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The First Democratic Debates: A Summary

Over the course of two days, 20 candidates of the Democratic party’s presidential primary election debated in front of a national audience. The criteria was as follows, break 1 percent in three polls from pollsters approved by the Democratic National Committee, or tally 65,000 unique campaign donors, with at least 200 donors in 20 different states. With the largest field of candidates in the party’s history, much was discussed, and not everyone could speak on every topic, so here are the highlights.

Night 1: 6/26/19

Who was on stage (In left to right order): Bill De Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, John Delaney

The democratic party is not entirely aligned when it comes to policy. Generally speaking, they hope to address the same issues, but the methods and practices in which they hope to achieve these goals ranges from moderate to quite progressive. For example, candidates such as John Delaney and Amy Klobuchar believe the social programs proposed by candidates such as Bernie Sanders to be “magic” or “impossible promises.” But ultimately, the candidates felt the same when it came to the important issues.

The questions often focused on the candidate’s professional background and track record, something many candidates, especially those who have been polling at relatively low numbers, have been trying to sell as much as they can to voters. For example, representative Tulsi Gabbard made noted her military background when answering almost every question. In fact, when asked her first question of the night about the gender pay gap, she decided to delve into her military experience and the importance of national security. She received no follow up to her failure to answer.

The first topic to be discussed was the economy, with essentially every candidate agreeing on the philosophy that wealth consolidation poses a real danger to American prosperity. As seen over the course of President Trump’s time in office, the economy has been doing very well, but what the Democratic candidate’s made note of was the fact that while it is doing well on a national level, there are severe underlying struggles, specifically that wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few very rich people, while the rest of America is being left behind. Ultimately, every argument boiled down to the same idea: the economy must work for all Americans.

The second topic was health care. In a hand-raise-form question, moderators asked candidates whether or not they would abolish their own private health insurance for a government plan. Of the 10 on stage, only Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio said they would. Generally speaking, the rest of the candidates believed that medicare for all should be a choice, and limited based on peoples’ financial well-being: If you have a plan you like and can pay for, you can keep it, but if you can’t pay for the plan you feel you need, you will be provided assistance by the federal government. Additionally, almost every candidate believed that healthcare is a “human right” that everyone should have access to. This discussion led into questions on abortion, which all candidates on stage expressed their pro-choice support for.

Next on the table was immigration, a very timely topic given the recent criticism the Trump administration has faced for their migrant detention practices. Cory Booker addressed the question posed to him, what he would do on the first day of his presidency, in Spanish. He went on to describe what ultimately became the common-form response for candidates: reinstate DACA status, expedite the citizenship process, and most importantly start investing in solutions for South American countries in hopes of reducing the causes and dangers that lead people to migrate to the US in the first place.

With regards to Iran, the candidates were asked if they would sign back onto the 2015 nuclear deal. Of the 10 on stage, only Cory Booker did not raise his hand. When asked why he did not, he made it clear that it was because he felt there needed to be changes made to it. Given the extent to which Iran has grown as a geopolitical threat, Booker felt there needed to be more restrictive and comprehensive provisions added to a new form of the deal in order to ensure future security and protections. Thus, he took the question quite literally, “would you resign onto the 2015 version of the deal?” The example of Booker’s answer, once again, was taken on with support from other candidates, all of whom eventually agreeing that a new deal needed to be reached.

When it came to the gun question, all candidates expressed their hopes to reduce, and in some cases completely remove the availability of “weapons of war” to the public. Despite her experience in service, Candidate Gabbard did not contribute to this question. Some candidates including Amy Klobuchar proposed government buy-back programs that would give gun owners the chance to be compensated for their return of certain weapons. Several candidates including John Delaney, Cory Booker, and Bill De Blasio proposed ideas of legislative reform on the issue. Elizabeth Warren and Tim Ryan added on the idea of mental health awareness, and discussed how we could both prevent future shootings and assist in trauma-recovery by improving the mental health systems and programs in schools.

All candidates agreed on the legitimacy of a climate crisis, but each proposed different solution plans. For example, Tim Ryan discussed climate pricing and taxing. Candidate Castro expressed support for re-signing the Paris Climate Accords and helping to relocate individuals impacted by worsening climate. Beto O’Rourke brought forward the idea of a sort of citizen initiative, stating that everyone must be brought into decisions and solutions. Jay Inslee has dedicated his campaign to the issue of climate change, and described the urgency of the issue when given time to speak, saying that “we only have so much time” to fix the issues at hand. He also took the time to describe his recently announced climate plan, which is available on his campaign site.

