On Tuesday night, a record twelve Democratic candidates shared the stage in the fourth debate of the 2020 Democratic primary. The debate aired on CNN in partnership with The New York Times and Otterbein University. With Ohio acting as a pivotal state in 2020, the backdrop couldn’t have been more timely as the Fall campaign kicks into high gear.
CNN/New York Times Democratic Debate (Fourth Debate)
Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Location: Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio
Sponsors: CNN, New York Times
Moderators: CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, along with New York Times National Editor Marc Lacey
Candidates on stage from left to right: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former VP Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Businessman Andrew Yang, Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Full debate video
Here is the complete debate video courtesy of Facebook and CNN:
Alternate video link: CNN Full Debate Video
The evening kicked off with a brisk discussion over where each candidate stands on the topic of President Trump’s impeachment. All the candidates were in agreement, that they believe the president has acted in such a way as to warrant the impeachment inquiry, and they waived off questions about whether the matter serves as a distraction away from important issues pressing the country.
Four candidates came out swinging at President Trump by calling him the most corrupt president in the country’s history with agreement from Sanders, Biden, Harris, and Klobuchar.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg made the point that impeachment, even though he agrees with it, would put the country in a seriously deteriorated state in terms of civil discourse. Focusing on questions of how to bring the country together is a distinct strategy Buttigieg is employing.
Former vice president Joe Biden dodged a question about his son’s foreign business dealings, instead turning the issue back on President Trump over his phone call with the Ukrainian President.
The matter of Medicare for all came up, as it has at every prior debate, but this time the arguments were much more cutting, especially between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.
Buttigieg’s point was that regardless of whether Donald Trump is impeached or defeated, the country will be divided. Buttigieg argues that pushing such a drastic overhaul of the healthcare system on an already-divided electorate is a recipe for more divisiveness.
However, Bernie Sanders responded to this line of attack by saying he refuses to defend the current system and that replacing it with a system that is modeled after the Canadian system, with changes according to Sanders, is the only humane thing to do.
Newcomer Tom Steyer, a billionaire Democratic activist, agreed with Bernie that billionaires should be “taxed out of existence.” A very ironic statement from … a billionaire. What’s more ironic is that Steyer has been accused of “buying” a debate spot by pouring millions into targeted advertising in early states.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar was very aggressive as the evening wore on, trying to make an imprint on voters. Klobuchar has yet to qualify for the November debate and unless she has a top-shelf amazing performance, it’s unlikely she’ll be able to make the November stage.
Elizabeth Warren faced some of the strongest criticism from her fellow contenders since the primary started. As some analysts pointed out, Warren solidified her position as the current front runner merely by the number of other candidates attacking her.
There was disagreement on foreign policy as Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was not in agreement with Pete Buttigieg over whether the United States should continue to be involved in Syria.
Buttigieg also clashed with Beto O’Rourke on the matter of gun control. Buttigieg was trying to make the point that pushing so hard with forced buybacks (confiscation) of weapons will cause a major revolt. In response, O’Rourke argued that good policy shouldn’t be formed by polls or public opinion, but leaders should strike a path and bring the public along with them.
Buttigieg played the role of offering some moderate temperament juxtaposed to the policies of Sanders, Warren, and even O’Rourke. The issue for Buttigieg is that the lane for the moderate option is basically taken by Joe Biden. Perhaps the calculation by Buttigieg is that if Biden falters, and voters don’t want to head left with Warren, Buttigieg’s thoughtful “come togetherness” might do the trick.
One point of agreement, between all candidates, was their support for upholding Roe v. Wade in the face of increasing anti-abortion legislation around the country. There isn’t much new in this part of the discussion, but it was a point of unity in the night for a field that appears more divided than ever with more disagreements than we witnessed in prior debates.
The overarching theme from Joe Biden, who continued to knock both Sanders and Warren, is that their programs seem a bit vague. To defeat President Trump next year, Biden argues, Democrats must be much more clear in their proposals and be clear in how they intend to pay for things.
It’s likely that the outcome of this debate is a shifted field, and perhaps some further weakening of Biden’s position.
Overall, it was a very lively debate, with much, much more to say about the outcome. We’ll have more analysis on Wednesday as the dust settles and the major storylines emerge.