Jul 31, 2019

Progressives own the first debate night

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders looked like Democrats' de facto leaders and policymakers last night, in the opening half of the party's back-to-back Debate 2.

The state of play: The two progressives dominated the clock. Warren had the most speaking time and Sanders was second, with Pete Buttigieg third.

Both spoke to Democrats who are tired of small ball.

  • Warren: "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."
  • Sanders: "I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas." 

Why it matters ... Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who warned the party this week about moving too far left, told Axios' Mike Allen after the debate:

  • "No one was the happy warrior — a collective shortcoming. We are so angry at Trump, we are letting it get the better of us."

CNN's debate structure — with candidates pressed into abbreviated answers, often in response to a rival — frustrated the more centrist campaigns:

  • All of your policy proposals that you share with people watching are suddenly in the context of someone else's policy plan.
  • That eats away at your talking points for those issues, and for your ownership over your own policies.
  • And it's a big win for the progressive wing of the party.

Buttigieg, 37, drew applause when asked if voters should take age into consideration when picking a president:

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Some other takeaways: Tough night for the moderates ... Beto O'Rourke vanished ... No one mentioned Joe Biden by name.

What's next: The fun continues tonight on CNN at 8 p.m. ET with 10 more candidates.

  • To try to make up for Biden's shortcomings last time, some of his prep sessions (though not exclusively) have been with smaller groups of advisers, with aides asking him what he thinks instead of over-prepping and jamming his head.

Go deeper: 4 big moments from the debate

Go deeper

4 big moments from Night 1 of the second Democratic debate

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the absence of frontrunner Joe Biden, the first night of the second round of Democratic presidential debates on Tuesday saw former Rep. John Delaney, who is polling at less than 1%, assume the unlikely role of moderate foil to progressive heavyweights Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The big picture: CNN moderators largely (and predictably) framed the debate as whether Democrats are drifting too far to the left with policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal proposal and free college tuition. Those that expected Warren and Sanders to turn on one another were likely disappointed — the pair spent most of the night tag teaming moderates like Delaney, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Rep. Tim Ryan, urging them to dream big on policy and "stop using Republican talking points."

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Elizabeth Warren spars with John Delaney over her "impossible promises"

Sen. Elizabeth Warren hit back at former Rep. John Delaney over what he dubbed her "impossible promises" — policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and free college — arguing that she doesn'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."

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Debate night: Warren and Sanders vs. the moderates

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders joined forces to back Medicare for All, decriminalizing immigration, a trade policy that favors working Americans, and the Green New Deal proposal at Tuesday's Democratic debate, as Warren denounced former Rep. John Delaney and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper of using "Republican talking points."

Why it matters: Tuesday's debate underscored the field's divide, as progressives Warren and Sanders set themselves against the rest of the Democratic candidates, many of whom support more moderate health care policies like a public option or an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. They also disagreed with Warren and Sanders on immigration, trade, and taking on President Donald Trump in the general election.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jul 31, 2019