And on sexual and gay rights, all candidates agreed that more awareness needs to be brought to the reality of discrimination towards the LGBTQ community. Not only that, candidates such as Julian Castro expressed the need to mobilize minority voters and focus on criminal and discriminator justice for minority communities.

Question: What is the greatest geopolitical threat facing the United States:

Bill De Blasio: Russia

Tim Ryan: China

Julian Castro: climate

Cory Booker: nuclear weapons and climate

Elizabeth Warren: climate

Beto O’Rourke: climate

Amy Klobuchar: nuclear weapons and iran

Tulsi Gabbard: Saudi Arabia

Jay Inslee: Trump

John Delaney: nuclear weapons and china

Night 2: 6/27/19

Who was on stage (In left to right order): Marianne Wiliamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Micahel Bennet, Eric Swalwell

The second night of the democratic debates brought in a record-breaking 18.1 million American viewers, just under 3 million more viewers than the first 10 candidates brought in. Each candidate clearly brought their own expectations and strategies to the table. For this night of debate, we’ll run through the highlights of each candidate, starting with Marianne Williamson.

In almost every one of her additions, Marianne Williamson made it very clear that she was not a candidate whose potential lies in plans. Instead, she discussed roots and love. According to Williamson, the democratic party needs to go beyond “superficial fixes” and plans in order to take office. For example, instead of waiting for people to get sick and then treating them, try to prevent them from getting sick in the first place. Her ideology broke down to getting to the “why?” of a problem rather than how to fix it. In her closing, she expressed that only love could “cast out” what she described as President Trump’s fear-mongering.

John Hickenlooper tended to focus on moderation and cooperation. In his opening remarks, he warned his fellow candidates that the democratic party will face greater failure and losses if they embrace socialism. Clearly directed at candidates including Bernie Sanders, who has proposed several welfare and government programs that Republicans have described as “socialists,” Hickenlooper highlighted the importance of drawing clear distinctions between the democratic party and socialists. When asked about climate change, Hickenlooper expressed that Oil and gas companies need to be part of the solution in the fight against a worsening environmental state. Instead of shutting them out, Hickenlooper said that the government has to look at “real solutions” that can help ameliorate the environmental impact of these industries.

Andrew Yang spoke primarily about economic policy, which makes sense given that the most progressive policy of his campaign is a “Universal Basic Income” (UBI), that promises a set of guaranteed payments of $1,000 per month to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18. His plan to fundraise for this includes adding a value-added tax to products, which he says would “increase the buying power of bottom percent,” and impose several other taxes on the wealthy and big businesses that would circulate into smaller economies.

Pete Buttigieg was one of few candidates who got extensive speaking time on almost all of the issues. He too proposed several “choice” programs that he believes would help reduce American struggle and benefit the economy. For example, Buttigieg explained that he doesn’t support free college for all because he doesn’t believe that lower-middle class citizens should have to subsidize free college for “billionaire children”. Additionally, when it comes of medicare for all, people should be able to choose whether or not they stay with a private plan that they can afford and like, or access cheaper/free government-run plans. As he put it, it is “medicare for all who want it.” Recently, Mayor Pete has been under pressure in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana, following the death of an African-American man shot by a white police officer. When asked why racial representation has not increased in the police force under his time in office, Buttigieg honestly replied “because I couldn’t get it done.” He then went on the discuss the need to move policing out of systemic racism, and take down the “wall of mistrust” that threatens communities. Buttigieg addressed the question of gun control through the lens of his military experience. Given that he was the only candidate on stage with such a background, he was led believed that veterans will respect and react positively to the removal of weapons of war from the streets based on the fact that they know the damage they are capable of. According to Buttigieg, these weapons have no place on American streets in times of peace.

For Joe Biden, much of the debate focused on his track record of more moderate and controversial statements. For example, he was asked off the bat to address what he meant when he said in the past that “We shouldn’t demonize the rich.” In response, Biden stated that what means is that dignity has to be returned to the middle class, which can be accomplished through the provision of affordable insurance and continuing education, as well as cleaner environmental conditions. He also emphasized what he felt was the “urgency” of affordable healthcare. According to Biden, the quickest way to achieve a more efficient and sustainable system is to build off of the Affordable Care Act, or as it is colloquially known, “Obamacare”. He, as every other candidate agreed, did not believe that illegal immigrants should be deported if the only crime they have committed was crossing the border without proper papers. Instead, such measures should only be taken if that person has committed a “major crime.” And finally, when asked about his support for the Iraq War, Biden expressed that he now regrets his view. He went on to explain how he had compensated for that mistake in his withdrawal of troops from Iraq, his history of success in alliance making, and his hopes to take troops out of Afghanistan. He now believes that the United States should “never go after terrorists alone,” and that he is the candidate who knows how to fulfill that ideal.

