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5 Takeaways From the First Democratic Debate
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=44675"><span class="small">Domenico Montanaro, NPR</span></a>   
Thursday, 27 June 2019 08:23

Montanaro writes: "If the overarching question heading into the first debate of the 2020 presidential primary for Democratic voters was 'Who can you see as president up there?' it's not certain they got a clear answer."

On Wednesday in Miami, Democratic presidential candidates take the stage during the first night of the Democratic presidential debate. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
On Wednesday in Miami, Democratic presidential candidates take the stage during the first night of the Democratic presidential debate. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

5 Takeaways From the First Democratic Debate

By Domenico Montanaro, NPR

27 June 19


f the overarching question heading into the first debate of the 2020 presidential primary for Democratic voters was "Who can you see as president up there?" it's not certain they got a clear answer.

Rather than fireworks — toward each other or President Trump — the candidates took a cautious approach. Will that be the approach on Night 2, Thursday night, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden on the same stage?

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday night's debate:

1. Elizabeth Warren was consistent.

Of all the candidates, the Massachusetts senator came in as the biggest star and, because of that, probably had the most pressure on her. But she was consistent, sticking to policy and her vision for the United States.

The impression she made with her answer to the first question set the tone. She was asked a fastball down the middle about whether her succession of big policy proposals would be too much change for the country, and she went to her bread-and-butter response: that a "thinner and thinner slice" of the country is getting ahead and that this needs to change. That's a home run for what she's trying to do with her candidacy.

We will see, though, if going out on the plank to say that she supports eliminating private health insurance comes back to haunt her if she gets the nomination. It was remarkable that she and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were the only ones to raise their hands to say they did.

2. The gloves stayed on — and the shape of the race stays the same.

The moderators tried with the first two questions to stir up a fight between the progressive and pragmatic wings of the Democratic Party, calling on Warren and then shifting to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on whether the field was going too far. But Klobuchar didn't take the bait.

"I had to sit back and say, 'This is the first debate,' " Klobuchar said afterward on MSNBC, pointing out that she would have liked to have talked more about Russia and farm policy.

That meant the shape of the race did not change. It's a reminder that it's early, and until the lines become more sharply defined, the candidates may hold back, although the dynamics for Thursday night's debate may be different.

3. They didn't take the fight to Trump.

It is remarkable that the candidates had relatively little to say about President Trump. It was almost as if he didn't exist — and the candidates cared more about Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

But Trump is running for reelection — and reelection campaigns almost always come down to referendums on sitting presidents and their policies. None of the candidates really made the case as to why they are best equipped to take the fight to Trump. That's especially glaring given that Democratic voters are saying that what matters most to them is electability and that what they want more than anything is to beat Trump.

Even Trump was unperturbed by the debate, dismissing it as boring, and he reserved his biggest criticism for NBC's technical difficulties.

4. Beto O'Rourke did not help his cause.

Warren needed to be consistent, and she was. Klobuchar is still in the conversation and had a couple of good moments. But former Rep. Beto O'Rourke shared the middle of the stage with Warren; he needed a good debate, but struggled at times.

He often looked overshadowed, and his lack of policy specifics was glaring, especially standing next to Warren. It was that way right from the start when the moderator asked him whether he supports a marginal tax rate of 70% on high-income earners making $10 million a year or more. He deflected and started speaking in Spanish three sentences later.

Later, O'Rourke had a hard time defending himself on immigration policy against his fellow Texan, Julián Castro, who had a strong debate, speaking for marginalized people and communities. It's always especially damning when a candidate plays into a narrative of them that's already out there — and for O'Rourke, that rap is that he's light on policy specifics.

5. Tonight's another night.

The first Democrat presidential debate continues Thursday night and will include Biden, Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Will Trump be more of a factor? Do the gloves come off against Biden? Does Harris break out finally? Is Buttigieg able to handle the scrutiny after the police shooting in South Bend that sidelined him from the campaign? Will foreign policy be more of an issue for this group of candidates? Will there be any surprising moments?

If Democrats watching at home weren't thrilled with their choices onstage Wednesday night, they'll have another crop of 10 to pick from Thursday.

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+15 # coberly 2019-06-27 09:37
Oh, God! NPR. always the knife in the dark.

I was thrilled with Elizabeth Warren.

I think she may not be politically wise to take on the insurance industry in a frontal attack. There may be ways to keep private insurers in business.

I think a single payer in the only sane answer to health care in this country, but there is no reason the private insurers could not become contractors paid by, and overseen by, the government.

If done somewhat the way highway construction is contracted by state governments, this could preserve the advantages of private enterprise with the protections government oversight.

if we have an honest government.

but if we idon'thave that we are doomed anyway.
0 # Farafalla 2019-06-27 12:24
Good points. Your suggestion on how private would function within a public system makes sense. I will relay that to my skeptical friends.
-1 # Caliban 2019-06-27 12:51
"There may be ways to keep private insurers in business": excellent point.

Let's have more input and support for the nation's health from both government and private business.
0 # kyzipster 2019-06-27 21:03
I think we should consider adopting Switzerland's system. I may be off in my understanding of it, so I'd appreciate feedback if I am. They use private insurers to manage universal health care. Every citizen is given a minimum of coverage mandated by the government. Insurance companies are not allowed to make any profit off of this base coverage. They are allowed to sell coverage above and beyond what the government provides, at a profit, and this is enough to motivate them to participate. I think "Medicaid for All" is more realistic, but nothing wrong with campaigning on "Medicare for All."
0 # paulkinzelman 2019-06-27 10:02
I was disappointed we didn't hear more from Tulsi. Maybe this is why:
+2 # vt143 2019-06-27 11:52
Uh, the environment...
0 # BetaTheta 2019-06-27 14:56
Thank God for "boring." What a contrast to the last Republican "debates," wherein the participants were consumed with hurling or responding to fifth-grade taunts. Ten adults discussing policy and how to make citizens' lives better - how refreshing!
+1 # librarian1984 2019-06-27 16:36
1. Warren did fine. I don't imagine she lost anybody and may have earned a second look from some. Apparently even NPR wants to see blood and guts, but what's most interesting now are policy differences and temperament.

It was a good introduction, and I appreciated that the first questioners did a good job of letting the candidates talk about their differences.

2. Those of us who follow political
matters closely could see the differences more clearly. Promising 'access' to healthcare as a code for quarter-measure s and incoming insurance PAC money, for instance.

This is going to be a long campaign and we have time to hear them all.

3. Maybe the reason the candidates didn't talk much about Trump is because they don't hear as much about him on the trail as they do about climate change, healthcare, housing etc. It's the media that want the battle royale to commence, but people are more worried about war and the failing economy.

4. IMO Warren held her spot. She was intelligent. Booker and di Blasio did themselves some good. Inslee made a good case for heading our climate change efforts, and DINOs Klobuchar, Ryan and O'Rourke got an inkling of how out of step they are as the rest of the field raced leftward for a freaking change, while John 'I have an award for loan sharking in poor neighborhoods' Delaney proved quantity is not the same as quality in campaigning.

Fuck the msm. I enjoyed the debate and look forward to tonight's.