From the outset of the Democratic debate that took place on February 19, 2020, each of the candidates made it clear that his/her goal is to beat President Trump.
Joe Biden claimed that a recent poll indicated he was in the best position to meet that goal. Michael Bloomberg assured his listeners, “I know how to take on an arrogant con man like Donald Trump...The worst President we have ever had.” Pete Buttegieg contended,” This is our only chance to beat Donald Trump.” Amy Klobuchar claimed that she has “The heart to beat the President.” In a show of solidarity, Bernie Sanders said,” All of us are united in defeating the most dangerous President in the history of the United States.” Elizabeth Warren noted, “We need to step up. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Bottom line: Of course these people want to beat the incumbent... Isn’t that what running for President of the United States—or any other office, for that matter—is about?
Let the Battle Begin
As the debate continued, however, it became clear that all of the candidates were very much aware of the fact that if they hope to defeat President Trump, they first need to defeat the other candidates in their bid for the nomination of the Democratic Party.
Buttigieg asserted, “We’d better wake up as a party, or the Democratic Party will end up with the two most polarizing of all the candidates: Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders,” and emphatically added, “Let’s put up somebody who’s actually a Democrat.” That comment is not as outlandish as it may seem. For one thing, it’s common knowledge that Sanders is—no way around it—a socialist. For another, Sanders himself noted that Bloomberg supported George W. Bush for President.
A good part of the debate seemed to be devoted to concerted attacks on Bloomberg. Warren accused him of “sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.” Both she and Biden continued to pound home the fact that Bloomberg had paid women to sign nondisclosure agreements. Buttigieg asserted, “It’s not about how much money you have. It’s what you stand for.”
Several of the contenders also blasted Bloomberg for the “stop and frisk” policy (which they claimed targeted Blacks and Latinos) that he put in place when he served as mayor of New York City. Klobuchar pointed out that Bloomberg was the only candidate whose tax returns had not been made public. Biden’s jab at Bloomberg was a bit more general: he merely asserted that Bloomberg didn’t get much done as mayor (implying ‘so how can he possibly be expected to accomplish anything as President?’).
The moderators (Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Hollie Jackson, Vanessa Hauc, Jon Ralston) did attempt to focus the debate on issues other than defeating the current president and lambasting Bloomberg.
When questioned about his policy on healthcare, Sanders noted that there are 87 billion uninsured/underinsured Americans (he did not mention how he had come up with that figure) and went on to condemn the “greed and corruption“ of the pharmaceutical industry.
Biden asserted, “I am the only one on this stage who’s actually got anything done” in the area of health care. He noted that the cost of Sanders’ health-care-for-all plan would be astronomical. Buttigieg, too, said that there is a “lack of transparency” regarding how Sanders‘ health care plan would be financed. When questioned about the Affordable Care Act, Klobuchar answered, “When you see troubled waters you improve them, not blow them up.” Warren called Klobuchar’s healthcare policy “a post-it note,” and added, ”We need as much help for as many people as quickly as possible.” (Sounds good... but what exactly does that mean?)
(Speaking of health... Sanders made it a point to mention that, despite his recent heart attack, His doctors have assured him that he is in great shape to run for President.)
Capitalism vs. Socialism
One of the major divides in the Democratic 2020 campaign is capitalism versus socialism. Sanders referred to an “immoral distribution of wealth” which causes “so many of our workers to feel like cogs in a machine.” Warren claimed that she has fought for unions (and for students...shades of “free college for all”?) for years. Klobuchar, on the other hand, stated, “I believe in Capitalism,” with a caveat: “but there should be a check on that.” She went on to note that “Trump signed the tax code that helps the wealthy.”
On the issue of climate change, Warren contended that the two reasons why we’ve been unable to effect climate change are corruption and filibuster. Part of her solution would be to tax the top one-tenth of the one percent of wealthiest Americans. She went on to state that most of the toxic waste dumps in this country are located in “communities of color” and that we need to “level the playing field.”
Biden pledged to “eliminate all the subsidies we have for oil and gas.” He added that he would invite the members of the Paris Accord to Washington and also would “make it clear to China that they will suffer if they continue practices that damage the environment.”
Bloomberg noted that “The world is coming apart faster than any scientific study has predicted“ and contended that he has always been against red-lining. He emphasized the fact that he is giving his money away to make this country better. “I worked very hard for it, and I’m giving it away.”
Buttigieg said that he has a plan to get this country carbon neutral by 2050. He ironically noted that, currently, “The number one place to live out the American Dream is Denmark.”
Debate or Debacle?
During this debate, unlike some of the others, the candidates were not afraid to pull any punches (aside from when Elizabeth Warren coming to Amy Klobuchar’s defense when one of the moderators continued to lambast Klobuchar for forgetting the name of the president of Mexico.)
It seemed like they finally came to the realization that if they hope to win the Democratic nomination, they must be contenders, not comrades...which probably is why this debate was far more contentious than any of the previous ones. Where will this change in tactics lead them? Only time will tell.
Patricia T Lowe on February 23, 2020:
Thanks so much for your comments, John. You’re right: The amount of money the candidates spend is unbelievable. It sounds like Australia might have a better way of doing things!
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 23, 2020:
As an outsider I find the US political competition for party nomination intriguing.The amount of money spent by the candidates on their campaigns must be staggering.
Here in Australia the people don’t vote for or select the candidates who will represent a party. The party members themselves just choose who will lead them and the only time the people get a say is to vote at the election into which party will lead the country and subsequently who will become Prime Minister.
I found this article interesting. Thanks for sharing.