Bernie Sanders is known for his strongly progressive policies, including medicare for all, free college, and targeting corrupt big business. Ultimately, the questions asked to Sanders resulted in solutions and policies that he has made clear before. He explained that under the single-payer system that he supports, a vast majority of Americans would pay less for healthcare. Also, he hopes to place a tax on Wall Street to pay for free and cheaper education. His platform rests primarily on big government benefits for the American people, something that many of the more moderate democratic candidates perceive as “impossible promises”. But, Sanders made it clear that he believes his track record and proposals are for the people, anti-corruption, and will give the struggling classes more greater fiscal and social benefits.

Kamala Harris shined in two particularly tense moments of the debate. Firstly, amid rabble and interjections between several candidates, Ms. Harris spoke up to say "Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on the table." Followed by resounding cheers, Harris went on to discuss her belief that Americans shouldn’t have to work more than one job "to have a roof over their head and food on the table." The second time was directed towards fellow candidate Joe Biden. Following recent scrutiny over his past work lawmakers, including segregationists, Biden has not apologized for his statements because his belief that he is being mischaracterized. In a statement during the debate, Harris explained that while she does not believe Biden to be racist, she was hurt by the statements he made in which he praised the civility he was able to reach with such controversial legislators whose policies directly opposed his. She went on to tell the story of a young girl who was part of the second class of black students to be bused to school in Berkeley, California. That girl was her. She then took this to challenge Biden’s previous “opposition” to busing during his time in the Senate. Biden’s struggle to respond and Harris’ persistence brought this interaction to become the highlight of both nights of debate. Harris used this story to also generally address the issue of race, which she believes is not being talked about “truthfully and honestly”

Realistically, Kirsten Gillibrand’s presence was defined by two factors: interjections and selling herself. Starting with the first question of the night, Gillibrand jutting in her own questions and ideas, which often led to scenarios such as that which Senator Harris shut down. But, what she did go on to do beyond that was quite comprehensive “selling” of herself as the best candidate for the democratic party. For example, she explained her support and aid in writing sections of bills for Senator Sanders, and how she has been one of the biggest proponents for female reproductive health and rights in congress. She also explained that she has what she believes to be the “most comprehensive plan to stop corruption” in the government. This idea of corruption is critical to Gillibrand’s policy proposals’ success, as she believes that once “we lose the corruption” in government, “we can deal with the issues.”

Michael Bennet opened his debate contributions with his thoughts on “candy policies”, including medicare for all and free education. To Bennet, the democratic party has a proper sense of the fundamental issues that America faces, such as wealth concentration and societal divisions, but he disagrees on the solutions that progressive candidates such as Bernie Sanders have introduced. In a similar fashion to other candidates, Bennet believes in the “choice policies” that allow citizens to decide what path of payment they will take when dealing with healthcare and education. He also agreed with Joe Biden on the idea of building off of Obamacare in order to achieve universal healthcare. He also addressed his thoughts on partisan gridlock, the solution to which he believes lies in the success of the democratic party during the next senatorial elections. In order to do that, and in order to restore the well-being of civility and order, Bennet believes that the democratic party must build a “broad coalition” with “broad policies” that people can appreciate on all sides.

The last candidate was California congressman Eric Swalwell, who had fashioned to his suit’s collar an orange ribbon to signify the importance of gun violence to his campaign and candidacy. The strongest motif in Swalwell’s statements was the idea of “passing on the torch” to the younger generations, an idea he originally heard from Joe Biden during his time in the Senate. Throughout the debate, Swalwell emphasized his belief that the only way to enact true change would be through passing the torch of political power onto the younger leaders of America, a group he considers himself to be a part of. In continuation with his focus on guns, Swalwell described his gun buyback proposal for all assault rifles, and his hopes to keep “the most dangerous” guns out of the hands of “the most dangerous people”.

Hand Raise Question:

Would your government healthcare plan cover undocumented immigrants: All candidates raised their hands in support

What is your signature issue:

Eric Swalwell: guns

Michael Bennet: climate change and lack of economic mobility

Kirsten Gillibrand: national family bill of rights

Kamala Harris: middle class tax cut, daca, guns

Bernie Sanders: political revolution and take on special interests

Joe Biden: defeat Donald Trump

Pete Buttigieg: fix our democracy to fix other issues

Andrew Yang: 1,000 freedom dividend

John Hickenlooper: collaborative approach to climate change

Marianne Williamson: first call would be to Prime Minister of New Zealand to tell her that she will make the US the best country in the world for kids to grow up

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