worked in Trump’s favor. Holding a rally at the same time as the debate, Trump’s rally highlighted the Republicans as the enthusiastic and energized party as opposed to the melancholic and monotonous setting of the Democratic Primary Debate. While the general election is still a long way off, this debate did not do a great job in portraying the Democrats as the party of change and excitement.

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